An Open Letter to Papa John’s Pizza

Disclaimer—sigh:  I do not endorse racist ideologies or unnecessarily racist language, but I support free speech.  People shouldn’t go around using racial slurs, and may face professional and social consequences for doing so, even though it’s protected speech.  That said, I also believe nuance and context matter greatly.  It’s for the non-nuanced- or contextually-minded reader that I include this brief disclaimer, which I hate is even something I have to consider doing in an allegedly free country.

Pizza is a big part of modern American history, one of those beautiful examples of “cultural appropriation” that took the thin-crusted Neapolitan peasant street-food, improved upon it greatly, and made it a staple for all classes and races in the United States.

While everyone and their brother has their own opinions about the best slice and where to get it, my favorite of the “chain delivery pizza joints” (not to be confused with generally-superior ma-and-pop local pizza joints—or the Aiken-Augusta-area chain Pizza Joint) is, hand’s down, Papa John’s.

Sunday afternoon, I received “An open Letter from Papa John’s CEO, Steve Ritchie” in my e-mail.  Apparently, Papa John’s founder John Schnatter said The Forbidden Word, and has been forced out of his company.

You can read the full-text of Ritchie’s letter here.  A key line (emphasis added):

Racism and insensitive language – no matter the context – will not be tolerated at any level of our company. Period.

I began looking around to see what exactly Schnatter said.  What I found is that, yes, he used The Forbidden Word—in reference to Kentucky Fried Chicken’s beloved Colonel Sanders, on a conference call with a company training him on how to handle public relations better.

In essence, Schnatter was asked in a role-playing exercise how he would handle a situation similar to his remarks about the NFL National Anthem protests.  Schnatter had spoken out publicly about the protests, arguing—correctly—that they were hurting Papa John’s sales (Papa John’s has long been the official pizza of the NFL, so poor NFL ratings meant poor pizza sales; I’ve often enjoyed the ridiculously good deals they put out during football season).  As such, he’d already put a target on his back for progressive Social Justice Warriors.

As for the use of The Forbidden Word, Schnatter responded that Colonel Sanders used it, and then related a story about racial violence he witnessed or heard about as a boy in Indiana.  He wasn’t endorsing such violence, but intended it to show that he detested it.

Apparently, some employees of the public relations firm, Laundry Service, were offended, and—wow, wouldn’t you know it!—his use of The Forbidden Word was leaked.

Now he’s no longer working for the company he founded, and 120,000 employees (not to mention Papa John’s stockholders) are going to suffer.

I’m not holding Schnatter blameless here—he should know in the twenty-first century that a.) the Leftist mob doesn’t care about nuance, they just want another scalp and b.) you’re not allowed as a white man to say a word that thickly marinates every modern rap song—but a lot of employees, many of them black, might face layoffs because a handful of people got upset and leaked the contents of a confidential, training-based conference call.

It just goes to show that no one is safe, in any forum, at any time, ever.

In response to all this non-troversy, I took a moment to write a reply to Mr. Ritchie.  Here is the text in full:

Dear Mr. Ritchie,

Thank you for your e-mail.  I was unaware of the Papa John’s non-troversy until I received this e-mail.

From what I can tell from the news reports, John Schnatter may have been a tad careless with a culturally-taboo word, but he meant no ill-intent.

I suspect, rather, that he’s been crucified—the latest victim of such—on the cross of political correctness gone mad.  Given his past statements about NFL protestors hurting NFL ratings—and, by extension, your company’s pizza sales—he put a target on his back too tempting for the Social Justice Warriors to ignore, as he dared to make a truthful observation about one of their sacred cows.

Those statements, too, may have been unwise in a business context (even leaving out the possible racial component–and I don’t think arguing that players should abide by League rules is an inherently racist idea—it’s probably not a good idea to criticize publicly a major business partner), but they don’t warrant the kind of scorched-earth response that Mr. Schnatter has endured.

I am sorry to hear that his remarks have hurt actual people—the employees and franchisees of Papa John’s.  Surely you can agree that that’s the only tangible damage that has occurred here.  Otherwise, no person, of any race, was actually harmed by Mr. Schnatter’s use of the “N” word in an in-house conference call that, as I understand it, was a training session for avoiding future public-relations imbroglios (oops!).  In that context especially, shouldn’t the one receiving the training have additional leeway to learn without fear of some SJW ruining his life?

I hope that your employees will continue to make excellent pizza, as they have done for years, and will not be overly burdened by the kabuki theatre of your diversity initiatives.  I understand that, as a major company, you have to do your token genuflecting to the gods of multiculturalism and political-correctness, even though I’d personally rather see your Board grow some cajones and say, “Sorry for the misunderstanding and if anyone was offended, but the remarks have been taken out of context.  We serve pizza for all people, and while we don’t condone racism, we do support free speech, and believe that everyone should lighten up a bit—preferably over a slice of Papa John’s pizza.”


