Marxist Millennials?

There’s nothing more embarrassing than the left’s periodic flirtation with Marxism. Anytime a skeptical critique of capitalism is given a quasi credible veneer, the left goes nuts and forgets that their most successful (and cynical) tactic of the past hundred years has been to hide their very real and very confused hostility towards capitalism and markets.

So enter Thomas Piketty, who claims that inequality can only get worse with capitalism in his new book Capital in the 21st Century and leftist morons screech “See!!! Inequality is the only thing that matters!!! We don’t know anything about economics but we’re still certain that income inequality is a scourge because, well, because the proposed measures for addressing it involve expanding the reach of the federal government.”

Leftists hate the free market because a) the extent to which they comprehend it is roughly analagous to the depth of Hodor’s vocabulary and b) because free markets and a premium on individualism undermine the left’s sacred fantasy that society can be planned and managed and shaped to fit the majority’s will. The statist mind chooses not to accept the obvious superiority of free market capitalism over all the others because the statist believes, like a child, that perfection is possible in this life and utopia is attainable.

Utopia is impossible. Greed and avarice are innate characteristics of human beings. The least bad method for harnessing humanity’s fallible nature is to allow for maximum individual freedom. The absolute worst method for harnessing productive instincts in society is to concentrate power centrally; to trust other fallible human beings with “expertly” administering a just and equal state is to completely ignore all of human history. Leftists refuse to learn the most important lesson: that power corrupts absolutely, that there are no angels among men, and that central planners don’t fail because they have the wrong plan, but because planning (scientific, Marxist, Keynesian, etc) itself cannot work. Ever.

Are the progressives right to be so in thrall to Piketty’s work? Is their assumption that millennials and minorities will forever stay wedded to the tribe of identity politics and cultural conformity? Progressives used to genuinely champion freedom of thought and expression, but those days are over. In their pursuit to establish an unassailable culture of “tolerance,” the left has so convinced itself of possessing the moral high ground that it takes for granted that it has become indifferent to its own cynicism. This is how you get scores of bright young intellectuals at places like Mozilla and Brandeis acting like intolerant clowns by reviving timeless leftist traditions like censorship and the thought police. When you carry as an article of faith the smug certainty of your own right-thinking benevolence, you are more likely to turn a blind eye on obnoxious conduct so long as the culprits are on the right “team.” It’s all a long way of saying that I have no idea what the fate of millennial politics is. However, I suspect that Marx is the furthest thing from their minds in 2014, especially when Democrats and their Marxist-sympathizing base have had the run of the capitol for the past six years, and their ideas continue to get worse. As technology makes us more individualistic and libertarian every day, millennial lusting for a return of Marx strikes me as the left’s latest iteration of adorable wishful thinking. More likely, when the economy ultimately improves (a development sure to be delayed until our current regime steps down) and jobs are being created and filled by the chronically unemployed youth, millennials will begin to awaken from their stretched-thin hypnotism and absorb the wisdom that comes to all men with age: that government is incapable of delivering on its promises. Every effort to fulfill its promise serves to crowd out the productive private sector, which slows the economy and prolongs stagnation.

Maybe they won’t arrive at this revelation en masse, and maybe it will take longer than I hope for my generation to finally open their eyes to the awful truth of collectivism, but I will be more than a little surprised (and profoundly dismayed) should the millennial generation sustain its dalliance with the identity politics left that demands total fidelity to every aspect of the cause, with heretics put on permanent notice.

