[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. Well, well, there goes another calendar into the bin. [Bin sound] The fleeting years fall away, said the poet, and he was not mistaken. Some things stay the same from year to year though. Here is Radio Derb, the still center in a changing world, to bring you the first news of 2011. This is your incontinently genial host John Derbyshire with all the details.
02 — 112th Congress in session. The 112th Congress opened up for business — if you're not clear what I mean by that, ask any lobbyist — with new House Speaker John Boeher offering a double helping of humility. What the American people want, said Boehner, is, quote, "A government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors out heritage, and bows before the public it serves." End quote.
Well possibly, John. To say that people want a government that is honest and responsible is like saying people want food that is tasty and easy to digest. Of course they do. Hands up those citizens who want a dishonest, unaccountable government? Quod est demonstrandum.
As to people wanting a government that is responsive to their needs — easy there, John-John. You are treading perilously close there to George W. Bush's credo that, quote, "When someone is hurting, government has got to move." What are our needs? A roof over our heads; clothes on our backs; food in our bellies; schooling for our kids; medicine when we're sick; useful work at wages sufficient to cover the needs just mentioned; fair laws fairly administered; a stable currency; security from foreign attack. To which of those needs should the government be "responsive"? As opposed to a need being left to our private arrangements with fellow citizens?
Wellnigh the whole of politics consists of arguments about the correct answer to that question. A great many citizens think that government isn't responding to our needs unless it is holding our hands 24/7 as we navigate through life's difficulties and traumas. Some — and it's no small number — think that government isn't responding to our needs unless it relieves us of the necessity to work, save, or care for our children.
The same applies to Boehner's claim that we want a government that respects individual liberty. I'm sure we all say we do, but there are widely different ideas about the proper scope of individual liberty. It's a fuzzy concept and a moving target. The liberty to smoke at your desk in a business office has been replaced by the liberty to work in a smoke-free environment. Twenty years ago it had never occurred to anyone that a man ought to be able to marry a man, or a woman a woman; now we're told that it's a denial of our constitutionally-guaranteed liberties to oppose same-sex marriage.
As to "honoring our heritage": does Boehner not know that an entire generation has grown up and advanced to middle age being told, by schoolteachers and college lecturers, movies and TV, that our heritage is one of cruelty and injustice, slavery and dispossession?
"The people voted to end business as usual," declared Boehner. Well, some of them did, John. A great many voted their complete satisfaction with "business as usual." The entire population of California, for instance: they voted in a liberal Democrat status quo governor and pretty near every incumbent on the tickets. "Business as usual" includes, to take an item of business at random, humongous and swelling entitlements — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Let's see the reaction of the retiring Boomers when Congress tries to end that "business as usual."
Perhaps I'm being too punctilious here. Boehner's speech was ceremonial, and ceremonial speeches aren't supposed to parse down to any very specific level of granularity. Watching the man, though, I found it hard to keep my cynicism in check. Boehner's been warming his seat in Congress for 20 years, during which time he's shown about as much revolutionary enthusiasm as Marie Antoinette. His proudest achievement after the first ten of those years, he told the House in 2001, was helping to push through the No Child Left Behind Act, one of the stupidest, most intrusive, most counter-productive pieces of federal legislation ever enacted. Does anyone think this lachrymose dimwitted hack is going to, quote from his speech, "open a new chapter"?
What's that you say? — This is the Tea Party House of Representatives now? Is it? There are 82 GOP freshmen in the House. That's less than 19 percent of the House headcount, and by no means all of them, not even a majority, are Tea Party compliant. The system is what it is, and a few dozen novice congresscritters aren't going to budge it.
It will be budged, and probably in this Congress, but not by human agency. The fiscal dam is about to break, and the sheer irresistible force of events will shape U.S. political history in the near future. The Tea Partiers will just be bobbing along helplessly on the flood with Boehner, Pelosi, and all the rest of us.
