American Elephants

Collectivism: “We’re All In This Together” Doesn’t Work. by The Elephant's Child

Andrew Klavan summed it up pretty well today:

Whatever its pretensions, whatever its claims, statism — progressivism, leftism, socialism — is based on the idea that a small elite intelligentsia can run your life better than you can. They know how to spend your money. They know how to educate your children. They know how to run your health care. They know how to protect you from yourself.

You do not have to talk to a statist very long before he will profess an intense dislike, distrust and even fear of ordinary people. Ordinary people spend money on what they want (TV’s restaurants and cars) rather than what the elite know they ought to want (aluminum foil climate change reversers). Ordinary people teach their children that God created the world rather than a random pattern of mathematic realities that came into being through another random pattern that came…  well, the elite know: it’s random patterns all the way down! Ordinary people will give jobs and business to those who earn them rather than those the elite, in their greater understanding, know are historically deserving because of past oppression. And so on.

Now, of course, with the very elite of the elite running the country, we find that — what do you know? — this statism dodge doesn’t really work all that well. And there are two reasons for this. The first is that the statist premise is wrong. In fact, ordinary people left at liberty to do as they will are actually better at running their lives and businesses and country than the geniuses in Washington. Central planning works great in the imaginations of the elite, but in the real world…  not so much.

Daniel Hannan on the Anglo Saxon Tradition by The Elephant's Child

In “Inventing Freedom”, Daniel Hannan reflects on the historical origin and spread of the principles that have made America great, and their role in creating a sphere of economic and political liberty that is as crucial as it is imperiled. Hannan argues that the ideas and institutions we consider essential to maintaining and preserving our freedoms — individual rights, private property, the rule of law, and the institutions of representative government — are the legacy of a very specific tradition that was born in England and that we Americans, along with other former British colonies, inherited.


The Life Of Julius: How Unions Hurt Workers by The Elephant's Child

Here’s the sequel to Obama’s “Life of Julia,” the poor soul who is utterly dependent on the government for life. Or rather, an invitation for  you to become dependent, so the wise people in government can help you until you can go to work for the government. A sad tale of the loss of individual liberty and a wasted life.

Julius is a fictional character like Julia, but his aspirations, hopes and values are shared by every American. He wants opportunity and economic security. He wants his years of hard work to mean some level of comfort in his retirement. As Iain Murray writes:

Unfortunately, labor-union bosses, and the politicians and laws they support, continually frustrate Julius’s prosperity in ways both large and small, both obvious and subtle. Labor unions have a political stranglehold on the economy in hundreds of ways that affect every single worker, whether they are union members or, like Julius, never belong to a union in their entire life. …

What we’ve tried to do with ”The Life of Julius” is to illustrate how the way unions are run today hurts workers at every stage of their working life — even if they are never a member of a labor union.

“Exceptional,” Exceptional? Whadda-ya Mean Exceptional? by The Elephant's Child

I find it strange that in the year of 2012, we have to defend the idea that America is an exceptional nation. But apparently in Nebraska the State Board of Education had to struggle with the wording “American exceptionalism” even though they managed to come out with an odd description about what was meant:

One of the “indicators” —indicators of what to teach— is “the unique nature of the creation and organization of the American Government, and the United States as an exceptional nation based upon personal freedom, the inherent nature of citizens’ rights and democratic ideals.

President Obama has had trouble with the term. In response to a journalist’s question in Strasbourg, Obama said: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” He added “I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that the leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.” Huh?

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg famously said quite recently that those writing a new Constitution should derive it from the new Constitution of South Africa, rather than  the United States Constitution. Well, if America is a nation in decline, we can’t be calling it “exceptional.”

The point of calling it exceptional is simply that our Constitution is a document belonging to the people of the United States, and we grant to our representative republican government certain limited powers. The Constitution tells our elected representative what they may do, and those powers are very limited indeed. Other Constitutions, including the South African Constitution, say essentially that we the government will allow the people to do these things. This is not a small distinction.

As Americans and human beings, we are, of course, lazy, unwilling to start battles, shy about making public arguments, and apt to prefer to watch a good movie or play a video game instead. So when people make sloppy arguments or use careless language we’re apt to let it slide. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg should have been called out instantly by millions of Americans. She is supposed to be in charge of seeing that our laws and our government conform to our Constitution, and she doesn’t even seem aware of that most important distinction.

It is from the Declaration of Independence that we receive recognition of our basic rights as human beings — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Many essays have been written about those glorious last words — “the pursuit of happiness”. No guarantees,  but we are free to try, and our freedom is recognized as intrinsic to being human. That, in the long history of mankind, is a very big deal indeed.

