Ode to Kennedy

I was only 14 when Kennedy simulated oral sex on a microphone next to Rudy Giuliani at the ’94 MTV Video Music Awards, and so I couldn’t quite appreciate what I was witnessing. I recall maintaining an awkward silence at school the next day as the incident dominated cafeteria conversations, because I did not want to reveal that I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. I mean, I got the joke as far as it went, but I didn’t understand the negativity and the boos that greeted the popular MTV VJ as she walked on stage to present an award. As I learned at school, the impetus for Kennedy’s stunt was show host Roseanne Barr’s joke in her opening monologue that Kennedy was performing fellatio on Rush Limbaugh backstage. I didn’t know who Rush Limbaugh was at the time.

Kennedy would slowly fade from my pop radar as MTV gradually transformed from a cutting-edge alternative music channel to the confounding and ridiculous epicenter of a new fad known as reality television. It wasn’t until around 2010 that I rediscovered Lisa Kennedy Montgomery as I was mining the internet for material on a burgeoning new interest: libertarianism. By then Kennedy had switched from Republican to libertarian and found a home with Reason.com and ReasonTV. I was impressed with her work and officially became a fan. Around this time, the Fox Business Network was discovering that their highest rated prime-time political shows shared a libertarian bent, particularly Stossel. So I was intrigued to learn that FBN had given Kennedy her own show and that they were doing so to capitalize on the growing libertarian moment.

To date, The Independents has not disappointed. Flanked by Matt Welch of Reason and Kmele Foster of Free Think Media, Kennedy is simply dynamite as the witty, abrasive, hilarious, informed host. She is clearly having a blast and is easily worthy of two or three laugh-out-loud moments a night, a gift that could perhaps be construed as a weakness when she elicits distracting bouts of laughter from her off-screen panelists. That is but a minor quibble though, as everything from the content to the guests to the bumper music is top-notch. What pleases this viewer most are Kennedy’s biting monologues and asides, such as her take that Huma Abedin “sounds like she’s in the Pentaverate! Or the Sextaverate… which we will get into in a later show.”

I’m an unabashed young(ish) libertarian and therefore the perfect representative of the target market Roger Ailes and the FBN brass are aiming to reach with their pivot to more libertarian programming. Leftists are always quick to point out that approximately 50% of the Fox News Channel’s viewership are 68 and older, which explains the sister network’s drive to attract a younger audience. It isn’t a risk-free proposition, as evidenced by a pretty riotous segment called “Two Minutes of Hate,” which airs grievances from the (one suspects) more rank-and-file Fox News viewer and which makes clear that not everyone in the Fox viewership embraces the libertarians’ sudden rise to mainstream prominence. By my own unscientific calculus though, the show is a hit and will remain so, as long as Kennedy keeps the lively atmosphere humming and the wicked one-liners rolling.

I know it’s silly to get excited about a political panel show, but we libertarians are hungry for our ideas to be heard, and adding a great show like The Independents to a roster that includes Stossel (and used to include the great Andrew Napolitano’s Freedom Watch) can only be seen as good news for the further mainstreaming of libertarian ideology. But if you’re skeptical of these ideas or even outright hostile towards them, you should still watch because Kennedy is freaking hilarious and often zones to the point of “Reaganing.”

On Delusion

In examining progressivism today, it is impossible not to marvel at a fascinating phenomenon: the pronounced delusion of the collective leftwing media. This is not a phenomenon isolated to the left. Neoconservatives and mainstream Republicans were similarly delusional about the reality of their political fortunes amid the drawn-out Iraq war quasi-quagmire. Resorting to cheap nationalism and cynical “with us or against us” rhetoric by the time the “Mission Accomplished” banner had faded from memory, the Bush administration demonstrated an unseemly instinct to wield “patriotism” as a cudgel against anyone not displaying the requisite enthusiasm for foreign nation-building.Substitute “Iraq” with “Obamacare” and you see the same delusions infecting the progressives as happened to the neocons almost a decade ago. While substantively different (obvi), Iraq and Obamacare are similar political issues because they are both immense crosses to bear for the party who brought them forth. Each stands today as a symbol of political overreach and as a bleating warning to its respective partisans of which road not to hoe. And today’s Democrats are following gloriously in the deluded footsteps of yesterday’s Republicans by studiously emulating the latter’s stubborn denial about what the Iraq war was doing to its credibility and pretending that Obamacare is not likewise shepherding their party into a single-issue ditch.