Tyler James Cook

The cost of doing business seems to be never uttering anything remotely controversial, ever.  Schnatter was doomed the moment he pointed out—again, correctly—that the NFL was losing viewership because of the politicized National Anthem protests.  Yes, he shouldn’t have said The Forbidden Word—even in the context of quoting someone else, it’s not allowed according to current social mores—but it was just a matter of time before the Twitter mobs, Social Justice Warriors, white knights, or overly-sensitive consultants (Laundry Service is designed to train people not to make public faux pas; surely they’ve had clueless clients before that needed teaching) brought him down.

Why can’t we just enjoy pizza without it becoming an exercise in political posturing?


The Human Toll of Globalization

Last week’s posts shared a similar theme:  the costs of unbridled free trade; the benefits of cutting corporate and income taxes to unleash economic growth; and the human side to economics that academics tend to miss.

The first and third topics referenced above came into sharp relief as I read an excellent piece by Chadwick Moore, “Left for Dead in Danville: How Globalism is Killing Working Class America.”  It’s a long-form piece of journalism for Breitbart, but it is well worth the read.  I encourage all of my readers to set aside twenty minutes to read it and its terrifying account of globalization gone wrong.

My post today simply seeks to offer up a summary of Moore’s findings, presenting them in an easily-digestible form for those who don’t have the time or inclination to read his full-length piece.

The conceit of the piece is simple:  Moore visited Danville, Virginia, a former textile mill town located on the Dan River, and very close to North Carolina.  The town was once—and “once” doesn’t mean “a hundred years ago,” but about twenty years ago—a thriving town that supported a solid middle-class through its robust textile industry.  Civic pride was abundant, and the Dan River Mill supported a number of youth and community activities and functions that are familiar to anyone who has grown up in a small town.

Then came NAFTA in 1994, followed by China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization in 2000.  After years of struggling to compete with foreign competition, Dan River Mills shut down in 2006 (it had been open since 1882).

As the town’s economy declined and unemployment skyrocketed, social problems grew.  Drug use increased dramatically, as did crime, and formerly-safe, middle-class neighborhoods devolved into dangerous slums.  More than a quarter of the town’s population is on food stamps.

Race relations also grew worse.  The town had enjoyed peaceful, working relationships between black and white citizens, who worked together happily in the mills and other businesses.  Now, the KKK plans rallies, preying off the desperation of the unemployed (the town is roughly half white, half black).

Moore gives a good bit of space to quoting Michael Stumo, the CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America.  Stumo elegantly explains the problem in Danville—as with many other small towns in Middle America—tracing it to China and the World Trade Organization.  Some choice bits to chew on:

“‘When China joined the WTO in 2000 with 1.3 billion people underemployed, it began pulling them out of the rice paddies, the farms, and rural areas, and putting them to work. The Chinese under-consume. They produce more than they consume, [in] a country that’s four and a half times as big as ours and relying on the American consumer to fund their path to wealth and doing so with a state-directed economy, which is different than communist, it’s a strategic mix of state capitalism with a little bit of private sector in it. We always thought communism would fail, but China found central planning 2.0 and is pretty good at it,’ he says….

‘We have free trade within the 50 states,’ Stumo says. ‘By impoverishing our middle class with this offshoring driven by free trade policy, you’re killing the U.S. consumer market, which drives growth, because they have no money. Five or ten percent cheaper prices is overwhelmed in this stage by lack of production and stagnant wages,’ he says. ‘The U.S. middle class cannot afford to fund the rise of other countries anymore.

‘Industry doesn’t stand still; industry is always incubating—you give up the jobs, the wealth creation, the supply chain clusters in communities, and that affects the service sector around them,’ Stumo says. ‘You pull those plants out, and a lot of people are out of work, and then the whole general wage level drops because burger-flipping isn’t an upward pressure on wages, but production is.'”

A degree of globalization, in an age of mass transit and mass communications, inevitable.  And open trade with lower tariffs generally is beneficial.  But naïvely-open trade with dishonest trading partners with slave-level wages primarily benefits the dishonest party.  Yes, there are some winners in the United States—I certainly enjoy a higher quality of life because of cheap electronics from abroad, for example—but as I wrote last week, isn’t it worth paying a little more for your television or washing machine, if it means an American keeps his job.

My thinking on this is simple:  the actual, physical and mental of work, in and of itself, important.  Yes, we could pay everyone a guaranteed basic income, or help people through more assistance programs (ignore the astronomical costs of those programs for the moment), but even if they worked beautifully in the material sense, they will, in the long-run, lead to a deterioration of real skills and, more important, a spiritual vitality.

I strongly believe that the three keys to happiness are faith, family, and work, in that order.  Work is ennobling, even if it is unpleasant at times.  As such, if the government is going to do something, would it not be wiser to offer assistance that requires work?

Tariffs accomplish this goal to some extent, and are entirely constitutional (indeed, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, argued for them as Secretary of Treasury).  They also produce revenue for the federal government, and could be used to offset further reductions in corporate and income tax rates.

