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January 01, 2013

2012, Excerpted

The Editorial Staff and our cadre of itinerant Eskimo typists thought it might be interesting to extract a few pithy observations from the past year's bloviation. We do this mostly because we can't remember writing most of these things. This post will be updated throughout the day or as we get around to it.


Well intended efforts to smooth out fluctuations in the business cycle - far from making things better - destabilize the economy and prolong recessions:

This sobering graph illustrates the folly of centralized planning that interferes with - or even outlaws - signals sent by the market to suppliers and consumers of goods and services. These signals (prices, profits/losses, etc.) may be artificially suppressed for a time, but they are effects rather than causes.

... The artificial suppression/distortion of signals and effects while doing nothing to address root causes lies at the heart of our current economic policy. The results, so far, have been disastrous. But more importantly, they illustrate the fundamentally dishonest basis for our current economic policies. The idea that people will make better decisions if government distorts or suppresses (excuse me, "protects us from") the very information we need to make smart, timely economic decisions deserves to be mercilessly mocked within an inch of its pathetic life.

Practioners of identity politics are perfectly happy to betray their own core principles if that's what it takes to "win":

If you believe biological differences between men and women are real, and that women are naturally better suited to child rearing (or that there is - in general - a closer bond between mothers and children than exists between fathers and children), then on what possible basis can you argue that the family court system is "unfair" and biased against men if more women than men get custody? Even before we examine the question of how many men vs. women ask for custody, the presumption that a "fair" system would automagically result in equal custody awards for fathers and mothers doesn't follow logically from the belief that men are better suited for some tasks and women for others.

Radical feminists have a similar problem, though ... If you truly believe that men and women are by nature EQUALLY able to care for children (and further, that men should assume equal parenting duties), then wouldn't you want men and women to get custody in roughly equal proportions?

Note that I have not actually seen feminists arguing that they think women should always get custody. But if they're arguing from genuine conviction, they should WANT men to get custody more because that would result in a more equitable sharing of parental duties and more freedom for women.

This is what happens when men and women engage in identity/victimhood politics: they end up defending things they don't really believe because in the end, they'll do/argue anything just to win the argument.


Remembering what's important:

The thing I dislike most about Valentine's Day is that it encourages us to focus on the wrong things. Contrasted with flamboyantly romantic gestures, the immense worth of what we already have fades into the background.

And yet it is what happens on the other 364 days of the year that has the power to make us happy or miserable. The odd thing is that over the years I've found that the more I remember to thank my husband for the thousand small things he does every single day, the more likely he is to remember the romantic gestures that make me feel like a young girl on her first date.


On fairness, adversity, and playing the victim card:

Some people are born with beauty, brains, or talent and others are not. Some parents are industrious and loving. They teach their children the skills and habits that bring success and prosperity. Other parents are selfish and immature - their only gift to their children is an object lesson in how not to succeed. People are born incredibly lucky, snake bitten, or somewhere in between but no government program can make a plain woman gorgeous or a stupid person smart. Public policy cannot force bad parents to love their children, nor can Congress save a bad marriage.

The Left's answer to unfairness is to beseech government to do something beyond its capability: to erase inequality and make a profoundly unfair world, fair. In a perfect world populated by perfect human beings, this would be unnecessary. And because we do not live in a perfect world populated by perfect human beings, our attempts at social engineering usually succeed only in adding artificially imposed unfairness to the ample unfairness that already exists in the natural world.

The Right's answer to unfairness has been to ask more from ourselves; it encourages us to marshal our forces and overcome adversity. This approach, like government solutions, carries with it no guarantee of success. What it does, however, is harness unfairness to our advantage: it enables us to develop coping mechanisms; to adapt and overcome.

One ideology views man as a helpless victim of forces beyond his control. The other recognizes that adversity brings out the best of which the human spirit is capable. To the Right, hardship is not a bug to be eliminated but a necessary goad that propels us onward and upward. It sees the human will as a force capable of overmastering even the cruellest Fate.


I can't claim to have been close to Lex, but I deeply admired and respected both the man and the writer. Over the years, his elegant prose and subtle wit have delighted and reassured me more times than I can possibly recount here. His graceful writing seemed so effortless that one might be forgiven for thinking something so natural must also be easy to find.

It was - it is - not, and we are all made poorer by the loss of this good man and his insights.

