The Tyranny of Experts

A couple of years ago, the bees were dying.  Readers may recall the alarmist news coverage:  soon, we were told, the mass extinction of our buzzy little pollinators would destroy agriculture globally, resulting in widespread famines.  We must save the bees!

Meanwhile, I can’t walk to my car without fat, furry bees hovering around, ensuring the giant Sasquatch before them is just getting into his sensible subcompact hatchback, and not coming for their precious hive.  My yard is a dream for bees (especially before I got the winter weeds mowed up)—they particularly love the azalea bushes—and they seem to be doing fine.

The point is, had you listened to the expert apiarists, you’d think that civilization itself rested on the gossamer wings of black-and-yellow insects.  Sure, there probably is a problem with bee populations declining due to exposure to advance insecticides.  But the intense focus of apiarists in their field blinded them to other considerations.  They saw bee populations declining, and nothing else.

Experts know their fields so well, at times they can’t see the hive for the bees.  The dire prophecies of global bee deaths and the resulting famines never came, and we didn’t declare a national emergency over the decline in bee populations because there are a million other priorities.  We didn’t shut down industrial-scale agriculture to save the bees from insecticide, because to do so would result in millions of lost human lives.  The bees would have to figure it out on their own (indeed, as bee populations fell, beekeepers turned a tidy profit renting their hives to farmers, and that incentive encouraged the cultivation of more bees).

You can see where I’m going with this extended bee metaphor.  In the current coronavirus pandemic, we’ve leaned so heavily on the advice of medical professionals, we’re not considering the broader trade-offs.  The old expression “the cure is worse than the disease” is particularly apt here:  while social distancing and government-sanctioned “shelter-in-place” orders will surely slow the spread of infection and save lives, they will also result in massive economic destruction.

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Phone it in Friday XI: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part IV: Liberty in the Age of The Virus

The Age of The Virus is unprecedented.  Well, not entirely—major plagues and pandemics have swept the world before.  What’s unprecedented this time is the wholesale closure of the most commerce, along with rigid governmental and social admonitions to “social distance” and “shelter-in-place.”  Tin-pot municipal tyrants and State governors are engaged in a virtue-signalling race to see who can curtail liberties more rapidly and completely.

Pointing out this reality opens one to social scorn.  It’s amusing—and a bit frightening—to see the earnestness with which some Americans cling to their new mantras, the articles of faith handed down from the CDC and various government apparatchiks.  Even as our knowledge of The Virus seems to change daily, these public health acolytes cling to the every pronouncement from so-called “experts.”

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Yes, we should be vigilant about washing our hands and avoiding the accidental infection of one another, especially the elderly.

What concerns me is how quickly so many of us have been willing to accept greater degrees of control over our lives in the name of combating an invisible threat.  But now it feels like we’re living in the episode of Sliders called “Fever,” in which a totalitarian CDC cracks down on Los Angeles because, in that universe, penicillin was never discovered.

We’re not at Sliders levels—yet—but with that acquiescence has come an expansion of government power at nearly every level. I am not a libertarian, and I fully expect a robust federal response to a difficult international situation (remember, The Virus came from CHI-NA).  But that doesn’t mean local, State, or even federal authorities can simply hand-wave away the Constitution.

The Framers surely knew disease and death in their time.  When the Constitution was drafted in 1787, there was no capability for directing society with relative efficiency; even if there were, though, they would not have wanted to use it to suspend liberties.  The Framers surely knew there would be plagues and sickness in the United States, yet they included no clause such as “in the event of widespread sickness, these Articles contained heretofore in are, and of right to be, suspended until such time as the Congress shall deem suitable for public safety and the common welfare.”

Yet we see officials at the lowest levels of government telling people not just to stay home, but threatening to shut down churches and other assemblies.  Doesn’t that violate the First Amendment protections of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly?  Again, the prudent approach is for churches to accommodate the health of their congregants with remote services or other workarounds, but shouldn’t they be allowed to hold traditional services if they so choose?

The critics and medical scolds by now are howling with rage.  “What do these gossamer rights mean when we’re dead?”  Is that all anyone cares about?  What happened to Patrick Henry’s fiery cry of “Give me liberty, or give me death?”  What’s worse:  death from worshiping the Lord, or life in a soulless, gutless, freedom-less world?

I’m not alone in my assessment here.  Bill Whittle ripped into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this week, arguing that His Dishonor’s promise to shut down churches that continue to congregate would represent a high-handed assault on the First Amendment.  Even Whittle’s colleague Scott Ott thought Whittle’s defense of the Constitution was a bit rich, basically arguing that the Constitution can take a break during this outbreak.