And since no-one else has said the following thing, I'll say it. Boehner's repeated displays of public blubbing are unsightly, undignified, and unmanly. What on earth must the world think, seeing a grown man sniveling and dabbing his eyes on becoming Speaker — third in the chain of command under the President and Vice-President? For crying out loud, Mr. Speaker … no, as you were: for goodness' sake, Mr. Speaker, this is the Congress of the United States of America, not a twelve-step program for compulsive tanners. Show a little Republican gravitas, dammit.
The sheer embarrassing unsightliness of the thing aside, all this weeping betrays a poorly developed sense of proportion. If you burst into tears when Nancy Pelosi hands you the Speaker's gavel, what do you have left when our enemies nuke Indianapolis, or the dollar is trading at par with the Laotian kip, or your wife leaves you, or the doctor tells you you have terminal cancer?
That is the essence of sentimentality — lavishing more emotion on a thing than it deserves; and sentimentality has been acknowledged by all serious thinkers to be a species of folly. Dostoyevsky went further, identifying sentimentality with evil.
Folly will do for now, though. Watching John Boehner working his hanky, I found it hard to avoid the thought that we have a fool for House Speaker. Well, it wouldn't be the first time. By any means.
03 — The Delusion of Infinite Wealth. The main problem underlying all our fiscal woes is the Delusion of Infinite Wealth — the belief, held by every American born since 1950, that public funds are unlimited. John Boehner was born in November 1949, so I'm going to stretch that age limit by a few weeks to let him in.
Nobody in public life would admit to believing in the Delusion of Infinite Wealth, the DIW, but in their heart of hearts they all do. The notion that public funds are a precious trust, to be watched over vigilantly by thin-lipped bookkeepers with green eyeshades, and disbursed with reluctance and restraint, seems as antiquated as button boots and buggy whips.
"A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money," said Everett Dirksen. (Or perhaps not — he claimed he was mis-reported.) That's the mentality. Sixty years ago the U.S.A. bestrode the world like a colossus. We were far and away the richest, most powerful, most culturally influential nation. Our government had more revenues than it knew what to do with.
All that wealth and success us a sense of noblesse oblige, causing us to transfer the old American missionary impulse from the actions of private persons and voluntary organizations, to the federal government. We stationed our armies and fleets everywhere. We were the biggest contributor by far to the United Nations. Why not? There was freedom to be defended; and heck, we could afford it. We could afford anything!
As the later twentieth century rolled by, our position began to erode. Other nations got their act together: Germany and Japan, then the other European and East Asian countries, then China, India, Brazil, Turkey. The modern methods of management and finance that had made us supreme were picked up by others while we got softer, more complacent, more tangled up in laws, regulations, and taxes. Our lead dwindled.
What, in 1960, were state-of-the-art facilities began to seem antiquated. Take a plane from Beijing or Istanbul or Frankfurt to New York, and contrast the airport you left from with the one you arrive at. If you arrive at Newark you might also want to contrast the arrival city with the departure one … but then again, you may prefer to pass on that. Yes, even some of our great cities have fallen into ruin. Check out the heartbreaking book The Ruins of Detroit by French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.
Stuck in the Delusion of Infinite Wealth, we went on playing rich uncle to the whole world. The world didn't mind a bit. Who ever minded having a rich uncle to help with the bills? We brokered a peace between Israel and Egypt, with colossal and never-ending bribes to both countries to keep the peace. Then we repeated the trick with Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, with more billion-dollar bribes. We stationed tens of thousands of troops in Europe and Asia to defend those countries against the Soviet threat; and our troops are still there twenty years after the Soviet Union disappeared.
We paid yet more stupendous bribes to North Korea in hopes Kim Jong Il would cease misbehaving — as if his antics were any direct threat to us! We reacted to a gaggle of misfits armed with box-cutters as if they were the Imperial Japanese Navy. We committed billions in perpetuity to boutique feelgood programs like George W. Bush's initiative to pay for AIDS drugs for Africans, a matter utterly unconnected to U.S. national interests.