Ultimately, the social and civic costs of unbridled, unfocused free trade seem too steep.  Read Moore’s observations about the flood of drugs and despair into this once-civic-minded, prosperous town, and understand that the 10% discount you enjoy on your consumer goods is seldom worth the human toll.

To clarify once again, I’m not arguing we return to the massively high tariffs of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  That would be economically disastrous in other ways, and would further enhance our federal government’s penchant for corporatist back-scratching and favoritism.  But some judicious, targeted tariffs, especially against nations like China, are wise.  Why should we be subsidizing China’s growth at the expense of our own?

One final thought:  as I wrote Friday, a married man used to be able to raise his kids on a gas station pump-boy’s salary.  Sure, life was lean, and there weren’t a ton of crazy gadgets to play with or luxuries to enjoy, but the kids grew up well enough and the wife could stay home to raise them.  Are we really that much better off now, when both husband and wife slave for 40+ hours a week (and usually longer), outsource their parenting responsibilities to daycare and public schools, and can’t get out from under student loan, home, car, and consumer debt?

There are a host of factors driving the modern scenario of today versus the “blue-collar father” of yesteryear, but surely one economic solution is to stop burrowing out our families and towns in favor of frosty, urban cosmopolitanism and aloof globalism.  I care about the people of China, and I’m glad to see they’re no longer trapped in rice paddies and collectivized farms, but—like our great President Trump—I care about my country and fellow countrymen first.  So should the United States government—it’s job is, literally, to put Americans first.

Soccer Sucks

Over the weekend, France and Croatia squared off in the championship match of the 2018 World Cup.  The French team—which only has six players (of twenty-three) you and I would think of when we imagine a Frenchman—defeated the plucky Eastern European squad 4-2, an astoundingly high score for a soccer match.

Other than watching my students play occasionally, I can’t stand soccer.  The game has numerous flaws:  it’s overly-long, without any true breaks (an obstacle, as my brother pointed out, to monetization—you only have one half-time in which to show commercials); the scores are too low; and the action is rare.

The typical soccer game certainly requires a great deal of endurance:  I’m told that an average soccer player runs several miles during the course of a match.  But it’s all kabuki theatre, at least to my (admittedly) untrained eye.  All that running around seems to accomplish precious little, as players scamper about for agonizingly long stretches of time without really accomplishing anything.

In that meaningless but constant motion, I see a metaphor for the political systems found in nations that are perennially good at soccer.  Take this year’s champions:  France is not about actually being productive—scoring points—but about treading water.  Lycee-educated bureaucrats kick back to comfortable, easy jobs with short hours; workers of every stripe enjoy excessive labor protections; nothing is open on the weekends.

No wonder France’s unemployment rate in 2017 was 9.4% (down from a modest 10% from the previous year), while its youth unemployment rate is a whopping 19.3% (and didn’t get below 20% until April of this year).  French youngsters can’t get employment because the statist economic system limits growth, discourages innovation, and incentivizes bad or lazy employees.  Employees cannot be fired “at-will”—that is, without cause—and the process to remove underperforming employees takes month.  If you’re a French employee who knows he’s going to be fired, you might as well kick back for a few months and enjoy getting paid for doing nothing.  What’re they going to do, fire you?

While we should certainly treat workers with respect—and some labor protections are no-doubt positive—we have to remember there’s an employer who has put up a great deal of capital to try to make a profitable enterprise work.  No employer, no employees.  Sometimes a worker, while well-intentioned, just doesn’t work out, and the employer needs the flexibility to replace underperforming employees at will.

But I digress.  This essay is ostensibly about soccer.  Some additional thoughts:

Soccer is inherently un-American.  Yes, it’s hugely popular with younger children, which has led pundits to predict its ascendancy for decades.  But let’s consider why it’s popular.  John Derbyshire in his latest episode of Radio Derb argues that soccer caught on among upper-middle-class American children because their overprotective and status-conscious mothers saw it as “European,” and, therefore, more sophisticated and cultured (ignoring, as Derbyshire points out, all the hooliganism that goes with soccer).

A more compelling theory is Chuck Klosterman’s, from his 2004 book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, a collection of essays that I enjoyed immensely in my graduate school and early teaching days.  Klosterman argues that children like soccer because they’re bad at sports:

Soccer unconsciously rewards the outcast, which is why so many adults are fooled into thinking their kids love it. The truth is that most children don’t love soccer; they simply hate the alternatives more. For 60 percent of the adolescents in any fourth-grade classroom, sports are a humiliation waiting to happen. These are the kids who play baseball and strike out four times a game. These are the kids afraid to get fouled in basketball, because it only means they’re now required to shoot two free throws, which equates to two air balls. Basketball games actually stop to annihilate them.

