American Elephants


Equality, Justice, and Freedom by The Elephant's Child

The ongoing war between the right and the left, words and their meanings play one of the most important roles. There is one kind of justice which is represented by the Constitution, our body of laws and the courts. There is no such thing as “social justice.” “Equality” is another. No matter how you try and what orders you issue, you cannot make people equal. We are all different. Some are fat, some thin, some smart, some not. “Equality” is only possible before the Law and all the blather about “feelings” makes that pretty iffy as well.  Thomas Sowell explains:

The 1998 Wriston Lecture:  Thomas Sowell PhD

…The school’s principal flatly refused, saying, “it would be a violation of the principles of social justice” if this boy would collect material above the level of other fourth graders.

A similar conception of social justice was expressed by a long-time dean of admissions at Stanford University. She said that she never required applicants to submit achievement test scores because, “requiring such tests could unfairly penalize disadvantaged students in the college admissions process” since such students “through no fault of their own often find themselves in high schools that provide inadequate preparation for the achievement tests.”

The key phrase here is “through no fault of their own.” One of the recurring themes in discussions of social justice. The conception of justice underlying both these decisions and many other decisions in many other areas besides education is that individual windfall, plus or minus, are not to be allowed to determine outcome. Whether these windfalls are caused by nature or by society, they are not to be tolerated by those with this conception of justice.

Moreover, this is an increasingly accepted notion of justice, at least among political and opinion-shaping elite. Perhaps even more ominously, there is the conception of justice, whose radical differences from traditional concepts of justice are seldom explored.

Traditional notions of justice or fairness involve subjecting everyone to the same rules and judging them all by the same standards, regardless of what outcome that leads to. A fair fight is one in which both combatants observe the same rules, whether that fight ends in a draw or in a one-sided beating.

Even more important than considering the relative merits of these two conceptions of justice is being crystal clear that they are not only very different, but mutually incompatible. John Rawls’ [phonetic] celebrated treatise, “The Theory of Justice,” declares that “undeserved inequalities call for redress” in order to produce “genuine equality of opportunity.”

According to Rawls, this is fair, as opposed to formal equality of opportunity. From this point of view, it is merely a formality, a deceptive appearance to have everyone play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards. When all sorts of social, cultural and genetic influences make the likelihood of success that is called life chances so radically different from one individual to another and from one group to another.

Applying the same rules for everyone in baseball means that Mark McGwire will hit seventy home runs, many other players will not even hit half that many, and some not even a tenth as many. Moreover, McGwire’s huge size, not to mention pharmaceutical supplements, ensure that most other people have no realistic possibility of achieving the same goals. This is just one of the many areas where neutral rules ensure “unjust outcomes” by this particular conception of justice.

As a philosopher, Thomas Nagel put it, the range of possibilities or likely courses of life that are open to a given individual are limited to a considerable extent by birth, which includes not only the social class and home environment into which he happened to be born, but also his genetic endowment. From a moral point of view, Professor Nagel said, there is nothing wrong with the state tinkering with that distribution of life chances, which distribution does not have any moral sanctity.

In this view, to provide equality of opportunity it is necessary to compensate in some way for the unequal starting points that people occupy. In other words, we do not need a level playing field. We need to tilt it the right way.

Putting aside the moral argument for the moment, the clear political implication of this conception of justice is that the state must step in if justice, in this sense, is to triumph. Put differently, the freedom of individuals must be overridden if social justice is the overriding goal.

Freedom and this particular kind of justice are inherently incompatible. When people are free, they will spend their money on whatever the please, whatever goods and services best meet their desires. If they are going to a concert, they will not care whether the singer they like was born with a better voice than other singers who have worked just as hard at singing and therefore are just as deserving on the basis of personal merit. In this and in innumerable other ways, the consumer will judge the finished product and not care how much social justice or injustice went into it.