I’m perceiving similarly expedient arguments among others on the Right.  It’s disgusting how many folks on our side are running like slavering dogs to lap up the crumbs of authoritarianism.  Whittle in the video above makes the compelling point that the Constitution functionally means nothing if any government official at any level can simply ignore its protections.  He also correctly points out that these rights are God-given, part of our very human nature.  No government can legitimately deprive us of them.

Another one of the saner voices is RazörFist, who also sees a great deal of big government chicanery in this pandemic (warning, Razör’s videos often contain strong language):

Z Man has also expressed skepticism about The Virus—or, at least, our draconian responses to it—and has received his share of scorn and dismissal.  But in his post Wednesday, “Fermi’s Paradox,” he made an interesting allusion to E.M. Forster’s novella “The Machine Stops,” originally published in 1909.  That short story (which I highly recommend you read—it has the same chilling effect as Kipling’s “The Mother Hive”) details a world in which humanity exists in a state of mindless, perpetual comfort, its every need attended to by The Machine.

In the story, humans have become so accustomed to cloistering in their little cells that they abhor face-to-face interaction, instead communicating via blue discs across great distances.  They are so dependent upon The Machine, they come to worship it (an interesting development, as their society has “advanced” beyond the “superstition” of religious belief—another subtle point from Forster).  They only travel on rare occasions, and avoid it unless absolutely necessary.

Eventually, The Machine deteriorates, with disastrous results; I will likely write about the story in more detail next week.  For our purposes, it sounds eerily like our current society:  shelter-in-place, “Stay at Home” (as digital signs on the Interstate tell me, implicitly scolding me for being on the highway), watch Netflix, #AloneTogether, etc., etc.—we’re told to be comfortable and to crave safety and comfort above all else.  They are the highest goods.

We’re through the looking glass here.  I’ve been pessimistic that we’re even living under the Constitution anymore, especially after the intelligence agencies attempted to overthrow a sitting President.  Vestiges and scraps of it still reign, but they seem to be the exception.  And most Americans don’t seem to care, so long as they can watch TV, the WiFi is working, and there is pizza.

We’re no longer the Roman Republic, but we’re not the Roman Empire in the 5th century, either.  We’re more like the Roman Empire in the 2nd or 3rd centuries:  coasting along on the remnants of a functioning system, with a play-acting Congress shadowing the motions of republicanism.

I hope I’m wrong.  Regardless, wash your hands.

Richard Weaver in the Age of The Virus

In the Age of The Virus, we’re beginning to reevaluate the way we live.  I’ve written quite a bit about distance learning, and photog has a piece up on his blog predicting a larger shift to remote work.  That transition would threaten micromanaging middle managers everywhere, though, and one doesn’t become a micromanaging middle manager without a knack of occupational self-preservation.

I’ve also been interested in the potential cultural impact.  Already there seems to be a minor revival in interest in gardening.  Part of that is prudent:  we need to have some food to fall back on should the supply chains face further disruption.

But I also suspect some of it is spiritual.  Modern man has become divorced from his roots in the soil—in Creation.  Modernity has liberated us from the constant fear of want, but that liberation came with a price:  we traded the liberty of the soil for the chains of comfort.  Growing a little vegetable garden, however meager, is a way to reconnect with the land, and with the beauty of God’s Creation.

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TBT: Trade War with China is Worth It

Amid this whole coronavirus situationconundrum, crisis, globalist meltdown—we should keep in mind that it’s all China’s fault.  That’s why GEOTUS keeps calling it the “Chinese Virus” and the “Wuhan Flu,” because those names are completely accurate.  Of course, the media is having conniption fits about the supposedly “racist” intentions and implications of those names (which are quite mild compared to my favorite, “Kung Flu”).  It’s why the only real response to charges of racism—which are designed to make conservatives apologize in panicked fear—is to ignore them.

Regardless, it’s worth remembering that China is to blame.  Whether it was the result of abhorrent, unhygienic culinary practices (the infamous “bat soup“) or a malicious (or incompetent) leak of an engineered biological weapon, China unleashed this plague upon the world.  Perhaps the strongest argument against uncritical globalization is just that:  we made ourselves excessively dependent upon a regime that is fundamentally opposed to our very existence, and which rejects our deepest held values and beliefs.

In retrospect, then, President Trump’s trade war with China looks all the more prescient.  We’ve become so dependent upon and integrated with China, we’re running short on the ingredients for essential medicines because of China’s disease.  Supply chains have been seriously disrupted, and will continue to be, it seems, for some weeks.  Thank goodness the tariffs began moving production of some goods back to the United States.