The Constitution does not empower the federal government with the ability to take over the health care of the entire nation. Nor does it empower the federal government to decide just what our children will be taught in the public schools.

Politicians, being politicians, are often not too clear on what the Constitution says, and regard it as more of an annoyance to be circumvented. This “Free Speech” thing sounds fine until you find out it allows people to say nasty or untrue things about you, or allows neo-Nazis to march down the street. “Freedom of Religion” seems like a good thing until atheists choose to define themselves as sort of a church of unbelievers, and want to stamp out belief. Every time someone is shot by a deranged person, an outcry arises to ban all guns. That’s just a tiny part of the First Amendment.

“A free society, if it is to remain free, requires citizens who take the risk of standing up to be counted on the issues of the day.” …..Walter Wriston

“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent…The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”
….. Justice Louis Brandeis

Our democracy rests upon the assumption that set free, the common man can manage his own fate; that errors will cancel each other by open discussion, that the interest of each, even when guided from above will not diverge too radically from the interests of all.” …..Judge Learned Hand


With These Hands by The Elephant's Child

Lord Keynes’ Theories Work in Theory, Just Not in Practice. by The Elephant's Child

Robert Samuelson, the economics columnist for the Washington Post, had a recent column on why U.S. economic policy is paralyzed — “one reason is that we are still paying the price for the greatest blunder in domestic policy since World War II.”

Until the 1960s, Americans generally believed in low inflation and balanced budgets. President John Kennedy shared the consensus but was persuaded to change his mind. His economic advisers argued that, through deficit spending and modest increases in inflation government could raise economic growth, lower unemployment and smooth business cycles. …Kennedy’s economists, fashioning themselves as heirs to John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), shattered…[the old] consensus. They contended that deficits weren’t immoral….This destroyed the intellectual and moral props for balanced budgets.

Walter Heller, chairman of Kennedy’s Council of Economic Advisors, famously spoke of “fine-tuning” the American economy to keep it humming along smoothly. It would throw off wealth and jobs much like an engine throws off work-making energy. At Contentions, John Steele Gordon explains further:

Keynes had argued that economies were machines, “a whole Copernican system, by which all the elements of the economic universe are kept in their places by mutual counterpoise and interaction.” Governments, thought Keynes, could keep an economy humming by deliberately running deficits in times of slack demand. Politicians, of course, were only too happy to have an intellectual justification for spending in deficit. This allowed them to spend money (“the mother’s milk of politics”) in order to satisfy various constituencies without having to raise the taxes needed to pay for the largesse.

But Keynes had argued equally that governments needed to run surpluses in good times, both to keep the economy from overheating and in order to pay down the debt run up in bad times, so that the money could be borrowed again when needed. But with the old consensus on balanced budgets now shattered, that simply proved politically impossible. Politicians, after all, had elections to win. Keynes had been thinking long-term. Politicians always think short-term.

Between 1947 and 1960, the government had run deficits five times and surpluses nine times. Between 1961 and 2012, through boom and recession, war and peace, the government has run surpluses five times and deficits 47 times. (And even those surpluses were essentially accounting fiction: the national debt rose in every one of those “surplus” years.)

Keynes, who was the most famous economist of the 20th century, just didn’t take the self-interested, greedy, political nature of humanity into account in his ‘economy as a  machine’ theory. His theories work in theory, but not in practice. Liberals, unable to criticize any fellow liberal or discard any theory beloved by their predecessors, refuse to give up and keep beating a dead horse.

Mr. Obama’s idea of government is a matter of greasing the palms of those who contribute to his well-being, and he needs revenue to do it. All he knows is the Chicago way of doing government.  Nothing is as telling as his complete contempt for the Republican idea of free people and limited government. When he spoke of “fundamentally transforming America” he didn’t mean what you probably thought he did.

Progressives: Their Unsurprising Characteristics. by The Elephant's Child

The first sentiment animating 19th–century Progressivism was admiration of parliamentary democracy, a system sometimes described as dictatorship punctuated by elections.  It has remained appealing ever since to intellectuals and activists for whom “the practice of American democracy meant the institutionalization of the liberal-progressive agenda,” in Pearson’s words.  Many liberals were enraged that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell could marshal his 41 Republican colleagues to exploit the filibuster and other procedural arcana to thwart 59 Democratic senators as well as President Obama and the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. These complaints that the Senate’s rules frustrate democracy led to complaints that its existence does so: a legislative chamber where Wyoming’s 564,000 residents enjoy equal representation with California’s 37 million was condemned as “resolutely, aggressively, anti-democratic,” one which “ought to be abolished.”

From an essay titled “Enough Already” by William Voegeli in the Claremont Review of Books, Winter 2011/2012. Worth your time.