On the plane from San Francisco I read and enjoyed Shelby Steele’s new book, A Dream Deferred. I bought it because I expected a certain level of intelligence in it expressed with a certain grace and clarity. I did not care if there were other books by other writers who had worked just as hard as Shelby. [Laughter.] Without achieving as good a result. Nor did I care how much of Shelby’s intelligence or writing talent was simply inherited. [Laughter.] Or perhaps might have been the result of his having chanced upon some extraordinary teacher whose course gave him an unfair advantage or other equally intelligent and equally talented writers who had never developed their abilities to the same degree. Through no fault of their own. [Laughter.] None of this crossed my mind when I handed my money over to the clerk at Barnes & Noble.

I might mention, too, that I almost did not get the book at Barnes & Noble, because the clerk could not find it in the computer. [Laughter.] She thought that deferred was spelled with two Fs. [Laughter.] Now, it may well be that, through no fault of her own, [Laughter.] she went to one of those schools which thought that correct spelling was just one of those fetishes that some older, retrograde schools used to go in for.

It is amazing how often the term social justice is used without ever being defined. A historian writing about the founding of Czechoslovakia, for example, said that the policies of this newly formed state after the First World War were “to correct social injustice.” Which he specifies as meaning to put right the historic wrongs of the seventeenth century. Presumably no one from the seventeenth century was still alive at the end of the First World War. [Laughter.]

One of the many contrasts between traditional justice and social justice is that traditional justice involves the rules under which flesh and blood human beings will interact. While social justice encompasses not only contemporary individuals and groups, but also group extractions, extending over generations and even centuries.

When you consider how hard it is to get people to treat each other justly when they are face to face, seeking to produce justice between social abstractions stretching back over the centuries is a truly ambitious undertaking. Intergalactic travel is a modest goal by comparison. [Laughter.]

But again, the real problem is not that this goal will not be reached, but that havoc will be reaped in the attempt. Havoc to social peace, when hopes are raised that can never be realized, and havoc to freedom, as the morally anointed seek to smite the wicked, which must ultimately come to include almost all of us.

The concept of advantages is often thrown around as if the world were just a zero sum game. Undoubtedly, Bill Gates has many advantages that I do not have, but I benefit from Bill Gates’ advantages. All of us benefit from other peoples’ advantages. In fact, using the word advantages as if skills were nothing more than invidious distinctions is a major problem in itself.

One of the big advantages of traditional justice over social justice is that it can be achieved. [Laughter.] Traditional justice can be mass produced by impersonal prospective rules governing the interactions of flesh and blood human beings. But social justice must be hand-made by holders of power who impose their own decisions on how these flesh and blood individuals should be categorized into abstractions. Then, these abstractions forcibly configure to fit the vision of the power holders.

If justice has such different meanings and is so elusive in practice, what about equality? The other great preoccupation of our time. Equality almost defies definition. Numbers may be equal, because they have only one dimension, magnitude. But people have so many dimensions that equality, superiority or inferiority are all virtually impossible to define, except within some narrow slice of life.

Is Milton Friedman equal to Michael Jordan on a basketball court? [Laughter.] Is Jordan equal to Friedman in an economics classroom? [Laughter.] Even with such completely contrasting people, you cannot say who is better without a context. In sports it is common to have voluminous statistics available on almost every aspect of an athlete’s performance. We can win a bet, for example, by saying that Babe Ruth stole home more times than Lou Brock, because such details, statistics are kept for generations. He did, by the way. [Laughter.] I have won a few bets myself. [Laughter.]

The baseball encyclopedia is nearly three thousand pages of numbers in fine print, and you can probably download from the Internet as much or more data on other sports. Yet, every sport is full of controversies about who was the best boxer, the best quarterback, the best jockey, the best goalie, precisely because there is no common definition by which you can settle the issue, even for a given position within a given sport.

Nolan Ryan struck out more batters than Walter Johnson, but Walter Johnson pitched more shut outs. Joe Montana threw more touchdowns than George Blanda, but George Blanda scored more total points. Even though detailed facts are readily available, the multiple dimensions defeat any attempt to say concretely who was better or who was equal. The difficulties of defining equality have not stopped people from defining it, or from shifting from one definition to another as the convenience of the argument requires. We may all agree as to what equality before the law means, and religious people can say that we are all equal in the sight of God, but treating people equally or valuing them equally is wholly different from believing that they are equal in ability. Often the most loved member of a family is a child whom no one believes to be as capable as the adults.