The left is essentially undergoing a psychological pep rally and its most committed media denizens are trying to convince themselves that Obamacare is fine. This is no small feat, as progressives from the New Republic to the Daily Kos are wringing their hands over the potential political cataclysm that awaits them in November. Debacle, thy name is Obamacare. Still, there are already signs that some of the loudest progressive cheerleaders are turning the page and moving on. Breathless reporting of “nothing to see here” has predictably flowed from Ezra Klein, Alec MacGillis, Kevin Drum, Michael Tomasky and, of course, the cadre of statist enthusiasts at MSNBC. I share Jonah Goldberg’s delight in discovering the word fremdschämenwhich describes the feeling one gets from watching people embarrass themselves while oblivious to the fact that they are embarrassing.

Delusional people acting delusionally are usually going to be embarrassing, and by the very act of deluding themselves into believing an alternate reality, they lose all capacity for self-awareness or psychoanalysis. I defy any sane person to eschew fremdschämen when listening to someone like Debbie Wasserman Schultz say something like this. It is easy to assume that much of the inanities spewing from the mouths of the delusional do not in fact reflect a confused mind but rather an intentionally malicious and deceptive one. But that underestimates the powerful effect of collective delusion. With so much at stake in a country divided into separate factions over a fundamental disagreement about the nature of the liberal society, it does not require a genius to understand the urgency of partisan politics (particularly in a de facto two-party system such as ours). However, it should be equally obvious that institutional parties might succumb to self-deception on occasions when their political mission loses its mandate with the voters. Nothing sparks a bout of collective delusion like a threat to power. Like Republicans in 2006 seeing the writing on the wall but refusing to read it, the Democrats today know that Obamacare is crippling their hold on power, they just refuse to admit it.

Political inertia is a powerful thing; stagnation lingers longer than it should because things at rest tend to stay at rest. Once motion of the sort that Obamacare is creating gets started, there is little to slow it down, let alone stop it. Things in motion tend to stay in motion. The pandora’s box that Democrats were too cocky and hubristic to care that they were opening has unleashed a powerful torrent of voter animosity and hostility directed at President Obama and the Democrats. Lying tends to arouse passions in people, who knew? Mass delusion is the inevitable byproduct of a party’s massive screw-up. Whether it’s the launching of a silly hegemonic foreign adventure or the arrogant attempt to remake 17% of the national economy by placing government at the center of healthcare, colossal errors that point to guaranteed defeat cause people in both parties to behave like children and to deny the obvious consequences looming in a cold November not too far on the horizon.

Here’s to the next apocalyptic mistake resulting in mass confession and apology, rather than denial and delusion.

Economic Freedom

“A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”
-Milton Friedman

The Heritage Foundation has put out its annual Index of Economic Freedom for 2014 and the big takeaway is that the United States has fallen out of the top ten for the first time in the twenty year history of the index. That this barely qualified as news should not surprise, given the media’s preoccupation with such transcendent issues as highway cones on the George Washington bridge, but it is nevertheless a critical data point that deserves our attention.

For the twentieth consecutive year, Hong Kong reigns atop the list. While it has room to improve in political freedom, Hong Kong remains the most economically free territory in the world, a place where you can start a business in one day. From protection of property rights and contract to strong business, labor and monetary freedom, Hong Kong shines a bright light on the wonderful productivity, wealth and dynamism that free market conditions spur. Singapore follows at number two and Australia is number three, giving the Asian economic zone the top three freest economies in the world. Rounding out the top ten are (in order) Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada, Chile, Mauritius, Ireland and Denmark. At number twelve, the United States is sandwiched between Estonia and Bahrain, and one can’t help wonder how a former Soviet satellite and a gulf oil emirate managed to flank the world’s preeminent champion of economic freedom. Such is life amid a snails-paced non-recovery going on its sixth year. The progressive managers of our decline are surely celebrating (quietly) our exit from the top ten, as their aim is not to enhance freedom but equality. If anyone in the administration ever read any Milton Friedman (very doubtful), it clearly did not register.

Why is the left suspicious of economic freedom? Why does the concept of laissez-faire chill them to the bone? Why do they exhibit the analytic sophistication of kindergarteners when it comes to evaluating free enterprise? Why do they reject the moral case for the market?

Progressives are either very ignorant of the facts on poverty or willfully dishonest in their interpretation of the data. For the simple reality is that free enterprise and entrepreneurial capitalism are exponentially more valuable in the fight against global poverty than government aid or action. In the past forty years, developing nations that introduced or expanded economic freedom have seen the crisis of the poor evolve from one of famine to one of net worth. Fewer humans starve today than at any time in history. Ultimately progressives shrug at economic freedom because they don’t understand it. They bemoan the plight of the poor and the downtrodden as victims of some ruthless zero-sum economic Hunger Games because they lack the imagination to discern how the upwardly mobile got to where they are. In assuming that success in America is achieved through grift, connections and inheritance as part of a rigged conspiracy, progressives take an awfully cynical view of human nature and the world. The reality is that success in America is achieved through hard work, risk and perseverance; same as it ever was. But if the organic dynamism of capitalism appears too chaotic and confusing, it is understandable that the alternative would be a vision of state collectivism, instead of one that elevates the individual over the state.

