Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Cruising the Web


Roger Kimball has a thoughtful essay
about the "intoxicating effects of socialist benevolence."
So, what is the emotional motor of socialism? In a word, benevolence.

That may seem counter-intuitive. Isn’t benevolence a good thing?

That depends. Benevolence is a curious mental or characterological attribute. It is, as the philosopher David Stove observed, less a virtue than an emotion. To be benevolent means—what? To be disposed to relieve the misery and increase the happiness of others. Whether your benevolent attitude or action actually has that effect is beside the point. Yes, “benevolence, by the very meaning of the word,” Stove writes, “is a desire for the happiness, rather than the misery, of its object.” ...

It’s not that benevolence is a bad thing per se. It’s just that, like charity, it works best the more local are its aims. Enlarged, it becomes like that “telescopic philanthropy” Dickens attributes to Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House. Her philanthropy is more ardent the more abstract and distant its objects. When it comes to her own family, she is hopeless.

The sad truth is that theoretical benevolence is compatible with any amount of practical indifference or even cruelty. You feel kindly towards others. That is what matters: your feelings. The effects of your benevolent feelings in the real world are secondary, or rather totally irrelevant. Rousseau was a philosopher of benevolence. So was Karl Marx. Yet everywhere that Marx’s ideas have been put into practice, the result has been universal immiseration. But his intention was the benevolent one of forging a more equitable society by abolishing private property and, to adopt a famous phrase from President Obama, by spreading the wealth around.

An absolute commitment to benevolence, like the road that is paved with good intentions, typically leads to an unprofitable destination.

Just so with the modern welfare state. It doesn’t matter that the welfare state actually creates more of the poverty and dependence it was instituted to abolish. The intentions behind it are benevolent. Which is one of the reasons it is so seductive. It flatters the vanity of those who espouse it even as it nourishes the egalitarian ambitions that have always been at the center of Enlightened thought. This is why Stove describes benevolence as “the heroin of the Enlightened.” It is intoxicating, addictive, expensive, and ultimately ruinous.
I see this approach a lot of times with my students. When we class discussions on public policy, their attitude seems to be, "well, we need to do something and this sounds like a plan that will help people so it must be good." Whether it works or not is less important than their intentions. That is also why they are so fond of institutions like the United Nations. It just sounds like such a good idea. Who could be opposed to the idea of nations coming together to solve the world's most intractable problems by diplomacy instead of force? What the United Nations is in reality - not so important. The funny thing is that the students who seem the most skeptical about the U.N. are the kids who are involved in Model U.N. They have studied how it actually works and read some of the history and they have come to be quite cynical about what this institution is.


California politicians continue to provide a model for stupid governance. Now they're proposing to require quotas on for women on corporate boards. Any corporation with at least four members would have to have one woman director and two for boards with five directors and three females for boards of six or more. Valerie Richardson lets us know what happened when Norway adopted a similar mandate.
After the Norwegian Parliament required that women make up 40 percent of publicly traded corporate boards in 2006, stock prices plunged and firm values dropped as boards added less experienced female directors, while the numbers of public firms decreased and private companies increased.

“The quota led to younger and less experienced boards, increases in leverage and acquisitions, and deterioration in operating performance, consistent with less capable boards,” said the 2012 paper by USC professor Kenneth R. Ahern and University of Michigan professor Amy K. Dittmar....

Many Norwegian companies have apparently moved, collapsed or gone private. The number of public limited firms in Norway by 2009 was less than 70 percent of the number in 2001, according to the study, while the number of privately held firms not subject to the gender quotas jumped by more than 30 percent.
The WSJ adds,
Except no one is blocking the doorway now, as board trends clearly show. Investment funds like BlackRock and Vanguard already push for board diversity on companies in their portfolios. And it’s a rare board these days that isn’t hunting for more women as directors.

More than a third of new directors appointed in the second quarter this year were women, according to corporate-data firm Equilar. Only 17.1% of Russell 3000 companies had all-male boards in the same period, down from 19.5% the previous quarter. Deloitte found earlier this year that the number of white men on Fortune 500 boards decreased 6.4% between 2012 and 2016.

Quotas could speed up these trends—but to what end? The point of a corporate board is to represent the interest of shareholders who own the company. That requires experience, expertise and judgment. After the corporate frauds of the early 2000s, corporations were told they needed directors who are more independent of management and have more technical knowledge of the business.

The California law will now have nominating committees looking to fill some seats based on gender first, which invariably means a smaller pool of candidates. Companies will have to file reports detailing compliance or face a $100,000 fine. Failure to fill one board seat with a woman leads to another $100,000 fine. The penalty is $300,000 for subsequent violations—and the negative publicity of being cited would arguably be worse.

Many companies would merely create a new board seat and appoint a woman to check this government box. Male minorities could also lose seats to white women as other companies comply without growing the board. If minorities lose ground, will there be new quotas based on race?


