Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Well, it's really too bad. For many years, I have enjoyed looking forward to America's future as that of a prosperous country. Now with the defection of Arlen "the Rock" Specter, it seems likely that Obama and the Democrat super-majorities in the House and Senate will have their way with us and our children. I can now officially let go of my cautious optimism and shift to cautious pessimism. It's not like we haven't seen this movie before. It will be interesting to observe as our fellow citizens gradually figure out it does not have a happy ending.
I think the real question is not whether we are going down, but whether the damage will be permanent in the world-historical sense. That is, whether we are going to be for the 21st century what the UK was to the 20th. At least the UK had as its excuse saving itself and helping to save the world from the monstrous evil of Naziism. We on the other hand are just blowing our wad on a bunch of silly theories, such as saving the world from global warming by throwing money at anything that looks "green", nationalizing dying auto industries, saving bank executives from having to pay for their bad decisions, and ruining the best health care system in the world. America has attempted suicide before, witness 1964-1975. The question now is, will it succeed this time? So far, this looks like a pretty serious attempt.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the problem is in our limited wisdom we have handed over the most powerful ATM card in the world to a group of people determined to get as much out of it as they can, while they can. The Democrats seem determined to embark on a spending spree that is patently unsustainable and to get their hands on as much of the economy as they can while they are at it. Even the Europeans, who know a thing or two about socialism, are appalled by the policies, even if they love the man. I have said before that Obama is giving socialism a bad name. Some of our more benighted readers object to that and say, what about Bush? Especially in retrospect, Bush was a disaster. Bush Sr. was a disaster for making possible Bush Jr. who was a disaster for making possible our current cliff dive. Who would have thunk that by kidnapping three planes, the terrorists could have provoked a war, which in turn would have provoked a reaction, which in turn would have elected a leftist President, which in turn would have spent America into the dustbin of history. Those darn terrorists.
But, I say unfair to socialism because I do not think any of the European socialists, with the possible exception of the British left, which is uniquely foolish, would undertake anything as dumb as we are about to. In my limited experience, when the French nationalized companies, they imposed rather draconian discipline. They didn't throw money at companies just so their management could stay at the top of the heap. Well, maybe they did sometimes. But at least the Europeans have a long tradition of semi-demi-competent management of state owned enterprises. They have learned that it often works badly and are thrifty to a degree. We don't and it will show. It is already showing with the god-awful mess that is TARP, TALF and the rest of it. That is while I say if we are going to go socialist, we should contract our government out to the Swedes or the Germans. At least they sort of know what they are doing. What we will get instead will be Brazil without the parties and topless beaches. As some wag commented last week, if you want your property rights respected, you should invest in China.
I suppose there is some hope. It may be that if in about two years, unemployment is still over ten percent (where it soon will be) and the economy is looking worse, not better, people will suddenly wake up. It may well be too late by then, but maybe not. Capital markets are also stunningly fast sometimes. It may be that if the dollar and US treasuries get hammered badly enough even our dim voters will figure out something is seriously wrong. Even the cornucopia of Walmart will get pricier if the dollar weakens enough. We are already seeing more serious challenges to the dollar as a reserve currency than at any other time I can remember, and if our spending fandango continues, as there is every reason to expect, these will only grow more serious. Countries like Germany have a thing about inflation the way the Japanese have a thing about nuclear weapons. Already reasonably serious countries such as Germany and China are getting cold feet about the US budget's trillion dollar a year debt accumulation plan. If all that stands between us and national bankruptcy is a Democrat Congress and White House, then I think it's national bankruptcy here we come. Maybe it will approach along a path that will allow our political class and various clients to look up and step off the track in time. I see no reason to be confident of this, however.
Like I said, it really is too bad. Unfortunately, one thing I have concluded over the years is that institutions don't change. They just obey their DNA and succeed or fail, and if they fail, others come and take their place in the ecosystem. Adjustment takes place by Darwinian means. Evolution is smart but organisms are stupid. Some may have faith that the American political system will as it were realize that we are on the path to an economic black hole, and divert itself before it is too late. I don't really see any reason to think so, not at the moment anyway. I did for a while, but not so much now. But I hope I'm wrong about this. I feel like a country doctor watching the course of a usually fatal disease. But you never know. People can rally and miracles do happen. And maybe it's just the May Grey here in San Diego. Possibly by June I will be in a better mood.