That is why soccer seems like such a respite from all that mortification; it’s the one aerobic activity where nothingness is expected. Even at the highest levels, every soccer match seems to end 1-0 or 2-1. A normal eleven-year-old can play an entire season without placing toe to sphere and nobody would even notice, assuming he or she does a proper job of running about and avoiding major collisions.

When I read this passage originally—probably around 2007 or 2008—I experienced that state that constant readers know well:  the state of having read one’s innermost thoughts and experiences in a book.  As a perpetually plump (and extremely unathletic) child, I looked forward to soccer in Middle School PE class (and my high school NJROTC class) because I knew I’d be able to stand around doing nothing most of the time, and the good athletes would cover for me.

Again, we come to a metaphor for working life in socialistic bureaucracies (and, sadly, many corporate gigs):  if you just keep your head down long enough, someone minimally competent and motivated will get something done; just try to avoid messing up spectacularly and you’ll be okay.

When I’d heard that the United States failed to make it into the World Cup, I was relieved.  It’s not that I don’t want the United States to do well—if we’re going to do something like participate in professional soccer, we might as well do it as well as we can—but I was loathe to witness the spontaneous generation of soccer “fans” awakening from their four-years’ slumber to proselytize about how it’s such a good game.

Methinks they do protest too much.  Soccer sucks; long live [American] football!


This past Monday night, President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, predictably sending progressives into apoplectic (and apocalyptic) fits of self-righteous virtue-signaling and white-knighting.  Naturally, Leftists realize their decades-long project of circumventing representative government through the courts might backfire—when you create an excessively powerful institution and lose control of it, you start to worry that weapon will be turned back on you.

There’s been a great deal of analysis since then of Kavanaugh and how his nomination might shift the direction of the Court.  I’m not steeped enough in the details to make a judgment call myself, though it seems that Kavanaugh is remarkably experienced, and interprets the Constitution fairly narrowly (in the sense that he’s not one to create “emanations of penumbras” of rights or legislate from the bench).

I’m a bit concerned that he’ll be too restrained, a la Chief Justice John Roberts, who disastrously upheld the Affordable Care Act twice, the second time largely on the grounds that the Court should avoid overturning what legislatures enact.  That’s a good impulse generally, but not when the plain language of the act states something contrary to what the Court rules, and the Court deciding that Congress “meant to write it another way” is a funny way of exercising judicial “restraint.”

Regardless, my sense is that Kavanaugh is a solid and safe pick.  I’d much rather have seen, say, Utah Senator Mike Lee get the nomination—there’s no ambiguity about his commitment to constitutionalism—but Kavanaugh might stand a better chance of surviving his confirmation vote (after a predictably theatrical bout of boisterous dissent from doomsday-speaking Democratic Senators).

But I digress.  In attempting to analyze the Supreme Court, Conservative Review‘s Joseph Koss has applied a nifty little model to try to make sense of where the Court has been, and where it might be headed with the addition of Kavanaugh.

Koss is quick to point out that he’s not completely satisfied with this model—he applies the classic Dungeons and Dragons alignment system (the nerd in me is rejoicing)—and that some justices don’t quite fit into one of the nine slots, but he explains his placements thoroughly and carefully.

Check out his analysis here:

He also invites readers to tell him how wrong he is here.


What do you think, TPP readers?  Is Kavanaugh a slam-dunk pick?  A Washington-insider swamp creature sell-out?  A rock-ribbed conservative?  Leave your thoughts and comments below!

Phone It in Friday – Musings & Reflections on NATO, Brexit, Etc.

Happy Friday, TPP loyalists!  Normally I’d offer up a well- (or hastily-)crafted essay for your enjoyment, but it’s been an unusually busy week here, so I thought I’d do something a bit different and offer some brief reflections on the week.  It’s been a late night a-rockin’, and I’ve got classroom walls to paint in the morning.

I was planning on writing a bit about socialist babe Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but I’ll have to hold off on that until next week (the gist of my analysis:  she’s a hot Millennial Latina in a congressional district with the demographics of downtown San Salvador; her primary victory isn’t that shocking in context).

A typical post takes about an hour to churn out, although it can be quicker.  Finding links to cite my sources typically takes about 10-15 minutes, depending on the complexity of the topic or what I need to cite (since, let’s be honest, a lot of this information is coming from years of reading and teaching history, and I have to fact-check myself or try to hunt down obscure snippets of old National Review articles I read eight years ago).

So, here are some of my quick takes on the news of the week, mostly on international events.  Just a warning—these are going to be delivered in a quick, jocular, talk-radio style.

NATO Summit

I know folks on the Left and Right are going to argue that President Trump’s remarks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s toady at that breakfast earlier this week were overly hostile, but, c’mon, the president is right—the United States has been shouldering Europe’s security for almost seventy years.  The least Germany can do is meet its 2% defense spending obligation.