One of the most disturbing trends, in my opinion, over the past decade or so is the increasing willingness of people to abridge the freedom of speech. It's as if people just want to shut down any speech they don't approve of. I'm just glad that we have the First Amendment to protect us from state-sponsored limitations on free speech. Citizens of the United Kingdom are not so lucky. The latest outrage are tweets from the South Yorkshire Police and other postings on the UK government website.
Two tweets from the South Yorkshire Police over the weekend requesting citizens to report hate matters to police should grab our attention.

The first calls out any hate “incident or crime.” There is a meaningful distinction there. The tweet defines hate incidents as “motivated by prejudice or hostility (or perceived to be so)…” The tweet ends with, “Report it and put a stop to it.”

The first calls out any hate “incident or crime.” There is a meaningful distinction there. The tweet defines hate incidents as “motivated by prejudice or hostility (or perceived to be so)…” The tweet ends with, “Report it and put a stop to it.”

To be clear, reportable incidents under this scheme have as low a bar as non-crime incidents merely perceived to be hostile. This would be hilarious if it was not so serious. Law enforcement is now soliciting people to turn others in for being offensive. Freedom from criminal investigation and arrest may now be subject to someone else’s feelings or perceptions in England.

The second tweet explicitly calls on citizens to “please report non-crime hate incidents, which can include things like offensive or insulting comments, online, in person, or in writing.” Reporting non-crimes to the police already seems like a waste of time and resources, but reporting people to the police for being offensive crosses the line into fascist territory.
Have they solved all other criminal actions in Britain that they can afford to have the police investigate non-crimes.

This is such a dangerous slippery slope.
Of course, hate crimes and legitimate hate incidents are wrong, and the perpetrators should face justice. But there can be no freedom when perceived victims’ subjective feelings can bring down the power of the state on citizens. Jokes, comments taken out of context, or simple misunderstandings can easily be conflated with legitimate hate.

The overbroad definition of hate incidents virtually guarantees that people will report frivolous complaints, which could drown real problems. It could also lead to government invasion of privacy for regular law-abiding citizens.

There is also no sense of proportionality here. A dumb comment online is subject to arrest by force because someone’s feelings are hurt? The over-broad definition also means there is likely no consequence for bad faith and frivolous reports. No limiting principle exists to discourage false or careless reports, further damaging the reputation of innocent people and wasting law enforcement time and resources.
I'm so glad to live in a country whose founders protected our rights to free speech.


Peter Hasson reminds us of some of questionable quotes and reporting in Bob Woodward's long history as a reporter and author. I know that he is regarded as the heroic model of the very modern reporter, but his past is not one of infallibility. There were some issues with accuracy that I remembered, most famously his supposed deathbed interview with CIA chief William Casey when Casey's family insists that he was not capable of speaking or sitting up in bed as Woodward dramatically described. But there have been problems with almost all his books. That doesn't mean that his newest book on the Trump administration is not accurate, but it does mean that we should be a touch skeptical. It helps when he has tapes and documents to support his anonymous sources.


Noemie Emery argues that the frustrations that Democrats are experiencing now over the Kavanaugh nomination are their "just desserts."
Are you happy now, Teddy Kennedy? Are you happy, Joe Biden? Are you happy now, Harry Reid? It’s due to the things that you did and said that Donald J. Trump is now naming his second Supreme Court justice in under two years in office. It is your fault that the once courtly process of Supreme Court appointments turned into the blood-and-thunder-eye-gouging drama that we hate and we live through today.

It was 31 years ago, in 1987, that Edward M. Kennedy burst on the floor of the Senate to tell us all that with Robert Bork on the Supreme Court, “women would be forced Into back-alley abortions,” blacks would eat at segregated lunch counters, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the government, and the freedom of millions would hang by a thread.

Before it was over, liberals would raise and spend over $10 million in negative ads (quite a sum at the time) and in lobbying efforts. They would threaten black witnesses with career-ending reprisals and seize and search records of video rentals for signs of blue movies that were never found.

As Steve Hayward says, “The demagogic nature of the public campaign against him made it a watershed moment in American politics, permanently deforming the nomination process as for the judiciary, with ideological battles now extending to the lower federal courts as well.” How true this was proven in 1991, when Kennedy’s office unleashed Anita Hill upon Clarence Thomas, though with less success.

And in 1992, Biden averred that if a vacancy occurred in the Supreme Court before the presidential election, the Democratic Senate should refuse to let Republican President George H.W. Bush fill it until the election was over, so that the new president (who would be Bill Clinton) could decide.

Twenty-four years later, in 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died of a heart attack, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took this advice. He refused to allow a vote on a nominee picked by an exiting Democrat. Democrats fumed, but, as they expected a President Hillary Clinton, they bided their time.
Add in the miscalculation by the Democrats to get rid of the filibuster for judicial nominations and then attempting to filibuster Gorsuch so that the Republicans felt few qualms of ending the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. Perhaps in a few years there will be a Democratic president and Senate when Ruth Bader Ginsburg decides to retire and they'll be happy to eat those desserts. But right now, they're eating a very sour feast that they themselves prepared.


Have a nice day. I probably won't be blogging for the next two days as we all prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Florence. It sounds like it's going to be a dreadful storm and the paths right now showing it aiming right at Raleigh. My best wishes for all the people in its path.