That’s an important lesson to remember:  paying a bit more for your washing machine is worth the price of having domestic production.  We don’t need to make everything in the United States, but saving a hundred bucks or so on a major appliance isn’t worth gutting our industrial capacity and leaving our middle and working classes out of work.

Oh, well.  A lesson learned too late is still a lesson learned.  When this whole fiasco is over, let’s consider a healthy dose of autarky going forward.

With that, here is August 2019’s “Trade War with China is Worth It“:

There’s a lot of disingenuous scuttlebutt flying around about a looming recession, the inverted yield curve, and the costs of the trade war with China.  I can’t help but think such doom and gloom reporting is part of an effort to undermine President Trump.  Investor and consumer confidence are emotional, fickle things, based as much on feeling as they are on hard economic data.

As such, I suspect that major media outlets are attempting a bank-shot:  scare investors and consumers enough, and they panic into a recession.  President Trump’s greatest strength at present is the booming economy and low unemployment rate; take that away, and loopy, socialist Democrats have a much better shot in the 2020 elections.  With Leftists like Bill Maher actually hoping for a recession to unseat President Trump, that’s not a far-fetched speculation at all.

The inverted yield curve is a bit academic, though, and I don’t think it’s going to have the scary impact its prophets of doom hope.  Oh, a curve on a graph is inverted—scary!  Most Americans aren’t going to respond to that in any substantial way.

On the other hand, the negative media attention around the trade war with China could negatively impact perceptions of the president.  Trade wars, in which countries throw up tariff barriers against one another’s imports, often ratcheting up the duty levels, is a game in which both sides lose out over the long-run—that is, assuming they don’t have other viable trading partners, and that they’re both evenly matched economically.

And, yes, the trade war has had some drag on the American economy—but it’s been so minuscule, only a few sectors have really felt the pain.  Meanwhile, China is really struggling.  Getting Trump out of office would serve China beautifully, as narrow-minded neoliberal economists would likely push a Biden (or Harris—gulp!) administration to end the tariffs.  China has the dubious luxury of an authoritarian system that can direct its economy, while President Trump must survive reelection to keep his trade policy going.

The case for maintaining the trade war is compelling (and it pre-dates Trump:  one of Mitt Romney’s advisers in the 2012 election, Oren Cass, wrote an essay for National Review calling for a trade war with China in 2014).  The best recent summary for why the trade war is beneficial actually comes from my hometown paper, The Aiken Standard (kudos to my Dad for sharing this piece).

Greg Roberts spells out the case in “Facts behind the U.S.-China trade war“; I highly recommend you give it a read.  As Roberts points out, in a normal trading relationship, the price of each trading nations’ currencies would fluctuate based on its relative trade imbalance with its trading partners; this fluctuation would occur until some rough equilibrium in currency values is reached.

China—in violation of its agreement not to do so upon entering the World Trade Organization—has continually depressed the value of its own currency in order to encourage a trade imbalance with the United States.  Because the Chinese currency is held artificially low, it is cheaper for the United States to import Chinese goods than to export American goods to China.  Why?  Because the Chinese currency is cheaper, Chinese goods are less expensive, and can be bought and imported cheaply.

Because China is a currency manipulator, it is not acting per its agreement upon joining the WTO.  Further, Roberts points out other violations, including China’s requirement that firms wishing to manufacture in China turn over their patents, blueprints, and other intellectual property to the Chinese government as the cost of doing business.

Here are two relevant paragraphs:

Has China kept its promise? The answer is a resounding no, since the Peoples Bank in China, which is controlled by the Communist Party, routinely devalues its currency to maintain, in the case of the U.S., a positive trade balance, which, for us, means we have a trade deficit with China, now totaling more than $300 billion annually.

China agreed to many other provisions when it joined the WTO which the country has not kept, to wit not requiring the transfer of foreign technology as a condition of market access; enterprises in China that are owned or controlled by the government have expanded rather than diminished; foreign banks have not been given the access that had been agreed to; the theft of intellectual property has not abated; among many others.

Clearly, China has acted in bad faith repeatedly.  Further, the United States has a number of alternatives for trade in the region, including Vietnam.

Also, the goods China receives from the United States are the stuff of life—soybeans and other agricultural products.  Does the United States need more cheap plastic crap?

Give Roberts’s analysis a read.  It’s the best, most succinct summary of the trade war I’ve read recently, and it will convince you of the necessity of holding the line against Chinese economic aggression.

High-Tech Agrarianism

The coronavirus situation—which I am convinced is both quite serious, but also inspiring some huge overreactions—has created a world that feels almost entirely different than it did even a few days ago.  This time last week, I was convinced that the whole thing was way overblown, and that life would largely continue apace, minus some school closures here and there.