European nations seem to be taking the not-so-subtle hint and doing just that.  I would argue we should probably stay with NATO, but Trump brought up a good point when he was still a candidate—what purpose does the alliance serve now?  Yes, it’s a bulwark against Vladimir Putin’s plodding expansionism, and it represents the ideal of multilateral, collective security, but it’s also a relic of the Cold War.  I’m not one to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but the baby needs to grow up, get a job, and move out of Dad’s basement.  Europe has been suckling at our nuclear-armed teat (talk about mixing metaphors) for decades, and needs to take national defense seriously.

A proud moment, though:  one of my former students, who has now become an elite Washington insider (one of the good swamp creatures), has a much more thoughtful analysis of the NATO summit; read it:


Speaking of NATO, why is Turkey still in NATO?  It definitely should not enter the European Union, for it’s own sake, but for the EU’s as well.  It’s a nation that has slipped back into an aggressive form of Islamism under President Erdogan, and it mainly seems to be holding the European Union hostage over the migrant crisis issue.  Let ’em fight their shadow religious war with Iran and be done with it.


What is Prime Minister Teresa May and the noodle-wristed PMs in the Conservative Party thinking?  Brexit should have taken a week, tops, to work out—after the vote in 2016, the Brits could literally have just left the European Union.  Oh, the EU still wants Brits to follow European Court rulings?  Tough—we’re independent now.  That should be the attitude and approach.  Then Britain could work out trade deals and other details on its terms.

Of course, that’s what you get when a former Remainer—who badly bungled snap elections that cost her party seats—is in charge of overseeing an exit from a quasi-tyrannical supranational entity.

Boris Johnson was right to jump ship.

Trump in England

Meanwhile, Trump is meeting with the beleaguered Prime Minister this week.  Some Lefties made a big baby balloon of the President, and a nation that regularly violates the free speech of its citizens is letting that fly in the name of—wait for it—free speech.  Where’s the consistency?

First Lady Melania Trump is charming as ever, and looks like a Disney princess.  I’ll be honest, one (small) reason I was hoping Trump would win in 2016 is because I loved the idea of having an Eastern European supermodel as our First Lady.


That’s all for this morning’s post, TPP fans.  We’ll get back to our regularly-scheduled standards of excellence Monday.  Enjoy a safe, fun weekend, and be careful on this Friday the 13th.  Don’t squander your liberty—use it well!



Surf’s Up

Demographer and statistician Steve Sailer has a book review (“Surfer Privilege” at Taki’s Magazine) of war correspondent William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life.  It’s about Finnegan’s idyllic youth in Southern California and Hawaii at a time when a working-class Irish family could afford real estate in some of the United States’ most desirable zip codes, while also supporting four children (Finnegan’s father worked in television, but was a pump jockey at a gas station upon first moving to Los Angeles; he could purchase a house and support his wife and child on that salary).

I recommend reading the book review linked above, as it contains classic Sailerean demographic analysis.  The real estate opportunities accessible to working- and middle-class Americans in the 1950s and 1960s are truly astonishing, and Sailer argues that, if you were born in 1946, the world was your oyster (Sailer was born in 1952, which he argues was also a pretty good year to enter into this world).

The real estate analysis rings true.  I’m 33 and earn a modest income as a history and music teacher at a small private school in rural South Carolina, which I supplement with adjunct teaching at a local technical college and with private music lessons (as well as the occasional music gig).  I’m also an extreme budgeter and put a significant chunk of my earnings into retirement accounts (IRAs and a 403(b) through my employer), and I drive a twelve-year old Dodge minivan.  While I live like a king compared to most people in human history, I still rent a little cottage and don’t support any dependents, much less a wife.  I’ll probably work hard for most of my life (though my long-term retirement planning should pay off over the course of decades; I’m definitely “getting rich slowly”), and I’m not counting on Social Security being around when I hit 70.

Had I been born when my parents were, I’d probably have a house, a wife, four kids, a pension, and a convertible, earning six figures in “consulting.”

I’m not complaining.  I highly value hard work, and I don’t think demography is always destiny (just look at all the miserable, divorced Boomers who are trying to figure out what went wrong).  I believe God has a purpose for us, and we live in our respective time for a reason (not that I haven’t, at times, experienced a sense of dislocation from our current era).

But Sailer’s demographic analysis of the period under consideration—a time that was so safe and prosperous, a kid could spend thousands of hours surfing and his parents didn’t much worry about him—is compelling, and points to long-term problems endemic in our culture today, such as mass immigration, an overly-rosy view of diversity, and idealistic subjectivism.

The Boomer generation was blessed to ride a long wave of economic prosperity and expansion.  As a product of the Great Recession, I’m growing more optimistic that future generations will enjoy similar gains.  I’m also cautiously hopeful that economic growth can prevent the unfortunate Millennial tendency toward idealizing socialism.

Hopefully, we’ll all be able to say “surf’s up!” again soon.