When economic freedom is enhanced, power is necessarily stripped from the state and dispersed to the consumer through markets. The left is never happy with this outcome, as diffuse power and spontaneous order make no sense to their simple minds. For the left, society is a chaotic mess that must be managed by experts lest it descend into Hobbesian anarchy, and the idea that what looks like chaos is actually order seems ludicrous. They only focus on what is seen but are loathe to consider the unseen. They refuse to acknowledge the merits of economic freedom while harboring a perverse desire to attribute prosperity to government rather than the market: “You didn’t build that.” This points to the fundamental progressive aim: control. Since control over people is impossible when individuals are able to pursue their own commercial ends, economic freedom has always been anathema to the leftist mindset. The focus on equality over freedom that the left favors today is bound as ever by the laws of economics and destined to further codify Friedman’s maxim as a sacred truth.

The U.S. will return to the top ten in the Index of Economic Freedom, but not until public policy reflects an appreciation for liberty and the free market. That means shrinking the size of government, reducing federal spending substantially, and overhauling or eliminating a bevy of federal agencies and programs. The left doesn’t feel an urgent need to restore our economic freedom ranking because they affirmatively believe that policies enacted by less free economies, such as increases in welfare, taxes and labor organization, lie on the path to social justice. They couldn’t be more wrong about that. As certain as the sun sets in the west, economic freedom is the road to wealth and prosperity. It is categorically not the road to equality, but if everyone is better off with economic freedom, who cares if some people are more better off than others?

#Benghazi

We have been living through a committed attempt at progressive revival the past seven years, and key to the project is an emphasis on “transforming” the domestic foundations of the country rather than those related to foreign policy. Progressivism depends on control of a robust state apparatus with which they mean to shape society into something more just and equitable. Once the business of remaking America at home is done, the focus can turn to exporting their enlightened awesomeness abroad. The only obstacle standing in their way is the persistent and inconvenient truth that their ideas just don’t work.

When confronted with failure, progressives always obfuscate and deny their transgressions, because the only thing worse than a failed progressive experiment is acknowledgment of failure. Once you admit failure to the masses you’re trying to control, the jig is up, as who is going to sign onto enlightened rule by expert knowledge if the experts don’t know what they’re doing? The reality of every collectivist enterprise is a citizenry at the mercy of the powerful. In order to maintain the illusion that the people are served by these benevolent masters, the powerful must claim infallibility. More important, skepticism must be quashed, as the crucial element of any statist regime is information control. In the end it is all about coercion.

This is how a major foreign policy disaster is covered up. While critics and skeptics were met with either indifference or derisive mockery, the administration was busy putting the clamps down on all information so as to avoid any damning leaks that could contradict their fabrication.

Like the progressives, I prefer to talk about domestic issues over foreign policy because no matter how dangerous or precarious American interests look overseas, nothing compares to the urgency of our domestic situation. Particularly on economics and the physical makeup of our federal government, domestic issues dominate kitchen table discussions in liberal and conservative homes alike, and for good reason. And while I understand clearly the importance of the Benghazi incident, it’s hard for me to muster as much outrage or expend as much mental energy on it as many conservatives have, simply because I believe Obamacare, the NSA and the IRS stories carry larger weight. Still, Benghazi was undoubtedly a tragedy and, we now know, undoubtedly a terrorist attack. What infuriates the average American is not that the Obama administration failed to prevent a coordinated jihadist attack on an American outpost, but that they lied about it for a month in order to cover for their election campaign narrative that “bin Laden is dead and al Queda is on the run.”

Even more infuriating is the mocking and dismissive tone among leftwing pundits regarding conservative questions about what happened in Benghazi. It is now fashionable to make fun of “#Benghazi” and to paint anyone with a hint of curiosity about the subject as a desperate lunatic. The most galling thing about all this is the willingness of leftists to dutifully believe everything about the administration’s account of the tragedy. Contrast most of the national media’s reluctance to assign blame to any principal in the Benghazi matter with the way it covered the Chris Christie scandal. It is perfectly acceptable to just know that Christie knew about the retributive lane closures, whereas it is a crime against decency to suspect that someone in the administration concocted a false narrative about Benghazi because of presidential campaign considerations. And since Obama’s strategy of stonewalling has worked so well, unanswered questions and lingering suspicions are dismissed by progressives as remnants of an outdated story stuck in an infinite loop inside the conservative echo chamber.