Yet, even something as apparently specific as equal ability is fraught with pitfalls. There has been much controversy as to whether all racial groups or social classes have equal innate ability, but equal innate ability in a genetic sense refers to an intellectual potentiality present at the moment of conception. No one applies for a job or for college admission at the moment of conception. [Laughter.] Just between conception and birth, the mother’s sound or unsound nutrition, smoking or not smoking, drinking or not drinking, all effect the development of the unborn baby, including his brain.

Recently, it has been discovered that the amount of attention and stimulation that an infant gets effects the actual physical size of the brain and therefore becomes a life-long characteristic. Long; well, life-long. [Laughter.] Abstract equality at the moment of conception says very little about how much equality survives to adulthood through many highly unequal influences from the surrounding environment.

If we are talking about concrete ability to do specific things, then equality is a fantasy. How many people with Ph.D.s can repair their own television set? [Laughter.] Or their automobile transmission, for those who do not admit that they have a television set. [Laughter.]

While intellectuals may talk about ability in the abstract, or worse yet, restrict the concept to academic ability, the real world requires a huge, almost unimaginable range of very specific skills and very specific knowledge. These cannot be considered equal in any way. Do we seriously expect Polynesians and Scandinavians to know as much about camels as the Bedouins of the Sahara know? Do we seriously expect the Bedouins of the Sahara to know as much about fishing as the Polynesians and the Scandinavians know? How would Eskimos know how to grow bananas or other tropical crops? How would the peoples of the Himalayas have learned seafaring skills? Geography alone has denied equal opportunity on a scale that dwarfs anything that man can do.

Even more important than the geographic limitations of particular physical environments is the effect of geography in isolating peoples from other peoples. Isolated people have almost invariably been backward people. Few, if any, of the great advances of the human race have originated on isolated islands or in remote mountain communities. The imminent French historian, Fernand Braudel, said that the mountains almost always lagged behind the plains. Even if the same race of peoples, speaking the same language and observing the same customs live in both places.

Seaports have almost always been more advanced than the interior hinterland, whether in Europe, Asia, Africa or wherever. Nor have the advantages of navigable waterways been equally or randomly distributed around the world. One third of the entire land mass of Europe consists of islands and peninsulas, while just one percent of the land mass of South America consists of islands and peninsulas.

One of the most blatant sources of inequalities in particular skills is also one of the most overlooked. People do not choose to acquire those skills, often because they are not interested in the fields in which those skills apply. Milton Friedman. for example, has said that he never received any enjoyment from music. Now, surely a man who can win a Nobel Prize in economics could learn to play a piano, but do not expect anyone to become another Arthur Rubenstein or Ray Charles if he does not even like music. Different people like different things. Whole cultures differ in what they like. How can they not differ in what they do?

In innumerable ways, people differ individually and collectively in the range of skills they have and do not have. With their inputs being so different, how could their outputs not differ? Yet, any differences in performances or rewards are routinely ascribed to society, to bias, or to other sinister forces.

Now, nothing is easier to find than sin among human beings, but making the sins of others the automatic explanation of any group’s economic conditions is as inconsistent with logic as it is wholly consistent with politics. [Laughter.] Politics is highly congenial to notions of equality and equity, if only because these nebulous terms provide politicians with ample opportunities to exercise power and hand out favors to their supporters in the name of high sounding ideals.

Who could be against such notions as pay equity or preventing exploitation or making sure that people receive what they deserve? Yet these and other phrases, including the medieval notion of the fair and just price, assume that there is such a thing as an objective value which third parties can specify. If there were, there would be no basis for exchange on which our whole economy depends.

Imagine that you paid sixty cents for a copy of “The New York Times” on the local newsstand. Why do you do so? Obviously, because you value “The New York Times” more than you value the sixty cents. Why, then does the newsstand dealer sell you “The New York Times?” Because he values the sixty cents more than he values “The New York Times.” [Laughter.]