Though I never knew them except through his loving descriptions, my heart goes out to his family. For some reason, I am reminded of a line from the end of the movie Gladiator:

Is Rome worth one good man's life?
We believed it once. Make us believe it again.

He was a soldier of Rome. Honor him.

Captain Carroll LeFon, United States Navy, spent his life defending the modern day equivalent of Rome. The most enduring tribute I can offer to Lex and those who loved him is that, in a world that seems determined to bring out the worse angels of our nature, he had the rare ability to inspire us to become more worthy of the country we live in.

We should honor such men. That America still produces them is cause for considerable pride. That we have lost another such is a desolation.


Men, women, morality:

I've always been extremely skeptical of claims that men are more moral or rational than women or vice versa. We think, reason, and judge differently depending on our experiences, upbringing or faith, temperment, and yes - probably sex to some degree. But the larger problem with such broad pronouncements is that they presuppose a given definition of morality.

If you place a premium on caring then women will appear more moral but if you place a premium on justice then men tend to edge us out. I've often thought that the way men approach relationships with other people is more suited to a world of competitors: it optimizes on interacting with people with whom you have no bond, or with whom you are actively competing for resources. That kind of moral matrix is shaped by a sharp distinction between the way we treat family and close friends (people who can reasonably be expected to reciprocate kindness or trust) and the way we treat strangers or even enemies (people who cannot be trusted, or who may even wish to harm us). The down side of the traditionally male moral matrix is that having defensive walls up 24/7 isn't always appropriate with a spouse or close family. If you treat your spouse like you treat competitors, you're probably headed for divorce court.

Women tend to have an approach that is more suited to dealing with family or close friends. Intimacy and trust are easier for us. There are advantages to this model - one being that it often disarms other people and makes them more generous and fair. I've often found in the work world that it's easier for me to get others to cooperate (even when this means giving up something of value) than it is for my male co-worker. But it can also be disastrous when used with someone who is dishonorable.

It's also disastrous as a model for large societies, because we don't form the same bonds with total strangers that we form with family and friends. There is no reasonable expectation of reciprocity. I expect that this distinction (and not patriarchal oppression) explains why governments are usually run by men. Their moral model is more suited to the tasks governments must perform.

Consumer spending, then and now:

The crushing burden of modern health care spending seems to be more than compensated for by dramatic decreases in spending on two of the three basics (food and clothing). Housing spending, despite similarly overwrought rhetoric and fearmongering, doesn't exactly seem to have gone through the roof either...

... According to this graphic, Americans spend as much on Entertainment as they do on Health Care (yet no one is screaming that the cost of Entertainment is crushing our souls)



We read a lot these days about how everything - even challenges our parents and grandparents accepted as part of normal life - is too hard; how no one can succeed without help, how it's understandable for people to simply give up unless the world rewards them for every positive thing they do. The idea of developing character - that quiet form of courage that makes a person rise up every time life knocks him down, that focuses on the positive, that rejects self pity and envy - has mostly given way to the notion that we are fragile spirits, easily crushed or dispirited by even the smallest obstacles: a harsh word, an encounter with someone who isn't convinced of our ineffable wonderfulness, a dearth of praise for our actions.

And then you look at children with cancer, and see how they respond to an adversary with the power to end life. At a time when all seems darkest, the power of the human spirit shines forth brighter than the sun.


The capitalism bubble:

It's been nearly four years since the financial crisis of 2008 and I'm still not seeing any honest analysis of how we got there from either party. When you look at how our economy changed over the long term, one thing is brutally clear: the level of "prosperity" most of us have enjoyed all our adult lives was - like the inflated housing prices we also enjoyed and came to expect - unnatural and unsustainable. It was fueled by record increases in household debt and record decreases to household savings.

The idea that we can - or should - strive to get back to the good old days when the average American household spent far more than it earned and stopped saving for financial reverses we all know are cyclical and inevitable is just plain delusional.

Posted by Cassandra at January 1, 2013 11:06 AM

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You had a very good year at the keyboard, Cass. High quality work delivered daily. My congratulations are only eclipsed by my appreciation.
Nicely done.
Don't ever stop.
Happy new year.

Posted by: spd rdr at January 2, 2013 01:07 PM

Happy New Year, mr rdr :)

Posted by: Cassandra at January 2, 2013 02:09 PM