We launched extravagant wars to transform Iraq and Afghanistan into bourgeois democratic nations. We opened our borders to tens of millions of illiterate peasants and lavished them with health care, legal aid, education for their children, Supplemental Security Income, and food stamps … while they mailed off checks to the home village. You want us to defend your country for you? You want us to pay you a bribe so you won't make war against our friends? You want us to give you a job and food stamps and educate your kids? No problem! The line forms on the left! We can afford it! We are the nation of infinite wealth! Come on down!
Now look at where all this grandiose folly has put us. Fourteen trillion dollars of debt, with unfunded liabilities stretching away to the crack of doom. A vast new underclass sinking into permanent dependency and bristling with entitlement and disaffection from what's left of mainstream American culture. A score or more of smug, rich nations who have internalized the fact that they'll never have to fight because we'll do their fighting for them. An Iranian stooge government in Iraq. The Middle East as inflammable as ever, Hezbollah now armed with thousands of long-range rockets. Afghanistan is further from being an orderly nation under rational government than it was in 2001.
The interest payments we make on our bonds held by China finance China's armed forces. (That statement, by the way, is quite precisely true: The interest payments we ship over there and China's military budget are within 20 percent of each other.) The Iraqi oil wells we liberated are being bought up by Chinese firms, as are mineral rights in Afghanistan. Kim Jong Il is misbehaving worse than ever, lobbing shells into South Korea and sinking their ships. Will the Chinese help us deal with him? [Laugh]
Our President goes to an international economic summit and is treated like a busboy by nations who increasingly do not bother to conceal their scorn for us — for our silly delusions of grandeur, our fiscal recklessness, our weeping congressmen. He bows to despots before writing them yet more checks drawn on that infinite store of gold kept in the White House basement.
Bring the troops home. Seal the borders. Expel the trespassers. Stop the bribes and subsidies. Cancel the boutique programs. Let Ugandans and Angolans pay for their own VD medications. We're not the world's rich uncle any more. This isn't 1950 any more. We're a country among other countries, with borders and interests and a currency to defend.
We're not God's chosen instrument to bring light unto the heathen: we're the homeland of our citizens, that's all — a commercial republic in a competitive world, that's all. It should be more than enough to keep the federal government busy.
04 — Col. Macgregor on Afghanistan. That point about Iraq's oil fields, at least the southern ones, being acquired by China, I got from a fine scathing Op-Ed piece in the December 30th Washington Times. The writer is retired Colonel Douglas Macgregor, a decorated combat veteran. Sample quotes:
Quote: American forces invaded Afghanistan more than nine years ago, and we still don't know whom we're fighting … All we can know at this point is that 150,000 U.S. and allied troops along with an equal number of civilian contractors are propping up a narco state in Kabul flush with cash from the opium trade and U.S. taxpayers.
Quote: Far from establishing a U.S.-friendly Iraqi government in Baghdad, as revealed in several of the confidential State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, counterinsurgency in Iraq turned out to be an expensive "Trojan horse" for nation-building, one that installed Iran's allies in power.
Quote: When it comes down to a choice of spending trillions of American tax dollars to economically transform and police hostile Muslim societies with dysfunctional cultures or funding Medicare and Medicaid, entitlements will win, and the interventions will end.
Quote: There was no existential military threat to the United States or its NATO allies emanating from Afghanistan or the Middle East. There is none today … it's far less expensive to protect the United States from Islamist terrorism as well as the criminality flooding in from Mexico and Latin America by controlling our borders and immigration.
I don't see anything to disagree with there. Even if I did, when the fiscal dam breaks I'll be bobbing along helplessly in the flood with the rest of youse. That flood will sweep away all the extravagances we can no longer afford, and in fact have not been able to afford for a decade or two.
