American Elephants

President Obama Orders Behavioral Experiments on the American People by The Elephant's Child

Awkward timing? A step in the wrong direction? What are they thinking?

President Obama announced a new executive order on Tuesday which authorizes federal agencies to conduct behavioral experiments on U.S. citizens in order to advance government initiatives.

“A growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights — research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them — can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people,” reads the executive order, released on Tuesday.

The initiative is based on research from University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and Harvard law school professor Cass Sunstein. Sunstein was Obama’s regulatory czar. The two “behavioral scientists,” the article calls them (an economist and a law school professor) argued in their 2008 book Nudge, that government policies can be designed in such a way that they “nudge” citizens towards certain behaviors and choices.

“The desired choices,” says reporter Chuck Ross, “almost always advance the goals of the federal government, though they are often couched as ways to cut overall program spending.” Of course they are.

The new executive order encourages federal agencies to “identify policies, programs, and operations where applying behavioral science insights may yield substantial improvements in public welfare, program outcomes, and program cost effectiveness,” as well as to “develop strategies for applying behavioral science insights to programs and, where possible, rigorously test and evaluate the impact of these insights.”

I’m sorry, but the federal government has no right to “nudge” people into making the “correct choices.” Obama has clearly slipped into full tyrant mode. Is this Brave New World or 1984?  Behavioral experimentation indeed. When I went to school we used different words  — we called it “propaganda.”

Leftists clearly believe, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that because we made the mistake of electing them, they are far smarter than the rest of us. The late Robert Conquest nailed it:

The more romantic, but not thereby less disastrous, motives for self-deception were often a matter of good intentions — a proverbially inadequate guide. Its bearers had turned to socialism as a means of creating a better, more humane society. But of course socialism is not a synonym for humanitarianism but a specific social and political mechanism credited with the power to produce that society.

Conquest further noted that “The ethical argument, if such it can be called, seems to run:

  1. there is much injustice under capitalism
  2. socialism will end this injustice
  3. therefore anything that supports socialism is to be supported,
  4. including any amount of injustice.

Economics Is Organized Common Sense by The Elephant's Child

From the Archives, 4/20/14

Economists Craig Newmark and AEI’s Mark Perry dug up Nobel economist Thomas Sargent’s shortest U.S. graduation speech ever. A simple list of twelve valuable economic lessons. The speech was delivered at his undergraduate alma mater University of California at Berkeley, May 16, 2007.

“I remember how happy I felt when I graduated from Berkeley many years ago. But I thought the graduation speeches were long. I will economize on words.”

“Economics is organized common sense. Here is a short list of valuable lessons that our beautiful subject teaches.”

1. Many things that are desirable are not feasible.

2. Individuals and communities face trade-offs.

3. Other people have more information about their abilities, their efforts, and their preferences than you do.

4. Everyone responds to incentives, including people you want to help. That is why social safety nets don’t always end up working as intended.

5. There are tradeoffs between equality and efficiency.

6. In an equilibrium of a game or an economy, people are satisfied with their choices. That is why it is difficult for well-meaning outsiders to change things for better or worse.

7. In the future, you too will respond to incentives. That is why there are some promises that you’d like to make but can’t. No one will believe those promises because they know that later it will not be in your interest to deliver. The lesson here is this: before you make a promise, think about whether you will want to keep it if and when your circumstances change. This is how you earn a reputation.

8. Governments and voters respond to incentives too. That is why governments sometimes default on loans and other promises that they have made.

9. It is feasible for one generation to shift costs to subsequent ones. That is what national government debts and the U.S. social security system do (but not the social security system of Singapore).

10. When a government spends, its citizens eventually pay, either today or tomorrow, either through explicit taxes or implicit ones like inflation.

11. Most people want other people to pay for public goods and government transfers (especially transfers to themselves).

12. Because market prices aggregate traders’ information, it is difficult to forecast stock prices and interest rates and exchange rates.

That is a remarkably valuable short list. Pin it up beside the mirror in your bathroom so you can read it every morning until you know it by heart.

Dick Cheney Speaks on the Iran Nuclear Deal by The Elephant's Child

Former Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at an event at AEI on September 8, a passionate speech about the nuclear deal with Iran and why it is a complete catastrophe. It’s a long speech, but worth every minute. Mr. Cheney explains clearly why it is such a very, very bad deal.

As for me, I was convinced that we were doomed when I learned that President Obama believes that Iran would never actually use a nuclear weapon. If he actually believes that, no wonder he has been such a complete doormat.

He believes that he can turn the problems of the Middle East over to Iran to solve, and get America out of the region entirely. Iran’s quest for intercontinental ballistic missiles does not concern Mr. Obama who envisions himself making a triumphant trip to Tehran to shake the Supreme Leader’s hand.

The Supreme Leader may not be able to bring himself to sign the deal at all, since he hates Americans so much.  Shake hands?  Not a chance.

The speech is about 35 minute long, followed by a question and answer period.