It is bad enough that the administration lied about the circumstances that saw the U.S. lose its first foreign ambassador to violence in over thirty years. Knowing how progressives operate, especially those within the Obama White House, it is wholly unsurprising that the likes of Valerie Jarrett and Ben Rhodes would put politics and campaign messaging over the truth. By extension, the same goes for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (and Chris Christie). What is so painfully dispiriting is the way their cheerleaders and cult followers played such a complimentary role in the administration’s efforts at brushing the whole thing under the rug. It was not enough to distort the facts or glom onto a fanciful story about a youtube video being the culprit. It was equally important to disqualify conservatives who objected to the official account so that their objections could be dismissed at the outset. Make them sound so crazy and out-of-touch for clinging onto a “conspiracy theory” about an “old” story and the public will assume there is nothing to see here and move on. And it has totally worked.

Is Anyone Embarrassed?

To Vizzini’s list of well-known classic blunders that one should avoid at all costs, I would add a third: in addition to avoiding involvement in Asian land wars and shunning confrontation with Sicilians when death is on the line, a third classic blunder is the modern citizen’s expectation of a balanced, rational and sane media in a culture infected to its core by cushy elite liberalism.

L’affaire voie fermature and the obsessive coverage of Chris Christie is the latest instance media hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness. It is a full on orgy of projection, speculation and righteous condemnation, which would be fine if all scandals were given similar shrift. What makes the Christie spectacle in the media so obscene is the denial that anything unseemly is going on. In fact, progressive media henchmen have noticed the critique and are ridiculously calling out conservatives for having the audacity to call them out for participating in such despicably slanted reporting. Here’s Joan Walsh and Brian Beutler at Salon attempting to shape reality to their own stunted worldview. Debbie Wasserman Schultz insisted that the Christie scandal is far worse than something like the IRS, NSA or AP phone-tapping scandals that discredited Obama’s credibility with the public and would have threatened his Presidency had the media adopted an iota of curiosity or skepticism of the administration’s accounts. John Podhoretz helpfully explains the disparity in media scrutiny of Obama’s abuses of power and those committed by a prestigious Republican with eyes on the White House. And here’s an LA Times hack scoffing that conservatives doth protest too much. The facts are that Bridgeghazi received seventeen times more coverage in 24 hours than the IRS targeting of the Tea Party got in six months. GOP members in the House have played the role of investigative journalists while actual journalists have ignored the obvious leads and inquiries lest they discover a trail leading to the administration. And there are scant few honest progressives uncomfortable with such a tilted media landscape because, after all, progressives want just such a tilted landscape.

The question that keeps nagging at me though is this: Is anyone embarrassed? Particularly among liberals and progressives, is there no one with a conscience or sense of propriety that is just a little bit embarrassed by the cavalcade of elite media obsession with this story?  It clearly is a story; one deserving of investigation and thorough coverage, but to this degree? When Meet the Press devotes its first 33 minutes of airtime to a single story, it is usually either a war or a major scandal involving someone in the federal government. This is a local scandal involving a prominent rising figure in national GOP politics, but still a local scandal. The IRS targeting scandal affected millions of Americans across the country. That is a national scandal, but mainstream media analysis neglected to treat IRS conduct as devious and instead concentrated on absolving the White House of any culpability. That same “nothing to see here” and “no smoking gun, time to move on” attitude was never an option in the Christie case. This was a chance to “clear the deck,” to wipe a formidable potential opponent from the game board three years out from the next election. Jonah Goldberg nailed it with his observation that our culturally and politically homogeneous media are defined less by progressive principles and values and more by trite partisanship. The disparity in coverage of Obama’s scandals and the Christie story is simple: Obama is their guy, and Christie could easily become an obstacle to their girl, thus if/when an opportunity arises, it’s ready, fire, aim. It’s entirely political and entirely partisan. Few liberals in America worry about the unethical use of government power; they just care that a Republican come under fire for it and that his reputation be eviscerated. There was never going to be the same hunger to get to the bottom of any abuses of power coming from Saint Obama.

Just once, it would be wonderful to hear a progressive journalist or blogger express exasperation at his colleagues’ double standards and call them out as the hypocrites they are. The only one who comes to mind is Glenn Greenwald, a noble progressive who respects libertarian philosophy and the conservative critique of government because he himself is suspicious of concentrated government power. The most important development this country can experience in the near-future is a widespread reckoning by progressives that activist government is an enemy to liberty and that those wishing to expand government’s reach should be met with skepticism (if not outright cynicism). Until then, do not expect a media comprised of east coast liberals and power-worshiping sycophants from elite Ivy League schools to behave anything like a neutral watchdog press, and don’t get bent out of shape when its adversarial relationship with the powerful only applies to the evil bastards on the other team.