Italy and Japan will have to defend themselves. If Israel wants American weapons, she'll have to pay market prices for them. The ChiComs will have to fund the expansion of their military themselves and pacify Iraq themselves if they want oil contracts. Ugandans will have to purchase their own medications. Lady Bountiful will become Lord Scrooge, and she'll be healthier and happier for it, and probably saner too.
05 — Ten percent unemployment for ever? The U.S. economy created nearly three hundred thousand new jobs in December, up from a mere 92,000 in November. That barely makes a dent in the unemployment figure, now 9.8 percent, but together with recent good news, or at least non-bad news, about manufacturing output and consumer spending, might suggest optimism
Or possibly not. Tyler Cowen and Jayme Lemke, writing in Foreign Policy magazine last week, argue that the glass is in fact half empty. The do some detailed number-crunching on the unemployment figures, noting for example that 100,000 new workers enter the labor market every month, so we have to create that many jobs just to stay in the same place.
Their main argument, though, is that there were a lot of workers in the pre-2008 economy whose productivity didn't really justify the cost of employing them. Business was good, so employers held on to them from inertia or reluctance to fire people. Then came the recession and they had to fire them. To judge from those improving numbers on output and corporate profits, though, both manufacturing and service, business is doing just fine without them.
Quote from Cowen and Lemke: "As time passes, it is harder to avoid the notion that a lot of those old jobs simply weren't adding much to the economy … The fact that the United States has pre-crisis levels of output with fewer workers raises doubts as to whether those additional workers were producing very much in the first place." End quote.
To be worth hiring, a worker does not only have to be productive, he has to be productive at a level higher than the level of cost involved in recruiting, training, managing, and insuring him, and coping with any legal problems he might generate. Labor-market regulations — well-intentioned, of course! — are constantly raising that latter level. It's harder and harder, which means more expensive, to screen employees who apply, or to fire employees who don't perform. Meanwhile automation and outsourcing march on.
Bottom line: there's a huge and swelling pool of workers that just aren't worth employing.
The economy will continue to boom and bust, but the workers laid off in the bust may not get re-hired in the next boom. Ten percent unemployment will be with us for ever, say Cowen and Lemke.
I, of course, think they're Pollyannas. Ten percent? In Ireland it's fourteen percent; in Spain it's twenty percent. Plenty of these United States have public finances in worse shape than Ireland's or Spain's. Our children may look back on the Golden Age of ten percent unemployment.
06 — 2012 field (cont.) Listeners are grumbling that in my round-up of the 2012 presidential field last week I missed some Republican probables. Never let it be said that Radio Derb didn't give fair exposure to likely presidential candidates, so here's a couple more.
Number one: Gary Johnson, who served two terms as Governor of New Mexico, 1995 to 2003. Governor Johnson was a businessman for 25 years before going into politics. A tax-cutter and a Ron Paul libertarian, Johnson went up to New Hampshire this week to plant a marker, and gave an interview to the Concord Monitor, from which the following quotes.
Quote: What would Johnson do to balance the budget and save the economy? His answer is simple: reduce spending, starting with the kinds of cuts that few politicians would dare to endorse. Cuts like those he made as governor of New Mexico, where he vetoed more than 750 bills, saw all but two vetoes sustained, reduced state government by 1,000 employees, lowered taxes and saved the state billions.
Quote: Medicare? Cap spending, scrap the federal program and give block grants to the states, which would run their own health care programs for the elderly.
Quote: Defense? Get out of Afghanistan and Iraq immediately, and remove U.S. forces from Germany, Japan and South Korea.
Quote: Few people … are likely to support the harsh measures that Johnson calls for and live with the consequences of tearing gaping holes in social safety nets.
If that last quote is true, you're listening to one of those "few People." The expression "Ron Paul libertarian" set off my immigration alarm, though, so I did some googling to see where Johnson stands on the National Question.
At the wide-open border cheerfully waving them in, is the answer. Johnson's said he would definitely have vetoed an Arizona-type law if it had landed on his desk. Not my candidate, unless Ron Paul, who came round to a sensible position on immigration in 2008, takes him aside and has a wee chat.