TBT: Economics: A Human Science

The unofficial, unintentional theme of this week’s posts have been about economics in general (other than Tuesday’s SCOTUS piece)—the power of tax cuts, the potential upsides to tariffs, etc.  In that spirit, I thought for week’s post about diving back into a piece that reflects my gradually evolving thinking about economics.

The summer before my sophomore year of college, I read the second edition of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, a work that completely revolutionized how I thought about the world and economics.  Free-market principles became my lodestar, and colored my ideology for a decade.  Indeed, I still adhere to these principles when it comes to economic questions.

However, as I grew older and (hopefully) more experienced, I began to realize that neoliberal economic theory, while elegant, is not always hard-and-fast, and that there are many more wrinkles to economic issues than appear at first glance.  I don’t believe in overcomplicating things—again, cutting taxes tends to stimulate economic growth—but most issues contain a frisson of nuance that is easy to miss.

I’d long held to the idea that free trade is a largely unalloyed good, and that the short-term costs of lost jobs or reduced wages in some industries domestically would be made up for by increased efficiency of production and the rise of new, better industries.  Sure, there’d be some friction in the duration, but people will manage, and we can always throw some funds for reeducation their way.

While I think such disruption is inevitable, I don’t think we should embrace it so blindly that we forget about the people who find themselves out of work, or in a position that they can’t modify their skillsets to find a new job.  I live in the rural South, and there are hundreds of little towns that dried up once the mill the left, the railroad shut down, or the big family farms sold off.  Part of that story is the onward march of Time and economic progress—and the drama of human history.  But part of it is the story of globalist elites selling out Middle America.

This situation is not one merely of tariffs, taxes, and the like, but also of a radical ideology that would see national borders dissolved and massive immigration—even illegal immigration—encouraged.  I am libertarian on many issues, but the pitfall of modern economic libertarianism—and there are many—is that it only conceives of issues in terms of economic efficiency (and, if you get right down to it, it’s inverted Marxism, to the extent that, for Marxists, everything is about economics—or, more properly, materialism).  And, yes, generally greater efficiency means greater quality of life, but economics is not always the clean, elegant science that its proponents claim it to be.

To that end, I argue that economics, properly considered, should be considered part of the humanities, as it deals in a direct, visceral way with the people’s lives.

I don’t know the precise balancing act, or what should be achieved.  I highly recommend reading Patrick J. Buchanan’s The Death of the West for a more complete treatment of how to revive wages for workers while maintaining a high degree of quality and efficiency.  I don’t agree with all of Buchanan’s proposals, which are heavily influenced by Catholic social teachings, but there is an appeal to the idea that, if the government is going to interfere in the economy (and it is, and does), then it should be in favor of workers and families, not at their expense.

Finally, I wrote this essay in the context of the Brexit vote—which I intend to write an eBook on soon—and the arguments I was hearing about the economic catastrophe Brexit would be (that hasn’t been the case yet).  I argued, essentially, that the liberty and national sovereignty are more important than sweet European Union bennies and transfer-of-wealth payments.  The EU is a despicable organization as it currently operates, and as a lover of liberty, I’m thrilled to see nationalist-populist movements rising in major European countries.  I don’t agree with all of these groups or their policies (many of which are socialistic in nature), but the impulse towards greater national sovereignty is, in general, a healthy one in our age of excessive globalization and unelected supranational tyrants.

With that lengthy introduction, I give you 24 June 2016’s “Economics: A Human Science“:

If you’ve read my blog the past couple of weeks, you know that I am strongly in favor of Brexit, or Great Britain voting to “Leave” the European Union.  I’ve laid out my reasons here and here.  As I write this post, results are trickling in on that historic vote, and I am intermittently checking them with great interest–and not a small bit of trepidation.  Right now (about 10:30 PM EST/-5 GMT), “Leave” has a slight edge, but the outcome is too close to call.

Already, though, the British pound and the euro have taken a beating in value, as gold prices soar (this blog is conservative in viewpoint, so I probably should start urging you to buy gold, guns, and freeze-dried food reserves; source  One of the major bogeymen of the “Remain” side in the referendum was the threat of economic downturn.  As I conceded in both of my previous posts on Brexit, there will no doubt be major economic disruption should Britain vote to “Leave.”  However, a (likely temporary) drop in the value of the pound sterling is a price well paid for restored national sovereignty.

God Save the Queen… and Great Britain from the clutches of Eurozone bureaucrats

As conservatives, we’re accustomed to viewing economics–or, at least, economic growth–as a positive good.  After all, we believe in the power of free markets to satisfy human needs and desires, and to innovate new ideas and products that alleviate human suffering, drudgery, and toil.  Conservative politicians tend to focus on job growth and prudent deregulation–often coupled with tax and spending cuts–as perennial, bread-and-butter issues that directly affect voters’ pocketbooks for the better.

 “…these [fiscal] policies are not about making gobs of cash… but about what those gobs can do to improve lives.”