Some double-standards are perennial, and they’re not going away. It would just be nice if those guilty of hypocrisy would feel a little embarrassed by it.

 

The Failed War on Poverty – 50 Years of Prog Facepalm

Quite a few depressing anniversaries of late: 100th year of Federal Reserve; 50 years since Kennedy assassination; and now 50 year anniversary of War on Poverty.

First, you can’t declare “wars” on abstract or social phenomena like poverty or drugs or terrorism. We of course have the progressives to thank for this stupid idiom: William James argued that early 20th century progressivism needed to transcend the “moral equivalent of war” to domestic, non-war progressive social policies. If you give something the urgency of “war” you’re likely to get an urgent reaction.

So what have we gotten out of all this asymmetrical “warfare?” Far less than was promised, an exorbitant sum of wasted energy and money, and worse outcomes for those intended to benefit.

The greatest tragedy of the War on Poverty is that it has been on autopilot and is free from critique or reform. If Bono can figure out the secret to solving poverty, surely your average American progtard should be able to appreciate his sentiment: “Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid.” (http://bit.ly/1afrqbA)

Bono can’t be accused of not caring. The guy has spent the last 20 years making African poverty eradication his personal crusade. He’s seen plenty of money thrown at the problem, and yet he gradually arrived at where he is because the different outcomes from capitalism and from aid are so striking that even a rock icon and former skeptic of free enterprise can come around.

So if it is now painfully obvious to Bono that foreign aid to Africa is a gigantic boondoggle that has nothing on entrepreneurial capitalism’s ability to lift people out of poverty, why does the progressive left in this country still insist that aid from the government is the answer to poverty, unemployment, etc? Is it because they use the aid as a cynical tool aimed at political gain? Or are their hearts in the right place and they’re just too economically illiterate to understand that there’s a much better way to fight poverty?

Charles Krauthammer was a Great Society liberal working at The New Republic up through the mid-80’s. His principle reason for converting to conservatism was the War on Poverty. He said he was in favor of LBJ’s programs initially, but after 20 years it was impossible to ignore the data; not only had poverty not dramatically changed since the inception of the war against it, it had grown worse and the federal aid had contributed to it. This conclusion was enough for Krauthammer to ditch the Great Society and liberalism, unfortunately he was essentially alone on the left in admitting its failure.

50 years, $20 trillion spent, poverty still winning the war. And the real shame is that progressives won’t admit it, and in fact call for more spending and more aid. The only way to eradicate poverty is to embrace markets and capitalism. But those are bad, scary, evil things that only rich, selfish conservative racists would endorse, or so believes the modern left.

The Federal Reserve and the Right

Consider me vexed by the glut of pro-Fed conservatives who seem to exist at times just to bash those of us who lament the very existence of central banking. The point of Ron and Rand Paul agitation against the Fed isn’t to convert us back to gold immediately. It’s to raise awareness on an incredibly complex and opaque institution that approximately no one understands. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Federal Reserve isn’t going to be reigned in and/or dismantled at once either.

In light of the discussion surrounding Yuval Levin’s new book The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the Birth of Right and Left, it’s fine for some conservatives to champion monetarism and cite Milton Friedman and advocate a more tempered attitude towards the Fed. That would be considered a Burkean approach because it takes the world as is and tries to build on what works (“its best self). And for all its flaws and infringements on good principle and sound economics, the central bank does work to a degree, and there are arguments that can be mounted in defense of it. Many respected writers on the right, including Ramesh Ponnuru and James Pethokoukis, defend monetary policy on the grounds that it has largely generated stability while preventing deflationary cycles that end with catastrophic runs on banks. But it’s more important in my view to adopt the Paineian approach and take a principled stand on the very idea of central banks. Thomas Paine believed fervently that every generation enjoyed its own autonomy and that no generation was really bound to its past. Contra Burke, who viewed the past as predicate and emphasized the preservation of institutions and of all the things that are “good” in a society as the true means to achieving progress, Paine saw every custom or cultural institution as a shackle. I’ll have a lot more to say on the fascinating debate between Burke and Paine, as I still am not sure if I agree with Levin’s ultimate siding with the Burkean disposition, especially as it relates to politics in 2014. The Paineian impulse to rely on reason and principle over tradition and custom in a quest to remake society anew according to each successive generation’s own desires explains why Levin asserts that Paine was an important precursor to the idea of the left. That he went on to fully endorse the French Revolution and its obsession with eradicating all remnants of French history supports this claim. When aimed at corrupt institutions though, Paine’s radicalism certainly has its merits, and principled opposition to the institution of the Federal Reserve would certainly have earned plaudits from Paine. The free market and the prosperity that flows from it is an organic process that is only corrupted by arbitrary third parties, and Paine loathed anything with arbitrary power to infringe on individual rights. Powerful and untrammeled as it is, the Fed cannot ever possess enough knowledge to know what optimal rates, yields or prices should be. It can get lucky guessing on occasion, but it can never know as much as the invisible hand.

