The Enduring Legacy of Milton Friedman

One of the major debates on the Right over the past year or so has been the efficacy of libertarianism.  Part of that debate arises from disagreement about the role of government:  should it attempt to be neutral, as libertarians argue (which, we have seen, it is not), or should it act in the “common good” (or, as the Constitution puts it, the “common welfare”)?  In a world in which the Left wins victory after victory in the long culture wars, the assumptions of the “New Right” that arose following the Second World War are increasingly called into question.

Among those assumptions are libertarian economics.  Increasingly, conservatives are adopting a more suspicious view of concepts like supply-side economics and free-market capitalism.  That suspicion is not because capitalism is a failure, per se, but because it is almost too successful:  the wealth and prosperity it brings have also brought substantial social and cultural upheaval.  Because capitalism is an impersonal and amoral system, it doesn’t make value judgments about what is “good” or “bad” in the context of marketplace exchanges.  The Market itself is the highest “good,” so any hindrance to its efficiency is bad.

Ergo, we see arguments in favor of legalized prostitution, legalized hard drugs, legalized abortion, etc.  Again, if market efficiency is the greatest good, then why not allow these “victimless” activities?

Of course, unbridled libertarianism is doomed to fail, especially as it scales up.  Legalized hard drug use might keep junkies out of prison, but we don’t want heroine addicts buying their next hit at the grocery store.  Prostitution destroys families and the lives of the women (and men) involved, and spread disease.  Abortion is straight-up murder.

Capitalism cannot sustain itself in a vacuum.  It needs socially conservative behaviors and attitudes to sustain it.  If one wanted to live in a stateless libertarian paradise, one would need a small, tight-knit community in which everyone bought into the non-aggression principle and agreed to be honest in business dealings.  But as soon as one person decided not to abide by the unwritten social code, the entire experiment would unravel, like that scene in Demolition Man when the effeminate police force doesn’t know how to use force to subdue a violent criminal.

But for all of those critiques, capitalism remains the best system we’ve ever developed.  I agree with Tucker Carlson that the economy is a tool, not an ends to itself, but if government interferes too much with the tool, the tool is no longer effective.  If anything, the economy is a chainsaw:  too much regulation and the engine stalls and the blades become dull due to misuse and neglect; too little regulation and you lose an arm (or your life), even if you cut down a ton of trees in the process.

One of the most powerful books I ever read was Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962).  It transformed the way I viewed the relationship between the government and economics.  Friedman would have a huge impact on my life and my thought.  While I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, I still largely accept his conclusions.

Friedman was a minimalist when it came to government power, but he still recognized some role for government:  maintaining the national defense, combating pollution, and fighting against infectious diseases.

Here is a 1999 interview with Milton Friedman, from the excellent Uncommon Knowledge series, hosted by Peter Robinson.  It highlights some common objections to libertarian economic ideas, as we as Friedman’s thoughtful, nuanced responses:

For what it’s worth, I’ll add that Peter Robinson is a fantastic interview.  He possesses that perfect quality in an interviewer:  he doesn’t steal the limelight.  I grew so weary of Eric Metaxas‘s interviews, not because his guests were uninteresting—he has great guests!—but because he can’t help but talk over them constantly (his penchant for campiness also goes a bit overboard, and I love that kind of cheesy stuff).  After listening to some of Peter Robinson’s interviews Sunday afternoon, I never found myself wishing he would shut up—always a good sign.

Regardless, these are some weighty issues.  I have been hard on libertarians over the past year because I think they tend to reduce complex issues to supply and demand curves, and I can’t help but notice how we keep losing ground in the culture wars by espousing endless process and slow persuasion (which seems to be stalling in its effectiveness).

On the other hand, I’m glad that conservatives don’t wield power the way progressives do; as Gavin McInnes once put it in a video (one I would never be able to locate now) after the 2016 election, Trump and conservatives have sheathed the sword of power.  Progressives, masters of psychological projection, expected Trump to come out swinging, because that’s what they would do.

I just don’t know how long we can delay them from swinging the sword again, and after Trump’s unlikely victory (and his likely reelection), I imagine progressives will no longer even engage in the pretense of even-handedness and fair play:  they will crush us relentlessly if given the chance, rather than face an uprising again.