Flight of Fancy

Call me an agnostic on gay marriage. I’m fine with it in the abstract and in practical terms, but I don’t consider myself “down for the cause” and I’d sooner drink sweet tea than place one of those equal sign avatars on the bumper of my car. My hostility is reserved for the gay rights movement; not gay people themselves. I find the recent GLAAD-fueled fervor over the Duck Dynasty foofaraw, the reluctant gay wedding photographer, and the Brendan Eich affair at Mozilla to be oppressive, offensive and unseemly. To paraphrase a comment I saw somewhere on the web, it’s as if all of human history was condensed into a 24 hour period and for the first 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds, humanity accepted that “marriage” defined the union between a male and a female, and only in the last second of the day did a lot of people change their minds. Now, would it make sense in this universe to begin a new day by hounding as bigots anyone who spent nearly the entire day prior believing in traditional marriage? I’m not even saying that gay marriage proponents are wrong, just that their political methods are vindictive, spiteful and petty, in much the same way that evangelical conservatives – not to mention the police – treated them in days past. The bulk of gay rights advances have been the product of articulate, rational and dispassionate argumentation, and Andrew Sullivan knows more than most the threat to these achievements posed by radical activists demanding immediate conformity.

But to look at the LGBTQ landscape in 2014 and compare it to 2012 is startling, to say nothing of 2008, 2004, or 1984. The tide has unquestionably turned. I attribute much of the progress to simple inertia, there being nothing particularly rebellious or subversive about millennials going with the flow set by their forbears. But with successive generations of youth determined to disrupt cultural status quos through movements to expand rights (sometimes legitimately, often not), gay rights millennials really had most of the work already done for them. All that was left was the steady and gradual shift in consensus, with social media the hot new tool through which to proselytize the word on equality, and as we just saw in the Eich case, any idiot can spit venom on twitter or become a hashtag activist. Of course, lost in all the righteous indignation is the left’s dogged pursuit of a monoculture that must be embraced and championed by all, lest you be exiled and shunned from polite society. This is where the Eich case and the Phoenix wedding photographer case are taking us, towards a monoculture whose norms and values are dictated (and mandated) by the left and where honest disagreement and polite dissent are to be construed as heresy against the politically correct monoculture. Many honest gay writers and leftists acknowledge as much and lament the mob mentality, so it is heartening to know that all is not lost. Still, a majority of gay rights proponents are on board with our new normal, where pluralism is a thing of the past and the enlightened socialites who govern us are more than welcome to browbeat “deniers” into submission and compliance.

OK, so that’s a tad over the top and we’re not there yet, but any sober observer looking at the left’s behavior in the culture war has to conclude that the prevailing sentiment among those winning the culture war is dissatisfaction. It’s not enough to foment a radical shift in public acceptance of gay marriage, something that was genuinely taboo on the left as recently as 2008, society must be brought to bended knee and made to kiss the fabulous ring. And everyone knows how to treat a heretic.

In the end, it is not the pace nor the specter of total victory on gay marriage that has opponents ill at ease. It is the arrogant and contemptuous demeanor of the victors, seemingly hell bent on rubbing it in and using citizens’ political contributions as litmus tests for acceptable thinking. It is the conflation of opposition to gay marriage with opposition to interracial marriage, a truly odious and awful comparison that seems to have penetrated the prog-geist and been elevated to the left’s latest slander du jour.

In light of all of this, I have developed a particular flight of fancy involving a similar seismic shift I would like to see in public opinion, one having to do with taxes, spending, and the size of government. Above all, my fantasy is that the left ditches their organized hostility towards the free market. Is this likely? I wouldn’t bet on it, but then, nobody would have bet just a few years ago that gay marriage would have the momentum it now does, or that it would be ceded as an inevitability by most conservatives. So allow me this pipe dream of a mass awakening on the left akin to the Enlightenment, when the formerly radical notions of individual supremacy over the state and recognition of natural rights suddenly became de rigueur. What if through the power of accessible information (i.e. “the internet”) and passionate persuasion the denizens of liberalism found themselves being persuaded by free market and libertarian dogma, to the point of actualizing that economies operate in a seemingly incomprehensible and chaotic morass of unpredictable individuals acting on their unpredictable preferences. What if progressives understood marginal utility? What if they disavowed themselves of such stupid economic myths as the “Keynesian multiplier“? I wish they would prove me wrong in my contention that all “-isms” of the left are galvanized behind the tenet of anti-capitalism. I wish they would read some free market economists, if not least so confused progressives would have a name besides Ayn Rand with which to incomprehensibly bludgeon libertarians (Ayn Rand, a powerful polemicist and visionary, was also a clunky and borderline terrible writer who never let a point go unmade to the point of redundancy). I wish that they would open their eyes to the unintended consequences of a behemoth bureaucracy tasked with monitoring compliance with a maze of regulations so opaque as to require SWAT teams to compliment many of our federal agencies. When the Bureau of Land Management, the Environmental Protection Agency and – unbelievably – the Department of Education are all outfitted with armed goons and vehicles, maybe Leviathan has gotten too large. I wish the left would wake up to the reality that there is nothing noble or enlightened about waging a scorched earth politics based on identity politics and the creation and inciting of factions. I wish they would cease trying to use the state to make their preferences mandatory. I wish they would wake up and really learn about the free market; why it is free and why it leads to greater wealth and prosperity for a greater number of people than any economic system devised before or since. But that continues to be my wish.