But economics, like much else, is not a means unto itself.  The reason conservatives like economic growth–besides, well, making money–is that it demonstrably improves people’s lives.  Deregulation, similarly, can work beneficially (if you doubt me, just ask anyone who has ever dealt with the Affordable Care Act and the Department of Health and Human Services).  In essence, these policies are not about making gobs of cash–although that is certainly nice–but about what those gobs can do to improve lives.

Thus, we have a stark contrast between the organic, healthy, occasionally unpredictable economic growth of a free market and the regimented, inequitable, limited economic growth of progressive corporatism.  Our current economic environment, I fear, is far closer to the latter than the former.  Complex, heavy regulations benefit larger firms and discourage the formation of smaller, newer firms by raising the upfront costs of entry.  Perverse incentives raise the costs of healthcare for young, fit Americans, while making it unrealistically cheaper for older, sicker, chubbier patients.  Overly-generous social safety benefits (some of which, like the food stamp program SNAP, the government actively advertises and encourages people to use) discourage able-bodied Americans from pursuing work.

I could go on (and on… and on).  In short, conservatives are used to being correct on principle and on economic outcomes.  Typically, conservative fiscal policies align with, rather than try to manipulate, economic realities, so the outcomes of those policies tend to be both principled and positive.

“As fiscal conservatives… let us never lose sight of the human side of economics.”

In the case of Brexit, however, the quest for restored sovereignty–a stand on an important first principle–will result in some negative economic outcomes.  A major argument of the “Remain” side is that staying in the European Union will preserve Britain’s economic stability and ensure it a place in a European common market.

Such an argument is seductive, but it leads to a gilded cage.  Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman famously said that economic freedom is a necessary precursor to, though not a guarantor of, political freedom.  With Brexit, the axiom is almost reversed–by reclaiming its political freedom, Britain will then be able to pursue renewed economic freedom.

As fiscal conservatives–or those that support free markets, freer trade, and light regulations–let us never lose sight of the human side of economics.  We too often treat economics as a science.  Instead, it should find a home alongside the humanities.

Our chief aim should be to unleash human potential.  So liberated, its creativity and ingenuity can lift human life to greater heights.

We already have a model:  we’ve been doing it in the United States for over 200 years.

Q&A Wednesday – Tax Cuts, Trade Wars, Etc.

Two of my most loyal readers, Megan and Frederick (I highly recommend the latter’s corporate history blog, CorporateHistory.International), both chimed in via Facebook about Monday’s post on tax cuts.  Frederick pointed out a potential downside to corporate tax cuts—what’s to stop large multinationals from investing that money in physical plants and employees overseas, notably in China?  Megan asked me to elaborate further on tariffs in relation to that very question.

Being a conservative, I like to conserve things—traditions, morals, civil society, working institutions, etc.—but most especially effort.  I’m a strong believer in the dictum, “Work smarter, not harder” (although you need a healthy dose of the latter, too).  As such, I’m adapting my Facebook response to them here.

I think the question of tariffs and trade wars is hugely interesting, and needn’t be bogged down in tedious charts and numbers.  What I do believe is that President Trump has ripped the façade from the bipartisan push for globalism, and particularly demonstrated the real, human cost of unbridled free trade.

I used to be 99% a free trader, with 1% reserved for mild tariffs on national security-related goods, like steel.

Now I’m probably more 85% free trade, 15% tariffs. A tariff is a tax, yes, and it’s borne not just by foreign nations exporting goods to the US, but also by American consumers, who have to pay more for goods that are protected (and, thus, more expensive and potentially of a lesser quality than they would be in a competitive, free market).  That disclaimer aside, it seems like paying a few more bucks for your washing machine is a good way to keep Americans employed and earning a decent wage.

If you take that reasoning too far you fall into the dilemma of minimum wage increases, which increase unemployment (especially for unskilled, young, and minority workers) and raise costs, so that any increased wages enjoyed by the beneficiaries are eaten away by the increased costs of consumer goods—all served up with a side of higher unemployment.

That said, judicious tariffs—I’m not arguing for the high, blanket tariffs of the late nineteenth century, which wouldn’t work well in our modern, interconnected economy—especially related to key industries like steel, could keep a lot of Americans working, and would allow blue-collar workers to earn a wage that wouldn’t require years of expensive schooling.

Also, I think targeted tariffs against unequal trading partners—I’m thinking primarily of China—would level the playing field, and prevent some of the outsourcing and capital flight that might occur with a corporate tax cut (or, more likely, increase). It’s unreasonable to expect American workers—with all their labor protections, etc.—to compete with near-slave wage Chinese workers. China’s currency manipulation to make its exports artificially cheaper, as well its rampant intellectual property theft, needs to be combated, and if it means getting our cheap plastic Happy Meal toys from Vietnam (or the USA!) instead of China, so be it.