Libertarianism doesn’t have the answer to what to do to prevent that scenario.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure any faction on the Right does—at least not in any way that is palatable.

Birth(day), Death, and Taxes

“Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes,” the old saying goes.  But we are also born, those of us fortunate enough not to fall prey to the abortion industry.  Today marks my thirty-fifth birthday.  I celebrated by paying $162.57 in vehicle property taxes to Darlington County, South Carolina.

Yesterday, I purchased a new vehicle, my first new car in thirteen-and-a-half years, and only the third I’ve ever owned.  It’s a 2017 Nissan Versa Note SV.  The other two were a 1988 Buick Park Avenue Electra, which I bought from my older brother for $800, after my grandparents gave it to him one year, and a 2006 Dodge Caravan, which those same grandparents gave to me as a college graduation gift (after the Buick was totaled when a lady ran a yield sign and smashed into me).

The Buick is long gone, but I kept the Dodge.  I figure it’s worth more to me as stuff-hauler than I would have gotten in trade-in value.  Of course, that means maintaining insurance on both vehicles, and paying taxes on each.

Well, I awoke today to the news that our military assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleiman last night.  When I first read that Soleiman was “assassinated,” I was picturing a fate similar to the death of the “austere religious scholar,” the ISIS guy, al-Baghdadi: covert operatives swooping in under cover of darkness, swiftly and surely relieving the general of his life.

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Dawn of a Decade

Happy New Year!  It’s 2020!  Wags will quip that “it’s not really a new decade—that doesn’t start until next year, in 2021.”  It’s a case where the wags are correct on the facts, but don’t appreciate how appealing that nice, round “0” at the end looks.  Everyone was excited for 2000 AD; 2001 was greeted with shrugs.

Regardless, it’s an exciting time to be alive, in every sense of the word “exciting.”  2020 is a presidential election year, with a contentious, cartoonish Democratic primary season to endure.  The impeachment trial is (allegedly) coming up soon, if Speaker Nancy Pelosi decides to rummage through her purse and take them to the Senate.

America is enjoying an economic boom, with a long bull market and the lowest unemployment rate since 1969.  President Trump’s administration is restoring some sense of sanity and reason to the absurdity of 21st-century governance.  He at least expects the government to work for the American people, not actively against them.

New Years’ Day is when bloggers both look back to the year recently passed, and look ahead to the coming year.  Prediction posts are popular and fun, so long as you don’t take them too seriously.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: End-of-Decade Reflections; Age and Class

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

Today’s post is a bit of a counterpoint to yesterday’s Trumpian triumphalism—not a repudiation of my own points, but a mild qualifier.  Yesterday’s post discussed the hard numbers behind the Trump economy, and the enormous gains in the S&P 500.

I argued that, unlike the “sugar high” years of the Obama Fed—when stock prices soared, but wages remained low and unemployment high—the growth we’re currently enjoying more accurately reflects the reality on the ground.  Americans are benefiting in their 401(k)s and their IRAs, to be sure, but they’re also enjoying higher wages, and more of us are working than at any point in our history since 1969.

All of that is true, and good.  But as I wrote yesterday’s post, I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that something is still off.  There remains a real disconnect between the prosperity we see both in reality and on paper, and the sense that there is a lack of prosperity.

Since popular politics is a matter of emotions and feeling far more than it is about reasoned discourse, addressing that enduring sense of economic disparity and privation is critical.  My foolish but troubled generation, which came of age and fought for jobs during the Great Recession, perceives that gap profoundly—with potentially major consequences for the future of the United States and the West.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

God Bless Us, Every One: The Gift of the Trump Economy

Christmas Week is always full of blessings.  Thanks to the good folks at pro-MAGA news aggregator Whatfinger News (and a helpful tip from photog of Orion’s Cold Fire on how to submit links to them), The Portly Politico has seen its best week in terms of traffic all year.  Two pieces, “Napoleonic Christmas” and “Christmas and its Symbols” made the main page, leading both to surpass my previous top post for the year, “Milo on Romantic Music.”  Apparently, people still get riled up about Napoleon.