Thoughts for the Coming Week: by The Elephant's Child
March 11, 2012, 6:14 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Freedom, Law, National Security | Tags: , ,

Countries that pursue economic freedom get prosperity as a bonus.
                                                                                                 Barry Asmus

The clear lesson of history is that individual liberty, the basic underpinning of American society, requires constant defense against the encroachment of the state.
                                                                                               Walter Wriston

A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.                                                                                                                                            Milton Friedman

Christianity, democracy, the rule of law, indeed free markets, are things worth having, as we might attest; also motherhood, and apple pie.  But none of them can be imposed, each must be freely chosen.  All are things we chose for ourselves, over many centuries of trial and  error.                                                   David Warren

These Voices Don’t Speak for the Rest of Us! by The Elephant's Child
August 17, 2010, 6:30 am
Filed under: Capitalism, Freedom, Politics, Statism | Tags: , ,

(h/t: Ace of Spades)

Supporting Liberty is the Most Basic American Value. The Obama Team Can’t be Bothered. by The Elephant's Child

Here at American Elephants, we are especially critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.  We are big believers in liberty, and if freedom appears at all on the Obama team agenda, it’s way, way down at the bottom of the list.

If you need evidence, I offer the Green movement in Iran.  Afraid that displeasing the Mullahs could mean an end to the hopes of the administration for an opportunity to persuade Iran to give up their nuclear efforts,  the administration could not bring themselves to offer even vigorous verbal support for the dissidents.

Then there is the administration’s support for the legally ousted president of Honduras, lack of support for Georgia, for Israel, for Columbia and South Korea. Casual insults to our closest allies in Europe — and even Australia and Canada are inexplicable.

For another look at ” the freedom agenda,” the Wall Street Journal today has a splendid article on just what it means to make freedom a priority:

No one seems to know precisely who is behind the “Miss Me Yet?” billboard—the cheeky one featuring a grinning George W. Bush that looks out over I-35 near Wyoming, Minn. But Syrian dissident Ahed Al-Hendi sympathizes with the thought.

In 2006, Mr. Hendi was browsing pro-democracy Web sites in a Damascus Internet café when plainclothes cops carrying automatic guns swooped in, cuffed him, and threw him into the trunk of a car. He spent over a month in prison, some of it alone in a 5-by-3 windowless basement cell where he listened to his friend being tortured in the one next door. Those screams, he says, were cold comfort—at least he knew his friend hadn’t been killed.

Mr. Hendi was one of the lucky ones: He’s now living in Maryland as a political refugee where he works for an organization called And this past Monday, he joined other international dissidents at a conference sponsored by the Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University to discuss the way digital tools can be used to resist repressive regimes.

He also got to meet the 43rd president. In a private breakfast hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Bush, Mr. Hendi’s message to the former president was simple: “We miss you.” There have been “a lot of changes” under the current administration, he added, and not for the better.

Adrian Hong, who was imprisoned in China in 2006 for his work helping North Koreans escape the country (a modern underground railroad), echoed that idea. “When I was released [after 10 days] I was told it was because of very strong messaging from the White House and the culture you set,” he told Mr. Bush.

There is much more, and real food for thought.  Do read the whole thing.  Standing up for  individuals who are risking their lives for freedom should not be a partisan issue.  It is he most basic of American values.

Is President Obama a Desperate Man? by The Elephant's Child
March 10, 2010, 7:52 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Health Care, Taxes | Tags: , ,

The president is still talking about health care, but he is increasingly less and less successful in moving the numbers.  57 percent of voters believe that passage of health care legislation would harm the economy while only 25 percent believe that it would help.

People simply don’t trust official projections (with reason).  In Washington the pronouncements of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) may be holy writ, but voters are familiar with the seemingly inevitable, immense cost overruns. 81 percent of voters say it’s likely that the plan will end up costing more than projected, only 10 percent say the official numbers are likely to be on target.

Most believe that the health care plan will increase the deficit and likely mean higher taxes on the middle class.  For American voters, reducing the deficit is a higher priority than health care reform. They don’t believe that reform will bring down the cost.

If the program is supposed to save money, how come you have to spend an additional trillion dollars?  That just doesn’t make sense to most people.

President Obama would like you to believe that he is riding a wave of newfound optimism.

The president’s increased desperation is apparent in his arguments.  He is blaming insurance companies unilaterally for rising costs — but the combined annual profits of America’s ten largest insurers are only $8.3 billion — which is one-seventh of what Medicare loses each year to fraud, and just 0.4 percent of the $2.5 trillion that the U.S. spends annually on health care. No wonder people don’t believe the numbers.

The late Walter Wriston once wrote:

The clear lesson of history is that individual liberty, the basic underpinning of American society, requires constant defense against the encroachment of the state.