The current “trade war” with China sees Americans in a much better position than the Chinese. China needs those exports, but the USA can stand to experience some minor drag to its GDP growth given the massive growth we’re seeing with the tax cuts (not just the corporate tax cut, but also the 20% deduction for small business pass-through earnings, which is YUGE for small business growth—a key driver of employment in our country). I see it as a trade-off—pay a little more for some consumer goods, but create imbalance in the Chinese economy and force them to play ball on par with the Western world and Japan.

My only real concern with this approach is there is no limiting principle (although that’s true for any type of tax, and we have to have some of them), which makes me wary as a limited-government Jeffersonian, but the Hamiltonian commercialist in me sees this moment in history as one in which we can uniquely leverage our economic clout to improve our own economy and our position internationally, and we can afford to go through a trade war longer than China (or Mexico, or Europe).

Everyone loses if a trade war lasts too long, but I think the Chinese will blink first. American workers will be the ones to benefit.

One additional thought, which will require more elegant development in a future post:  even with the inefficiencies and deadweight loss that would occur from overly-high tariffs, wouldn’t protecting domestic jobs be a more effective and fulfilling way to provide a living for blue-collar workers than the current welfare system?  Instead of a massive, government-run bureaucracy administering a complex and redundant system of bennies, society could bear the cost through paying a bit more for consumer goods.  Such a system would create more semi-skilled positions in some industries, and I’d rather we subsidize people through work than to subsidize them not to work.  Again, that’s a very rough sketch, but some food for thought.

Regardless, tariffs are not an unalloyed evil, nor is free trade an unalloyed good.  There’s room for both.  Economics suggests that the balance should favor the latter more heavily than the former, but we can temper the massive social disruption that unbridled globalization unleashes.

The Evolution of Judicial Supremacy – Judicial Review

Last night, President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanuagh to serve on the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.  As such, I thought it would be germane to explore briefly the role of the Supreme Court.

Popular understanding of the Court today is that it is the ultimate arbiter and interpreter of the Constitution, but that’s not properly the case.  The Court has certainly assumed that position, and it’s why the Supreme Court wields such outsized influence on our political life, to the point that social justice snowflakes are now worried about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s diet and exercise regimen.

Properly understood, each branch—the President, the Congress, and the Court—play their roles in interpreting the constitutionality of laws.  Indeed, President Andrew Jackson—a controversial populist figure in his own right—argued in his vigorous veto of the Bank Bill, which would renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, that the President had a duty to veto laws that he believed to be unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, we’ve forgotten this tripartite role in defending the Constitution from scurrilous and unconstitutional acts due to a number of historical developments, which I will quickly outline here, with my primary focus being a case from the early nineteenth century.

The notion that the Supreme Court is to be the interpreter of the Constitution dates back to 1803, in the famous Marbury v. Madison case.  That case was a classic showdown between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison on one hand—representing the new Democratic-Republican Party in control of the executive branch—and Chief Justice John Marshall, a Federalist appointee, on the other.

The case centered on an undelivered “midnight appointment” of William Marbury to serve as Justice of the Peace for Washington, D.C.  The prior president, John Adams, had issued a handful of last-minute appointments before leaving office, and left them on the desk of the incoming Secretary of State, James Madison, to deliver.  Naturally, Jefferson and Madison refused to do so, not wanting to pack the judicial branch with any more Federalists, and Marbury sued for his appointment.

If Marshall ruled that Madison must deliver the appointment, there was a very real risk that the Jefferson administration would refuse.  Remember, the Supreme Court has no power to execute its rulings, as the President is the chief executive and holds that authority.  On the other hand, ruling in Madison’s favor would make the Court toothless in the face of the Jefferson administration, which was already attempting to “unpack” the federal courts through acts of Congress and the impeachment (and near removal) of Justice Samuel Chase.

In a brilliant ruling with far-reaching consequences, Marshall ruled that the portion of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that legislated that such disputes be heard by the Supreme Court were unconstitutional, so the Supreme Court could not render a judgment.  At the same time, Marshall argued strongly for “judicial review,” the pointing out that the Court had a unique responsibility to strike down laws or parts of laws that were unconstitutional.

That’s all relatively non-controversial as far as it goes, but since then, the power of the federal judiciary has grown to outsize influence.  Activist judges in the twentieth century, starting with President Franklin Roosevelt’s appointees and continuing through the disastrous Warren and Burger Courts, have stretched judicial review to absurd limits, creating “penumbras of emanations” of rights, legislating from the bench, and even creating rights that are nowhere to be found in the Constitution.

Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist No. 78 that the Court would be the weakest and most passive of the branches, but it has now become so powerful that a “swing” justice like former Justice Kennedy can become a virtual tyrant.  As such, the confirmation of any new justice has devolved into a titanic struggle of lurid accusations and litmus tests.

The shabby treatment of the late Judge Robert Bork in his own failed 1987 nomination is a mere foretaste of what awaits Judge Kavanaugh.  Hopefully Kavanaugh is well-steeped in constitutional law and history—and will steadfastly resist the siren song of personal power at the expense of the national interest.