It’s also been a wonderful opportunity to spend time with family and to overeat lots of delicious, rich foods.  If you’ve never heard of the Appalachian delicacy “chocolate butter,” do yourself a favor and look it up.  Yes, it’s even better than the name suggests.

Of course, all of that good cheer requires a solid financial foundation.  And in his three years in office, President Trump has shattered records for unemployment, wage increases, and economic growth.  Economics isn’t everything, but the Trump economy is something for which we should give thanks.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Kabuki Theatre

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

This coming January, two theatrical events will occur:  I’m playing the role of “Brett,” the father of a drug-addicted son, in a play one of my former students wrote called Catching Icarus (the hook:  both acts take place in a Waffle House in South Carolina); and the Senate trial against President Trump will (allegedly) begin.

From the rehearsals I’ve been to so far, I can say that acting is difficult—and I get to spend most of the first act in a booth drinking coffee.  It takes a special kind of conviction (or delusion) to invest in a role, to become another person.

For congressional Democrats, they sure seem right at home on the political stage.  They are masters of the kabuki theatre of outrage.

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The Collapse of the Obama Coalition?

Yesterday, would-be authoritarian and multiracial presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris dropped out of the Democratic primaries.  That’s shocking news, but good for the future of republic.

Early on, I (as well as Z Man) thought that Senator Harris posed a major threat.  With the Left’s supposed desire for a charismatic, exotic-but-not-too-different, intersectional candidate, Harris fit the bill.  She is basically a female Obama:  the unusual ethnic background (Jamaican and East Indian), the meteoric rise, the stentorian rhetoric, the Third World penchant for strong-man (or -woman) rule.  As a woman, she could pick up the angry professional woman vote, and as a nominal black she could pick up  black Americans.

Boy, was I wrong—thank goodness!  The black vote is hewing pretty closely to former Vice President Joe Biden, apparently because of his association with the Obama administration, which black Americans remember fondly.  The box wine auntie vote is going to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.  All of the suburban soccer moms, urban young professionals, and Episcopalians are going for Pete Buttigieg.

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TBT^2: It’s a Thanksgiving Miracle!

Dang, it’s been another year already.  Yikes!  Last year I wrote about the updates since the tragic weekend before Thanksgiving 2017.  The year after my fall was eventful, as I detail below (my commentary on the original post from the old website is in italics).

Looking back, 2019 has been pretty solid, too.  I’ve been a bit morose in a few posts lately, but the beauty of Thanksgiving is it helps clarify the mind—we’re told to focus on what we’re thankful for, and it seems to work.

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Giving Thanks (and a Sales Pitch)

Thanksgiving Break starts today!  For those of you that don’t work in education, here’s hoping you can enjoy some time off tomorrow and Friday.

I have some exciting, timely news:  my SubscribeStar page hit five subscribers yesterday!  That’s a huge deal, because SubscribeStar requires their “Stars” to have five subscribers before subscriptions automatically renew on a monthly basis.  So, a BIG “Thank You” to my five plucky subscribers.

For those of you interested in subscribing, here’s my Thanksgiving pitcheach Saturday, I post a fresh post for $1/month and up subscribers.  It’s an insanely good value—the price of a large specialty pizza per year—and I write some juicy stuff that I can’t put on the main site.

If you want to get generous and go for $5/month, I’ve recently launched “Sunday Doodles.”  I throw up a couple of my wacky, absurd, grotesque doodles each Sunday, usually with a brief explanation about when/where I doodled them.  Here’s a sample:

Sunday Doodles III, 24 November 2019 - Thanksgiving!.jpg

The SubscribeStar page includes around thirty-five posts at present, with probably thirty of those being essays.  Like this blog, I use that page to write about all kinds of topics, including:

…and, of course, candy apples.

Also, every Fourth of July week is MAGAWeek, which is a week of exclusives only for subscribers.

Now that I’ve turned giving thanks into a lurid bid for your hard-earned cash, let me close by saying that I am, indeed, truly thankful to all of my readers.  Blogging daily this past year has been a challenge at times, but it’s also been a blast.  I’m incredibly thankful for those of you who read the site, and for the great new blogosphere buddies I’ve met along the way.

Thank you for your support, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

—TPP