If there were any such thing as an objective value, one of you would have to be a fool to pay more or to accept less for it. If that objective value was exactly sixty cents, why would either or you waste your time making a meaningless trade that leaves neither of you any better off? You would walk past a newsstand indifferently, and he would pay no attention to you. [Laughter.] The only way it makes any sense for you to exchange with one another is that the same thing has different values for different people. There is no objective value, not fair and just price, no comparable worth, no pay equity.

Now, the fact that something is meaningless or impossible is by no means as great a handicap in politics as it is in economics. [Laughter.] If you can get elected promising meaningless or impossible things, then these things are of great practical value politically. Nor are meaningless or impossible things of no value in the world of the intellectual. Expansive notions on justice and equality find their natural habitat in the seminar room and on the campaign trail. Though, some have also flourished in judicial chambers.

If the only problems with justice and equality were that they are difficult to define and impossible to achieve, at least in the expansive senses in which they are used, things would not be as bad as they are in fact. It is the attempt to achieve what is called social justice and equality of either results or life chances that are dangerous, precisely because we cannot agree on the meaning of such words as justice, fairness or equality.

Some authoritative force must be imposed. There will never be a lack of people willing to wield power over their fellow human beings. The only question is how many of those human beings can see through the words to the realities and refuse to surrender their freedom for the sake of heavy rhetoric. Thank you.

[Applause.]

 

 



Notable and Quotable by The Elephant's Child

freedom-post

Daniel Hannan, Member of the European Parliament:

I have struggled for years to explain that politicians who cant about fairness don’t mean equal treatment or justice, or indeed, any practical outcome whatsoever. What they really mean is that they’re nice people. and they’re prepared to prove how nice they are with your money.

John Steele Gordon: An Empire of Wealth

This willingness to accept present discomfort and risk for the hope of future riches that so characterized these immigrants, and the millions who would follow over the next two centuries, has made a profound, if immeasurable effect on the history of the American economy. Just as those who saw no conflict between worshiping God and seeking earthly success in the seventeenth century, those who sought economic independence in the eighteenth had a powerful impact on the emerging American culture.

John Steele Gordon: ibid

Masterpieces created by a committee are notably few in number, but the United States Constitution is certainly one of them. Amended only twenty-seven times in 215 years, it came into being just as the world was about to undergo the most profound—and continuing—period of economic change the human race has known. The locus of power in the American economy has shifted from sector to sector as that economy has developed. Whole sections of the country have risen and fallen in economic importance. New methods of doing business and economic institutions undreamed of by the Founding Fathers have come into existence in that time, while others have vanished. Fortunes beyond the imagination of anyone living in the pre-industrial world have been built and destroyed. And yet the Constitution endures, and the country continues to flourish under it.



It’s All Falling apart. Chapter Five by The Elephant's Child
June 3, 2015, 7:44 pm
Filed under: Democrat Corruption, Health Care, Regulation | Tags: , ,

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The euphemistic name “The Affordable Care Act” always made people laugh. But already, it is reaching the point where “The Unaffordable Care Act” is more appropriate. The LA Times reports that large numbers of Californians enrolled in ACA plans are struggling financially under the cost.

Forty-four percent of exchange policyholders surveyed said it’s somewhat or very difficult to afford their premiums. That’s compared with 25% of adults who had employer-based or other private health insurance.

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, acknowledged that many Californians find it hard to fit health insurance premiums into their household budget, even when they qualify for generous federal subsidies.

ObamaCare exchanges have a gimmick called a “risk corridor.” The idea was that insurers who made a profit would share a portion of that profit with other insurers. If there were not enough profit makers, the taxpayers would make up the difference. Republicans added a provision that required the risk corridors to be revenue neutral, meaning insurers  would no longer have access to taxpayer funds. But suggested rates for 2016 are beginning to show up.