My question for pro-Fed conservatives who tout their Burkean incrementalism in addressing problems with the central bank and who urge prudence and caution among those flying the End The Fed flag is simple: why is Burke’s method of building upon status quo institutions rather than abolishing them and starting over applicable to the Federal Reserve but not to the welfare state generally? Few if any modern conservatives are proponents of the welfare state – in principle and practice – and most of us are rabid Paine acolytes when it comes to our wishes to curtail both the welfare state and the permanent federal bureaucracy, and “curtail” is probably putting it lightly. Most conservatives and libertarians in 2014 want to see a comprehensive abolition of executive agencies, bureaucratic departments, and welfare state programs. That is not exactly a Burkean outlook. So why do most establishment conservatives insist on Burkean politics regarding the Fed while emulating Paine in their desire to see our government reclaim its first principles?

I understand there are cogent arguments for Fed-provided stability, particularly in the realm of inflation and deflation. Neither is desirable, but inflation is usually preferable to deflation, and the Fed has done a decent job at times of keeping inflation in check while effectively neutralizing the threat of deflation entirely. The problem is that central bank currency printing and bond purchasing alike create illusions of stability and growth while concealing the fact that markets and industries are just receiving distorted price signals which result in a mis-allocation of resources. The very instruments the Fed deploys to facilitate a stable business cycle contribute paradoxically to its volatility. Central planners can’t eliminate the boom-bust cycle in part because they themselves are responsible for it. It’s true that there were panics and crashes prior to the establishment of the Federal Reserve. But the introduction of the Fed did nothing to ease the trend; we’ve had as many or more wild rides with the economy in the Fed era than not. Bubbles form when credit is recklessly expanded, and you don’t need a central bank to recklessly expand credit. Whether you’re looking at the Panic of 1819 or a liquidity crisis of the late 1890’s, volatility and boom-bust cycles are always a risk, central bank or no.

The Fed creates false incentives (i.e. bubbles) that always lead to crashes. Bubbles are vile because lots of wealth and resources get woefully misallocated, but few are aware of the mal-investment due to the Fed’s instruments (like QE) that cloak and conceal the distortion. I understand Milton Friedman’s Burkean insight that central banking is probably here to stay so conservatives might as well figure out how to deal with it and make it least harmful to the market economy as possible, and to a large extent conservatives have succeeded in this arena. Ronald Reagan and Paul Voelcker’s partnership in the early 80’s showed how conservatives can work with the Fed Chairman to combat the rampant inflation carried over from the 70’s. But economic imperatives like inflation, energy prices and stagnation are very different today than they were at the dawn of the Reagan Revolution. Because Reagan succeeded so thoroughly in launching a three decade plus paradigm shift in American economic optimism and output, circumstances have changed (for the better) and the pressing demands of today’s stagnant economy have changed as well. As the progressives continue to cement chronic unemployment as a “new normal” and behave with utter hostility towards the private economy, conservatives need to point out that the income inequality progressives are going on about has only been made worse by their policies and the Fed’s ability to hide the true nature of a pathetic economy through money printing. Oh, and all that quantitative easing and debt monetization did was enhance the balance sheets of some very big and very wealthy banks.

A Quick Word on Pot Legalization

Unlike gay marriage, decriminalization of marijuana should be a no-brainer for all conservatives, not just libertarians. National Review (http://bit.ly/1dK1IwJ) has this exactly right and it is beyond disheartening to see so many in the comments adopting the curmudgeonly “these rascally kids…” attitude about this. You can have all the moral objections to pot you want, there is simply no moral or conservative reason to champion widespread incarceration at public expense of non-violent pot offenders.

The idea is supposed to be to grow our tent. Contrary to the popular slander by leftists and some conservatives that we are “conservatives who smoke pot” or are hedonists focused only on drug legalization, libertarians are far more passionate about economics, individual rights and thwarting the state. Pot is just such an obvious place to start because it is such a prime example of unintended consequences. Libertarians are again ready to unite with all conservative tribes and factions, just as happened during the Cold War. Communism died but communism/socialism/collectivism is still very much with us (and is even ascendant in places like Brussels and Gracie Mansion) and the wild and woolly coalition of the freedom-inclined must galvanize in order to defeat progressivism.