By Friday evening I was growing more concerned, as everything began to get closed or cancelled.  I proctored the SAT Saturday morning and even went out of town that evening.  At that point, I thought the risk of my school closing was greater than it had been even two or three days before, but I still figured it was a relatively remote possibility.

Then Governor McMaster announced the closure of all South Carolina public schools (I teach at a private school, but we always follow gubernatorial closures)—and a bunch of other stuff shut down.  I picked up dinner at a Hardee’s in Florence, South Carolina Monday evening after a guitar lesson, and it was surreal—everything was gone from the front, and the cashier had to give me a lid and straw according to their new cleanliness guidelines.

(Let’s take a moment to thank all those service industry folks and long-distance truckers who are continuing to work and risking exposure; they are unsung heroes.  Also, spare a thought to people in those industries that are out-of-work at the moment.  They need our love and charity now more than ever.)

That’s all to say that, in a remarkably short period of time, the United States has undergone a major paradigm shift.  The world of Saturday, 14 March 2020 at 2 PM—when I emerged from the cocoon of extended time SAT testing—was a different than the world of Wednesday, 18 March 2020 at 9 PM (when I’m writing this very belated blog post).

One trend—that I think will be positive if it endures—is the implicit rejection of globalism.  People are suddenly awakening, dramatically, to the manifold downsides of open borders and excessive global economic integration.  Suddenly, localism is back in vogue.

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Phone it in Friday IX: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part II: Attack of the Virus

If last week was crazy busy, this one is moving at ludicrous speed (and yet also dragging by—last Friday seems like a distant eternity ago).  Since last week, panic over the coronavirus is spreading alongside the dreaded virus.  There have been a series of major cancellations, all of which have been well-advertised:  Disneyland, professional sports, etc.  The South Carolina Philharmonic, of which I used to be a season ticket holder, is closing its concert to the public, but will instead livestream the proceedings.  Our senior US Senator Lindsey Graham has self-quarantined.

My assessment up until this week has been that we should be prudent in preparing for the impact of the coronavirus, but that it’s a tad overblown—it’s just a nasty flu.  I still caution prudent prepping—and against panic—but after the events of the past week, I’m adjusting my assessment.  There is definitely something different about this pandemic.

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Post-Trump America

Well, the craziness of yesterday has subsided, and I’m almost finished with report cards.  Student-musicians apparently did quite well at their Music Festival, and life is (hopefully) about to calm down a bit before getting insane all over again in about five or six weeks.

All that said, I’m still pretty worn-out today.  Fortunately, my good blogger buddy photog, proprietor of Orion’s Cold Fire, wrote a post yesterday, “Building on Trump’s Revolt,” which raises some interesting questions.  Foremost at the back of every Trumpist’s mind:  who takes over after Trump?

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TBT: The Human Toll of Globalization

One of the more interesting developments in conservatism since Trump’s rise in 2015-2016 has been a reevaluation of our basic economic policy.  Much of the ideas debated originated, in our modern political era, with Pat Buchanan.  For decades, the assumption among conservatism was that economic efficiency was the highest good, as it lowered costs and eliminated or reduced government overreach.

That was a reasonable set of assumptions when our nation shared a common culture, and when the United States dominated global markets hegemonically.  But the goal of reducing the size of government morphed pathologically into the mad worship of Efficiency above all else.  We sold out social capital—stable families, cohesive communities, robust civil society—for quick cash.

That’s the gist of Z-Man’s post today, “Middle-Man Conservatism.”  Tucker Carlson has similarly touched upon the woeful consequences of worshiping Efficiency-for-its-own-sake.  Sure, Americans possess a pioneering spirit—we’ll move to the oil fields in North Dakota if we have to do so—but we’re still motivated by the same things other humans are:  family, community, belonging.  Gutting our communities to save fifty bucks on a washing machine is a ludicrous trade-off.

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Delusional Crone (Almost) Divorces Husband over Trump

If you’re ready for your blood pressure to spike before you even eat your cholesterol-thick breakfast, here’s an example of the delusional loonies on the Left:  a California woman (almost) divorced her husband because he voted for Trump.

This story is a bit old, as it dates back to early 2017, but it’s indicative of where our nation is.  It not only demonstrates the intense loyalty of the Left to their progressive dogma, but also how cheaply marriage is held.

The short version is thus:  73-year old Gayle McCormick threatened seriously to divorce her husband of twenty-two years when she found out he voted for Trump (ultimately, they merely separated permanently).

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