Cato was one of the leaders in the Roman Republic who maneuvered Julius Caesar into a position where his only choices were to either get convicted of a crime by the Senate (thereby losing all power, possibly his life, and with his best outcome a life in exile) or to overthrow the Republic. Caesar's decision was not surprising. His ability to execute on his decision was also not surprising. Caesar was an incredible dynamo, a great leader of men who inspired intense loyalty and devotion in those he led. Cato, by contrast, was a fool. He helped accelerate the death of the Republic.
Caesar not only overthrew the Republic but also governed better than the elected officials and Senators who he marginalized. The outcome was rule by emperors for centuries.
The Republic was corrupt with widespread bribery in court cases and in votes on laws and policy decisions. The Republic's voters were whipped into passions by demagogues. The elected officials and members of the Senate were corrupt, short-sighted, and lacked sufficient virtue.
Cato serves as an inspiration for the modern day Libertarians at the Cato Institute. They look up to a guy who overplayed his hand in a Rome where few deeply shared his principles and views. Cato's views found even less support among the native peoples in most of the conquered lands which the Romans ruled. Does this sound familiar?
Why are open borders Libertarians wrong on immigration? For reasons similar to why Cato was wrong about Caesar: a refusal to acknowledge that pursuit of unachievable ideals can result in worse outcomes.
Caesar, an amazingly accomplished Roman, a huge benefit to the Republic, did not deserve the ruin that Cato wanted to visit upon him. Some Romans (e.g. Caelius) saw that the strategy of Cato and his allies courted disaster for the Republic. But Cato apparently took it for granted that the Republic would survive, rather like modern day Libertarians at the Cato Institute think that an open borders immigration policy will not undermine support for freedom in the domestic population.
What Libertarians can't get their minds around: they are outliers. They are statistical outliers. They support an immigration policy that will make them even more statistical outliers. See figure 4.2 which shows why libertarians are demographic road kill. Immigrants are less libertarian than the native born. So the Cato Institute supports policies that turn libertarianism into road kill.
My fear for America is that as the attributes that serve as the foundations for American exceptionalism continue to fade in the general population America will become less exceptional and less free. The Leviathan will grow and the extent of its control over us will grow as well.
Check out this interactive graph of migrations by state. The Northeast is losing people, with the exception of New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The Midwest is losing. North Dakota is getting a flow into their booming oil shale fields. The Rockies and Northwest have influxes. The outflux from California (thanks immigration) continues. The Southwest (excepting New Mexico) is getting an influx. The Southeast is getting an influx.
Causes: a migration toward warmer weather enabled by air conditioning. A flow toward lower tax and lower cost Republican states. Also, a native flight away from the immigration flood.
The flow toward Republican states will eventually turn many of those states into higher tax and higher cost places. We are running out of places to flee to.
What I'd like to know: where are the high IQ people migrating? Silicon Valley is an obvious destination. Ditto NYC. But are there net migrations of smart native born to these places? Or just migrations at early stages of careers with many eventual migrations to areas with lower living costs?
I would especially like to know whether smart people are concentrating anywhere that has low housing costs and low taxes.
This seems like it matters. Are people getting as much propaganda as they used to? Granted, the propaganda portion of grade school and high school teaching has probably gone up as older teachers die off and younger teachers with education school indoctrination take their places. But people aren't watching as much TV. How to maintain propaganda flow into minds of those who have left school?
Propaganda in situation comedies and other TV shows might have risen in the same period. Can that compensate for the decreased TV news viewing?
It is possible that the level of propaganda coverage in 1980 was far in excess of what was needed. So here's what I want to know: Do you see any signs that the elites are losing control of the range of acceptable views? Are they losing control of the Overton window?
I'd like metrics to measure changes in the Overton window. Which elite positions are losing traction? Which are holding firm or expanding their hold on mainstream debates, law, and norms?
My guess is that smarter people have abandoned the boob tube more than dumber people. Smarter people are out reading articles and blog posts on the internet more. How many of them are reading content that is contrary to the messages the elites want us to believe? How big an impact have heretical information sources had on thinking of the upper middle class?
Americans living abroad are having a harder time getting bank accounts as some banks decide the US Internal Revenue Service reporting requirements on foreign bank accounts are not worth the trouble. This is one of the reasons why the number of American citizens renouncing citizenship has surged. The tax law change is making it harder for US citizens to do work and do business abroad.