Judging by cultural trends and direction of the wind, there just isn’t much point in our having this intramural fight on THIS issue. The rest of the social issues deserve their own special arena for discussion due to their complexity and legitimate opinions on both sides. I’m OK with gay marriage but resent the fascists among the gay PC enforcers but am also staunchly pro-life. These positions are controversial within libertarianism, let alone conservatism. But we know that and we enjoy the fight.

The drug war? I won’t say there are no legitimate arguments in defense of it, but their impact is becoming increasingly small.

The Progressive Agenda: 2014

Not since Toto pulled on the curtain has one been so exposed. If the dramatic reveal of the wizard as a fraud and a liar shocked the audience, President Obama’s unmasking in 2013 only served to confirm its suspicions. For anyone paying attention, Obama has always been a dishonest broker, someone who cynically marginalizes and defames his opposition while countenancing no accountability of his own. But for a majority of Americans Obama was a noble if flawed man whose great ideas were subject to continual and unprecedented “obstruction” from his “enemies.” The rollout of Obamacare shattered the president’s reputation as honest and trustworthy and shredded what credibility Democrats had left. Amid the euphoria of government shutdown fallout redounding negatively for Republicans, progressives believed the “fever” of their opposition would break and the public would be eager to put liberals back in charge of the House of Representatives after seeing such extremism undertaken by conservatives. What actually transpired was the stuff of progressive nightmares rather than the wet dream of unopposed politics they promised themselves. The entire progressive agenda was suddenly in jeopardy, all due to Obamacare’s inconvenient flair for highlighting government incompetence. But where sane and sober-minded people would use this moment of intense adversity as an opportunity to take stock and reevaluate their agenda and look for fixes where their policy went off the rails, progressives are seemingly stuck in a perpetual Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor movie where deafness and blindness are the only possible explanations for their agenda moving forward. If nothing else, the progressive agenda for 2014 amounts to that kind of comedy.

So let’s dive in to the morass and swim in the muck and dredge up some more mixed metaphors to convey how gross and icky the progressive agenda really is.

Before we outline what it actually will consist of, let’s establish what the progressive agenda would look like if Democrats were to control the government as they did in ’09-’10 with no pertinent legislative opposition. Obviously there would be a spate of tax increases on the wealthy as the first order of business, followed immediately by a laundry list of new regulations to be enforced by a phalanx of newly hired bureaucrats. Domestic energy production would finally meet its maker and become the stuff of legend and nostalgia. A stimulus at least double the size of the first would undoubtedly be spent on bullet trains and public union pensions while card check and compulsory union membership gain momentum after a federal law or ruling or edict explained that government’s hostility towards employers was really just about “fairness.” And entrepreneurs should be content to outsource their HR to Washington and better not complain of anything so quaint as a loss of autonomy or agency. The government knows better than the employer how to manage the personnel of the employer’s enterprise, naturally. Universal preschool, blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants, comprehensive student-loan forgiveness, aggressive expansion of transfer payment programs and social obsessions like gay marriage, abortion rights and the comprehensive banning of things people enjoy are items on the progressive wish-list that have no chance of materializing without an iron-clad Democratic grip on the Congress.

Since Democrats are not going to regain the House of Representatives next November, and in fact quite likely are going to lose the Senate, the reality for the progressive agenda in ’14 is not encouraging. Having heretofore shown exactly zero interest in working with or even trying to understand its opposition, progressives are clearly not inclined to begin constructive dialogue with conservatives now. Were they to harbor genuine intellectual curiosity instead of demonizing their opponents, progressives would discover that we don’t in fact wish to wage a war on women or consign the poor to starve in the streets. Compromises that served the national interest rather than the short-term sustenance of our ruling elites could actually emerge. This would only be possible if the political party most enamored with demagoguery and cynicism morphed into one that cherished tolerance; not just of physical attributes in people, but of ideas and ideology as well.

Thus the agenda does not include anything resembling an olive branch to Republicans because how could the progressives champion a policy that has any buy-in from conservatives? The right is the enemy and so the powerful tribal sensation one gets from knowing and identifying the enemy is enough to keep millions of deluded Americans in the progressive herd. Progressivism is essentially a cause; against injustice and unfairness. Every cause needs a villain, and to progressive eyes there just so happens to be a perfect nominee perpetually auditioning for the role.

Sometimes the villain succumbs to the righteous outrage. Here are three agenda items I expect the progressives to agitate and whine about this year, as they hope to shame Republicans into action using cheap appeals to emotionalism.