I didn't know about this, or if I did, I had forgotten:
(From the Encylopaedia Britannica, 13th edition, 1926:)
Eaton, Margaret O'Neill (1796 - 1879), better known as PEGGY O'NEILL, was the daughter of the keeper of a popular Washington tavern, and was noted for her beauty, wit and vivacity. About 1823, she married a purser in the United States navy, John B. Timberlake, who committed suicide while on service in the Mediterranean in 1828. In the following year she married John Henry Eaton (1790-1856), a Tennessee politician, at the time a member of the United States Senate. Senator Eaton was a close personal friend of President Jackson, who in 1829 appointed him secretary of war. This sudden elevation of Mrs Eaton into the cabinet social circle was resented by the wives of several of Jackson's secretaries, and charges were made against her of improper conduct with Eaton previous to her marriage with him. The refusal of the wives of the cabinet members to recognize the wife of his friend angered President Jackson, and he tried in vain to coerce them. Eventually, and partly for this reason, he almost completely reorganized his cabinet. The effect of the incident on the political fortunes of the vice-president, John C. Calhoun, whose wife was one of the recalcitrants, was perhaps most important. Partly on this account, Jackson's favour was transferred from Calhoun to Martin Van Buren, the secretary of state, who had taken Jackson's side in the quarrel and had shown marked attention to Mrs Eaton, and whose subsequent elevation to the vice-presidency and presidency through Jackson's favour is no doubt partly attributable to this incident. In 1836 Mrs Eaton accompanied her husband to Spain, where he was United States minister in 1836-1840. After the death of her husband she married a young Italian dancing-master, Antonio Buchignani, but soon obtained a divorce from him. She died in Washington on the 8th of November 1879.
I won't speculate on how this incident influenced Hegel's philosophy of history.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The Times excerpts seethe with hurts and resentments that the passing of Buckley's parents appears to have done little to assuage. He sees his father from a son's perspective as neglectful and self-involved. He refers to the Hundred Years' War he waged with his father over religion... Buckley's mother Pat fares even worse.
[Chrisopher] Buckley undoubtedly anticipates a negative reaction to his memoir among friends, fans and followers of Bill Buckley. As he puts it: "This book is going to land hard in some quarters. They were not your typical mom and dad. This is not Ozzie and Harriet. They were William F. and Pat Buckley. The phrase 'larger than life' doesn't twice cover it."
The excerpts suggest that Buckley is working out deep hurts and settling grievous scores. They read like an act of vengeance. Buckley's public acting out was palpable last fall in the terms of his endorsement of Barack Obama. As it turns out, that was the least of it.
No one who reads the Times excerpts is likely to think more highly of Christopher Buckley, or of either of his parents. It is not apparent to me that Buckley understands the first outcome, however much he may have intended the second.
I think extremely highly of Scott Johnson - and of Powerline - and I think Scott's judgment is usually extraordinarily good. But I must say, I don't see the Buckley piece Scott's way.
The piece seems to me loving and respectful toward C. Buckley's father, although burdened with distances which may or may not have been WFB's fault; more troubled about his mother; but far from a "Mommy Dearest" sort of piece or the kind of pathological attack on celebrity parents that sometimes comes from celebrities' troubled children.
Christopher Buckley is a writer after all. (A good one: his novels are sharp, very funny, and not without depth.) It seems to me that he is entitled to write as honestly as he can about his family: a family which people are interested in and which many people justly admire.
I think Buckley portrays WFB as a good father and a good man - also and decidedly as a "great man" - but not as a perfect man or as a father towards whom his son has no ambivalence or complicatedness of feeling. Who would have imagined otherwise?
As for his mother, WFB himself often hinted that Pat Buckley was more than formidable, and that there was something of a high-wire act between the two of them. Highly amusing but often dragon-like to outsiders, that she would have been a difficult mother seems unsurprising if not inevitable.
Buckley's piece seems to me consistent with what one knows (and admires) about his father. It's a troubled piece to some extent, as might be expected from a reflective man trying to get at the truth of his relations with extraordinary parents. But not improper on Christopher Buckley's part, and far from a "hit job".
Monday, April 27, 2009
Put trillions of dollars into a big unmanaged pot, and bad things will probably happen.
LWJ noted last night that she was rather near the front lines of the swine flu whatever it is. We live 15 miles north of the border and she has a large practice a big chunk of which is primary care. She has any number of patients who drive up from Mehico, ex pats or whoever. You would be surprized how many Americans and other non-Mexicans live in Mexico. Germans, Brits, etc. Anyway there is plenty of cross border interaction. Plus, our kids go to a Catholic high school to which quite a few Mexican families from TJ send their kids.