A Civil War Against the “Liberal Ethos?” Yes. by The Elephant's Child

In 1993 after the USSR had dissolved and the Berlin Wall been pounded into souvenirs, Irving Kristol wrote, “There is no ‘after the Cold War’ for me.” Instead, the defeat of Soviet Communism signified only that “the real cold war has begun,” a multi-front civil war against the “liberal ethos,” which “aims simultaneously at political and social collectivism  on the one hand, and moral anarchy on the other.” Kristol explained that he had come to believe that “rot and decadence was no longer the consequence of liberalism but was the actual agenda of contemporary liberalism.”

The fight against collectivism hasn’t been won, but remains hard-fought and competitive. The end of the Cold War signaled the demise of socialism and central planning as ideals people fought for, or even took seriously. In 1997 Richard Rorty chided his fellow leftists for their vague desire to repudiate and move beyond capitalism, despite failing to figure out “what in the absence of markets, will set prices and regulate distribution. Until the left comes up with clear compelling answers to such basic questions, he said, it should limit its ambitions to “piecemeal reform within the framework of a market economy.”

These are the first two paragraphs of an essay by William Voegeli in The Claremont Review of Books, and well worth pondering. Is that what the Left is all about? Political and social collectivism on the one hand and moral anarchy on the other? It seems to me that they talk collectivism and supposedly dream of collectivism, but in action, or in the real world they want to make other people equal but put themselves in charge of doing so. They want to control, regulate, force, and make the necessary laws, just like Stalin who starved millions of Ukrainians to death in the Holodomor to enforce collective farming.

Moral anarchy — yes.  That’s obvious.

Nothing is What it Seems to Be, All is Illusion. Crying Out for Reality. by The Elephant's Child

The story behind the dead small child, as so much from the Middle East, is not what it seems. I don’t know that it matters. The picture has served its purpose, as did the photo of the naked little girl running from napalm down a road in Vietnam. Iconic.

The hordes of Syrian refugees also seem to be other than were presumed. The Associated Press reports discarded documents from Pakistan, Iraq, Bangladesh. They claim to be escaping the horrors of the Syrian civil war, but they don’t have documents, or they have new Syrian documents and they claim their birthdays are all January 1st. Trafficking in fake Syrian passports has increased. Are they really refugees or simply fleeing poverty and looking for a better life, on the European welfare state. If it is only that, their asylum will be rejected, which is why so many are discarding their real identity cards.

Discontented people often pick up and move. Americans are perhaps more sympathetic than most because that is part of our national heritage. We are a nation of people who have picked up and moved here, as the “native” Americans came from Siberia, and some from Spain and England, and all the rest.

Since we have always been more aware than others of our origins, we have made becoming an American a more formal and final undertaking than most other nations do. You  apply for a visa, and wait an in terminally long time, and eventually you are allowed to take citizenship classes and learn how to become an American. Oddly enough, part of the citizenship oath was promising to serve your new nation in the military, if called upon. Obama has used an executive order to remove that part of the oath. Once you become a citizen — that’s it. You are as much American as those whose ancestors arrived in the Winthrop fleet.

But that didn’t end it. We moved across the Appalachians and then on west, up the wide Missouri and on across the Rockies.  The Okies fled the Dust Bowl and went to California. Now Californians are fleeing high taxes and overregulation and heading back the other way.

What is clear is that Europe’s attempt to become something other than a continent of quarreling nations by creating a European constitution of sorts and a central European government isn’t working out. Countries have identities and histories and languages. Those that have had distinctly separate identities have split apart in acts of what you might call tribalism. Czechoslovakia is not a single country anymore. The map of Europe has constantly shifted through the ages. Aside from conquest, we seem to be tribal peoples. We like to be with our own kind, however we define that.

Yet that is a human characteristic that the Left is trying mightily to strike out. “Diversity” has become a major aim. Colleges and universities have diversity departments, and directives. Corporations have diversity officers in their human resource departments. Unfortunately they are diversifying color, ethnic origin, gender and sexual orientation by the numbers. Any group of people is scanned for visible diversity and urged to correct improper numbers, yet that really isn’t the kind of diversity that is important.

The Obama administration, having screwed up everything else they have attempted, now believe that if they can just put enough poor people into rich neighborhoods, then the poor will learn how not to be poor by sharing the same schools and retail establishments  as their wealthier neighbors.  They are sure that once everybody is equal…

And they never, never learn.

A Thought for The Day Department by The Elephant's Child

RAMclr-072415-trust-IBD-COLOR-FINAL.jpg.cms“If people can’t trust not only the executive branch, but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.”
……………………………………………………………President Barack Obama

“I think that this would have surprised a number of the Founders; the whole Constitution is a contract that tried to limit the power of government because governments, all governments, can’t be trusted. Governments have too much power to be trusted.”
………………………………………………………….Charlie Martin, P.J. Media

The Secret Meanings Behind Some Familiar Phrases by The Elephant's Child

Jonah Goldberg stars in a short video for Prager University.  We are easy marks. We can be fooled by clever use of language. Take time to stop and appreciate the unraveling of meaning.



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