Immigration

Both sides of the debate largely disgust me on this issue, as the right too often traffics in apparent xenophobia while the left doesn’t even try to conceal that their true intention is to legalize large swaths of future Democratic voters. As a libertarian I subscribe to the freedom of movement concept, in which humans are free to live their lives according to their own dictates, location among them. As a Texan I subscribe to the realist line that the border cannot be fenced or walled, nor should it be, practically or morally. The border from Tijuana to Laredo is nearly two thousand miles of rough desert and river terrain; not exactly talking about Jerusalem or Berlin here where walls have succeeded in partitioning societies and elevating misery and contempt for those on the wrong side as a result. A fence is just not practical, and any conservative who clamors for one is either ignorant to the details or overtly hostile to Latino immigration. This is not to say that “open borders” is the answer either, utopian and perfect as they would be in theory. We should embrace a lenient and welcoming immigration policy that commits itself anew to the rule of law. The driver of conservative immigration anxiety is the current progressive inclination to view the law the way a card shark views a slot machine: as a quaint relic that only rubes concern themselves with. In the wake of Obamacare, the likelihood of another multi-thousand page piece of legislation that no one understands getting through Congress is identical to my chances of marrying Natalie Portman. When a majority of the country believes the president and his party are dishonest actors and are still simmering hot over being lied to about their medical circumstance, there is no way they are going to enlist the same incompetent government to manage a gargantuan immigration overhaul, because they just won’t trust the government to obey whatever the law says.

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage movement is bubbling up once again among progressives who think Elizabeth Warren is awesome and believe Bill DeBlasio is magically going to turn New York into an egalitarian fairy tale. Rags from Slate to The New Republic to Salon have all recently jumped on the bandwagon with pieces claiming that the minimum wage increase is “good economics.” How does one escape this Bizarro World in which people are allowed to state such lies without repercussions? There is simply no good economic reason for the minimum wage to exist, let alone increase. An increase in the cost of labor necessarily means an increase in prices or a decrease in labor, unless the employer is a progressive altruist who abhors profit and enjoys losing money. The cacophony that will ring from coast to coast about the minimum wage in 2014 is probably a precursor to the even more hilarious progressive fantasy desire of a federal living wage for all. You know, the one where the government just gives every American a check? The logical endpoint of every slapdash progressive economic scheme is just more redistribution. Forced egalitarianism, also known as totalitarian socialism. The proggies will get back to their native ideological foundation eventually; just give them time.

Climate Change

If progressives think they have an ace card to play in 2014, it will likely come from their climate change fear-mongering deck on issues like fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline. Following the same playbook used to gin up angst about inequality, progressives will deploy apocalyptic language flanked by a hodgepodge of unintelligible and misleading data in order to confuse and distort the issue to the point that it feels morally bankrupt to stand opposed. Hammering dystopic visions of melted ice caps and smoldering hellscapes into the collective subconscious of the population is bound to raise the urgency of climate change in the mind of the average voter. And to the unwashed ranks who remain stubbornly unconvinced that a massive warming of our planet is even occurring, let alone merits an alarm call for radical global economic makeover, the cult of climate belittles us and points haughtily at their sacred “consensus.” Science is supposed to be about inherent skepticism and prolific experimentation; consensus is what matters to a group of friends debating where to have lunch. That “95% of scientists agree…” on anything as mysterious, unpredictable and unknowable as the Earth’s historic climate patterns is enough to pronounce their consensus wrong. Because there simply cannot be consensus on this issue, at least not without political and monetary motivations. At this point I think it quite uncontroversial to assert that with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the crumbling of Communism as a viable governing ideology, it is no coincidence that we see the rise of environmentalism so soon on the heels of the collapse of communism. For all the pomp and celebration by free marketers at the end of the Soviet Union (Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History in ’89 – a bit prematurely – to aggrandize the triumph of capitalism and liberty the world over) the allure of collectivism did not die. Instead it found a new home in the burgeoning environmental movement. And almost every initiative of the greens and the radical environmentalists consists of moving the planet incrementally toward global governance on emissions, regulations and taxation, a communist aim if ever there was one.

Fortunately, the green movement remains rather impotent. Bill McKibben draws headlines for silly stunts like chaining himself to the White House fence to protest Keystone, green groups are disconcertingly influential within the EU and UN, and Al Gore is still somehow respected. But overall the movement is listless and creatively challenged: if protesting a pipeline and the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas (both of which are cleaner technologies than coal and more efficient than renewables) are the best the environmental movement can come up with, I’m afraid they’re dooming themselves to a constant state of pissing into the wind.

Still, they’ll bring all their righteous anger and sentimental nonsense to the fore in 2014. I don’t think it will matter though, as climate change is the least likely of all progressive projects to move out of Congress this year. Republicans could ostensibly get browbeaten into some kind of motion on immigration and minimum wage, but not on climate. My money is on none of the above seeing any legislative action this year, but you can set your watch to the fact that the progressives will surely try.