Number two: Rick Perry, current third-term Governor of Texas. Much better on immigration, has supported Arizona's law. Strong Tenth Amendment man — as he should be, since Texas is the one state that has a legal right to secede from the Union if it wants to. Tea Party favorite, death penalty supporter.
Perry's a self-described fiscal conservative and friend of business. Somehow that hasn't worked out too well for the Texas budget, which now has a deficit as big as California's — though that's California's after last year's reductions, and Texas still has a healthy credit rating and funds in reserve, which California doesn't.
Nobody knows if Perry's actually running. He keeps ruling it out; but he's done a lot of the things you do if you plan to run for president, including writing a well-timed campaign book with a good ringing title: Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington. Came out last November. We'll see. If Perry's going to run, I'll give him the Radio Derb Seal of Approval and put him in my list of voteworthy conservative candidates.
07 — Why can't we buy Adderall? Here's a story from America's Newspaper of Record, the New York Post, dated January 5. It seems that Dr. Michael Gabriel, an anesthetist at a New York hospital, had a gambling habit he needed to finance. He also had a girlfriend, name of Pauline Wiltshire, formerly an exotic dancer.
The ingenious Dr, Gabriel put two and two together and came up with a scheme where he would prescribe Adderall pills to Pauline and to her sister Sarah, who is a lawyer. (Who could imagine it — a lawyer participating in a scam!) The ladies would then sell the pills on Craigslist. There seem to have been other people involved too, the operation turning enough of a profit to finance Dr. Gabriel's gambling habit.
Adderall is an "upper." It sharpens your concentration, makes you alert and more quick-witted. You can only get it on prescription.
Now, here's the thing. Among my circle of acquaintances is a small number of seriously rich business types — folk who spend their days negotiating deals to make themselves even more seriously rich. They all take Adderall. As one of them explained it to me, if he didn't take Adderall, he'd be at a disadvantage, since everybody in his world takes it, including the counterparties in his negotiations. This guy has a user-friendly doctor on some kind of $20,000 retainer, who just writes prescriptions for anything he wants. All the other people at that level also have complaisant doctors to prescribe their Adderall for them.
Stories like this bring out the libertarian in me. Putting a drug like Adderall on the prescription-only list has just one effect: It makes it freely available to rich people like my business friends, but not to the rest of us. Don't tell me the same thing is true of Porsches, yachts, and private islands: Adderall is not innately expensive or scarce. The only reason you need to be rich to get it is, that some FDA bureaucrat put it on a prescription-only list.
I'll certainly allow that there are some drugs that need to be handed out only under medical supervision. I can't see that Adderall is one of them, though. There ought to be some really compelling reason for a drug to be restricted — say, for example, it should be more dangerous than rye whiskey. If I can dull my wits with alcohol, why can't I sharpen them with Adderall? Answer: Because the Nanny State says so. Now eat your greens.
I'm going to be lazy and quote myself here. This is from my June 2009 Diary, quote:
This is in fact one of the big class markers in the U.S.A. today. If you are rich, you are probably a regular user of Adderall or Ritalin, or both. If of a certain age, you also self-inject Human Growth Hormone; and if male, you have that rub-on Testim cream. You probably have a lot of other stuff I don't know about … If you dwell down at the very bottom of society you likewise have access to a good range of drugs, though mostly different ones. Us poor middle-class drones are perforce drug-free: too law-abiding for crack, too poor to afford HGH. It's a rotten deal. We still have our booze and fags, though, at least until the Obamarrhoids unleash their Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices to come kicking down our doors. Let's be thankful for small mercies.