In Oregon, five insurers on the exchange are proposing average premium increases for next year ranging from 25.6 percent to 52 percent…. Four insurance companies on Montana’s exchange are requesting average premium increases ranging from 22.4 percent to 45.1 percent.

The biggest company on Tennessee’s exchange, BlueCross/BlueShield, is proposing an average premium increase of 36.6 percent, while the co-op on the exchange, Community Health Alliance, is proposing a 32.6 percent increase. In New Mexico, Health Service Corp. is asking for a premium hike of 51.6 percent. The largest insurer on South Dakota’s exchange is Wellmark, and in Maryland it is CareFirst. They are asking for average rate increases of 42.9 percent and 30.4 percent, respectively.

Charles Krauthammer reports on what his doctor friends are reporting on the increasingly frustration conditions of clinical practice.

The complaint was not financial but vocational — an incessant interference with their work, a deep erosion of their autonomy and authority, a transformation from physician to “provider.”

“[A] never-ending attack on the profession from government, insurance companies and lawyers … progressively intrusive and usually unproductive rules and regulations,” topped by an electronic health records (EHR) mandate that produces nothing more than “billing and legal documents” — and degraded medicine.

Democrats have never understood the free market, nor incentives and disincentives, and they remain convinced that their brilliant friends in the federal bureaucracy can fix everything if they just have enough control. They’re working now on a study to determine how much they can narrow the window in which women can get a mammogram, so they can reduce that cost.

They added all sorts of nice-sounding benefits (free birth control pills) which add big costs, and when they are surprised by the increase, try to figure out what they can take away to compensate.



Paul Revere’s Ride by The Elephant's Child
April 18, 2015, 12:05 pm
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , ,


[A little Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for the eighteenth of April]
Today is the 240th anniversary of the “Shot heard Round the World”

Listen, my children, and  you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend,”If the British march
By land or sea from the town tonight,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light—
One if by land, and two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said, “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, a British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street,
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed to the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the somber rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay—
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now gazed at the landscape far and near.
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth
And turned and tightened his saddle girth:
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and somber and still.

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides:
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock,
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.

And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest.  In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm—
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will awaken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the  midnight message of Paul Revere.

(The illustration is from a lovely edition of the poem illustrated by Ted Rand for children or any Longfellow lovers. Copies still available from Amazon at very reasonable  prices)



Comparisons by The Elephant's Child

Scott Brown: Let America Be America Again! by The Elephant's Child

From Iran: A Rant or A Warning? by The Elephant's Child
May 16, 2010, 5:27 pm
Filed under: Foreign Policy, Islam, Middle East, Terrorism | Tags: , , ,

From the Associated Press, dated May 15, 2010.

TEHRAN, Iran —A radical cleric called Saturday for the creation of a “Greater Iran” that would rule over the entire Middle East and Central Asia, in an event that he said would herald the coming of Islam’s expected messiah.

Ayatollah Mohammad Bagher Kharrazi said the creation of what he calls an Islamic United States is a central aim of the political party he leads called Hezbollah, or Party of God, and that he hoped to make it a reality if they win the next presidential election.

Mr. Kharrazi’s comments reveal the thinking of a growing number of hard-liners in Iran, many of whom have become more radical during the post-election political crisis and the international standoff over the country’s nuclear program.  Mr. Kharrazi, however, isn’t highly influential in Iran’s clerical hierarchy and his views don’t represent those of the current government.

Mn hmm.  And U.S. Attorney General Erik Holder just cannot bring himself to say the words “Radical Islam.”  Just fills you with confidence.  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano blames Americans (those violent tea party types) first, and calls 9/11 a “Man-Caused Disaster.” A disaster it was, but this kind of language — weak, pandering, politically correct, simply avoids not just clear thinking, but thought.  What it says to the rest of the world is”weak.” And that is not a good message to send.

We have an administration that cannot seem to grasp the reality of Islamic radicalism, pressing for month after month for talks with a government that has been leading their followers in shouts of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” steadily ever  since 1979.  Even fairly obvious clues just don’t register with some people.

Still, even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that he expects the government which follows his to be “ten times more revolutionary.”




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