The seemingly impossible is happening for gay rights, and I am happy for this development, even if find the conduct with which the activists comport themselves unbecoming. But if such a sea change is possible for an issue in such a short time, why can’t a man dream about a similar awakening happening with free market economics? Until then, how about a little detente in the culture wars? What ever happened to pluralism?

The Vox News Channel

So Ezra Klein has finally launched his new media venture Vox, a glossy news website that looks intent on melding the progressive punditry of his former Wonkblog with the snazzy interface of a Slate Explainerreplete with “flash cards” and helpul FAQs for those of us who find it useful when consuming news to also have said news “explained” to us by a bunch of arrogant leftists offering to guide us through the muck of the modern news cycle.

I actually like Ezra Klein, not because of anything he says or believes politically, but because he is a talented and ambitious entrepreneur who has successfully built and cultivated his own personal and unique brand among the morass of Washington “journalists.” That the brand portrays him as a sophisticated wonk when in reality Klein is merely a banal partisan steeped in the dark arts of linguistic obfuscation and manipulative data mining is beside the point. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Klein is exceedingly skilled at the game, which is why his foray into these hitherto uncharted waters known as “explaining the news” has caused much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments across the media landscape.

For a guy who believes (on faith, mind you) that an increase in the minimum wage is good for the poor, that “capital injections” stimulate economies because the Keynesian models say so, or that government’s “consumer protections” outweigh the negatives of market distortion, Klein has shown that while he may not have the slightest clue about capitalism writ large, he is a black belt capitalist when it comes to his personal career. Most successful people will tell you that timing is either everything, or at least very important. When Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post last year, Ezra Klein was arguably among the paper’s top assets. His popularity and easy demeanor allowed him to leverage his already-large profile into his own, independent organization. The timing was perfect, but it was also largely of Klein’s own making. The ability to drive traffic and command attention in the modern media landscape is simultaneously the easiest and hardest thing to do well for today’s self-promoting pundit. Klein managed his successful Wonkblog and twitter feed by cultivating a credible, likable, just-the-facts-ma’am presence that served to masque his ideological fervor. Still, no one on the left or right is confused as to Klein’s affiliation: he is a dedicated, down-for-the-cause true progressive believer, which helps explain much of the angst over Vox.

Conservatives are alarmed at the creation by a committed leftist ideologue of an entire new medium of news, one that purports to “explain” it all to the casual, the busy, and the ADDled. His debut contribution, which reads like a Vox mission statement, confirms the worst of these fears. Here is this non-threatening twenty-something with smart glasses and gigs on all the trendy MSNBC shows telling his audience how “politics makes us stupid” not because we lack crucial information, but because we have too much of it. “Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become,” says Klein. David Harsanyi at The Federalist takes great exception with Klein’s notion that were it not for the abundance of unfiltered data lingering in the ether, politicians and voters alike would be able to avoid the constant contretemps that define our supposedly “dysfunctional” government. Harsanyi seizes on the absurdity of Klein’s inference that politics would run smoother and with less gridlock if only the chaos of information could be corralled and packaged into easily digested sound bytes, and takes Klein to task for justifying presenting the news in this way as a means for alleviating the misunderstandings that arise between us due to the chaos and confusion of unfiltered information:

Vox may be here to teach us a thing or two, but the fear of us “misunderstanding” each other is no more an underlying theory of American politics than it is “coursing” through the text of the Constitution. The idea that we can stop “fighting” doesn’t sit “hopefully” at the base of our national debate; it exists in the disagreeable imaginations of technocrats. Because “fighting” – or what people commonly refer to as “debating” — is driven by regional, historical, religious, cultural, philosophical, personal, and generational disagreements. Diversity. The Founders created checks on the state because they understood that some of these disagreements would be intractable, and we only exacerbate the “fighting” with coercive centralized government.

But Ezra is here to stop us from fighting with each other because he has access to “cutting edge research” that will clear everything right up (because his research always seems to confirm progressive sensibilities) whereas we conservatives are hopelessly wedded to our echo chamber and, lacking as it is in any recognized “cutting edge research,” we are left to wallow in confusion and despair, for want of anything even halfway enlightened as Vox to explain to our fellow lizard brains just what it is the news actually means. It’s as if Klein and his cohort are so consumed by confirmation bias that they assume everybody operates this way; that we all must forever be on the hunt for anecdotes and data that only confirm our worldviews while our wise and enlightened betters toil in the web weeds to bring us the kind of news humans have sought since Gutenberg. This is how they actually think. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

As much as Klein has caught flak from the right for substantive concerns over what Vox’ role might be in an evolving media landscape, the left has trained their (f)ire on Vox for petty personnel reasons. Put simply, they don’t like some of Klein’s hires because some of Klein’s hires don’t kowtow to progressive orthodoxy. Brandon Ambrosino, a gay writer who attended Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and takes the socially conservative skeptical stance towards marriage equality, has been the subject of repeated attacks from the left solely on the basis of his against-the-grain opinion on homosexuality. But it wasn’t just the hires that invited the left’s rage, it was who wasn’t hired too. Ezra had to answer to the PC police who didn’t like the racial configuration of his new organization. Not enough diversity, obviously! Since the left is wholly consumed by race “in the twenty-first century” (to steal one of their most inane and meaningless phrases), Klein had to suffer widespread indignation from his ideological allies because they didn’t like the physical make-up of his staff. Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of today’s left is its self-congratulatory stand for “diversity” when the truth is they are only interested in the superficial diversities of skin, gender and sexuality, because actual diversity – of thought – is the last thing they want. The left wants cultural and ideological conformity, and Ezra Klein intends to facilitate just that with his new venture that is going to “explain” the news to the masses so they can better comprehend the glories of a progressive policy agenda.

And that sounds wonderful to the left, just so long as it’s not a bunch of straight white males doing the noble business of collectivist agitprop; that is a job anyone can do. I believe Ezra Klein is a decent guy who genuinely believes that good outcomes will materialize with progressive policies and expansive, managerial government secured. I think he’s short-sighted, living in a bubble, and criminally negligent on understanding the free market or its incentives and individual preferences. But I don’t hold these ignorant views against him, per se. Lots of confused progressives believe what Klein believes. What scares me about Vox isn’t the content so much as the premise behind it: that a tidier, quicker, here’s-the-context delivery of news is meeting a broad demand in the information market. It’s not. Contrary to popular belief, held by both conservatives and liberals, voters are not ciphers in need of being spoon-fed important news; in fact, most individuals are quite capable of sorting wheat from chaff in this complex world of ubiquitous information, and they are even more capable of making up their own minds. The problem in politics is not too much information that nobody knows what to do with. The problem in politics is parties and partisans bending over backwards to mold and shape (I would say “distort”) the news of the day to fit preconceived narratives. Klein appears to believe that a vast market exists for a sleek, condensed site that presents its news in ways equivalent to the “previously on” segments of prestige cable dramas. So let’s get to those sexy flash cards! Forward!