08 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Item: Remember the Octomom? — Nadya Suleman, over there in Los Angeles. Well, Nadya and her 14 children are facing foreclosure. She has $450,000 due on her mortgage, and the mortgagor, a chap named Amer Haddadin, is telling her to pay up or get out. All is not lost, however. Mr. Haddadin is putting together a deal with Steve Hirsch of Vivid Entertainment, the nation's biggest porn company. The idea is for Nadya to pay off her debt by appearing in a porn movie. As the listener who sent me this item remarked: "It's not often that a story is made classier by the addition of a porn king." OK, OK, I know what you want to hear. You want to hear the Octomom song. Just a few bars, a capella:
[To the tune of Psycho Dad]
Item: The principle of birthright citizenship — that any baby born in a nation is automatically a citizen of that nation — has led to widespread abuse in the age of cheap international travel, leading nations that once practiced the principle to abandon it. Ireland, France, Australia, and New Zealand have all repealed birthright citizenship in the past 20 years. The only nations that still cleave to it are the U.S.A. and Canada. There are moves afoot to change this in the U.S.A. An outfit named State Legislators for Legal Immigration held a press conference in Washington, D.C. this Wednesday, announcing an initiative at the state level to redefine state citizenship. Fourteen states were represented. Federal citizenship is of course in the hands of the federal government, so there's a big hill to climb here, but it's a start. The repealers' main argument is that awarding birthright citizenship violates the original intent of the Framers of the 14th Amendment. Since a big part of our legal culture, including at least four Supreme Court justices, says pish-posh to original intent, obstetric tourism will be with us for a while yet, but as I said, it's a start. Let's cheer these legislators on.
Item: Unemployment-wise, Japan's doing OK, with a number around five percent. We keep reading about what a train wreck the Japanese economy is, yet all the social reporting says they're coping pretty well. I did read a report in a business magazine a few months ago that a beggar had been spotted in the streets of Tokyo, but the fact that it was newsworthy speaks for itself. For all their political and economic mishaps, the Japanese display strong social cohesion and a cheerful determination to cope somehow or other with their well-advertised problem of demographic cratering without compromising their Japaneseness. In particular they have set their faces firmly against mass immigration. This drives American liberals nuts, and baffled or angry reports on it are a recurrent feature of our mainstream media. The New York Times ran one this week, headline: "Japan Keeps a High Wall for Foreign Labor." Readers were invited to sob along to the heartbreaking story of Maria Fransiska, a, quote, "young, hard-working nurse from Indonesia." To extend her three-year work visa, Ms. Fransiska has to pass a standardized nursing exam administered in Japanese, a test, quote, " so difficult that only 3 of the 600 nurses brought here from Indonesia and the Philippines since 2007 have passed." As the blogger Dennis Mangan commented sardonically: "It just seems so unfair that someone hoping to earn permanent residence in Japan should have to pass a test in her profession given in the Japanese language." Strange eccentric people, the Japanese. They act like they want Japan to be an actual country, not just a place. We must try to get them reading the New York Times.
Item: Striving to find a story with even less class than the Octomom one, I came up with this. At midnight on New Year's Eve in New York City they drop a fancy illuminated ball made of fine crystal. That's New York. In Mobile, Alabama they drop … a moon pie. Quote from the Mobile Press-Register, January First, quote: "A 12-foot electrified Moon Pie descended on schedule at midnight, wowing thousands of onlookers who came to see what the fuss was about." End quote. If the city fathers were hoping that the moon pie event would distract Mobileans from their usual New Year crime spree, they were disappointed: there were five murders on five consecutive days, December 30th to January 3rd. So moon pie may not be the solution to all our social problems. It tastes real good though, and was surely worth a try.
09 — Signoff. Anybody remember Johnnie Ray? — one of the great lounge singers of the 1950s. Ray belonged to so many disadvantaged minorities, he could have cruised idly through life on Affirmative Action handouts if he'd been born a half-century later: He was a Native America, a homosexual, and disabled — he was actually deaf, which is not usual in a singer. He was also an alcoholic. He did have a great voice, though.
I mention this because I'm going to play a Johnnie Ray song to see us out. This is for John Boehner. More from Radio Derb next week. Over to you, Johnnie.
[Music clip: Johnnie Ray singing Cry]