In addition to complaints about the reports to the IRS, expats say the law is prompting several overseas banks and financial institutions to close out longstanding accounts of American clients, refuse to open new ones, and deny loans and mortgages to expats rather than face a U.S. penalty if they don’t comply with the tax law.
The Leviathan must be fed. That is the long and the short of it. The Leviathan must be fed. The Leviathan will go to any lengths to get food for its growing ravenous appetite. You really can't argue with the Leviathan. Your only potential option is to escape the impacts it has on you in any way possible. Your circumstances and creativeness will determine your options for partial or full escape.
Many countries do not tax their citizens who are living abroad. US citizenship comes with a heavy (and rising) cost for those who are most skilled and productive. The people who renounce are insulted by the impositions placed on them by a distant government.
I am reminded of Cicero and other Roman citizens fleeing into exile. The same thing happened with leading citizens of Greek city states, sometimes driven into exile by a flurry of lawsuits aimed at cutting them down in political battles. The late Roman Republic especially seems relevant to understanding what is going wrong in America today. We have the same playing to the masses by promising them goodies and the same intensifying competition for power.
We are losing the sense of common identity and interests are diverging as the country becomes more diverse ethnically and in the ability and willingness of its residents to play the role of citizens.
Writing in The Weekly Standard Charlotte Allen has a great (really, read it) piece about how Silicon Valley shows us our future: Silicon Chasm: The class divide on America’s cutting edge.
No middle class, unless the top 5 percent U.S. income bracket counts as middle class.
In other words, what is coming is the “new feudalism,” a phrase coined by Chapman University urban studies professor Joel Kotkin, a prolific media presence whose New Geography website is an outlet for the trend’s most vocal critics. “It’s a weird Upstairs, Downstairs world in which there’s the gentry, and the role for everybody else is to be their servants,” Kotkin said in a telephone interview. “The agenda of the gentry is to force the working class to live in apartments for the rest of their lives and be serfs. But there’s a weird cognitive dissonance. Everyone who says people ought to be living in apartments actually lives in gigantic houses or has multiple houses.”
An important point in the article: America's new technological giants and money making machines employ very few people. A few tens of thousands don't count for much as compared to the hundreds of thousands employed by many American industrial giants when they were at their peaks. Even today GM employs more than the top 5 Silicon Valley companies combined.
What I want to know: Will the shrinking of the middle class and the use of greater quantities of imported labor cause some sort of popular reaction that will move the Overton window and enable changes in policy that will at least slow the decline of the middle class? Or will current trends continue unabated? I have no idea.
While techno-optimists foresee a coming golden age for the masses where robots make us all much more affluent my guess is that the robots won't work for the poor masses and capitalists will move capital and the most skilled workers to smaller nations. In other words, the masses might eventually gain the ability to vote for greater amounts of wealth redistribution. But the people they will want to redistribute from will have decamped for friendlier tax systems by the time that happens.
I think the key challenge for the upper class in the future is to carve out political systems they can control without any threat from mass democracy and in areas which have great weather. They need a place they can control which is like coastal California or Coastal Chile but without much native population. Where can they do this?
Can we teach men not to rape, as some argue? A: You can try to teach people to make ethical judgments. Telling a rapist not to rape? [Laughs] A liberal ideology is out there that people are basically good. It’s a bourgeois version of reality—this idea that the whole world should be like a bourgeois living room and anyone who doesn’t belong, you can retrain. No you can’t! I was raised in the Italian working-class way, which is “watch out!” The world is a dangerous place. It’s up to you to protect yourself, not just from rape, but from anything. The lack of imagination for criminality amazes me. There are people who are evil. The problem here is the inability of women to project themselves into the minds of men.
My guess is that the biggest proponents of diversity would be shocked if they were given mind-reading ability and could find out just how diverse people are in their desires, impulses, and loyalties.
A 71 year old woman in Boston, who was about to move into a shelter because she couldn't afford heating oil, got reprieve from a charity which bought her some heating oil. Her idea of inconvenience to make the heating oil last longer: 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
"I'm trying to be very careful to keep my thermostat low, to around 68 degrees inside," she said.
The idea of putting on lots of heavy clothes and lowering the thermostat much farther doesn't occur to her? The lower classes are increasingly dysfunctional and I expect more bread and circuses.
America is a problem that can not be solved. Parts of Europe are looking that way too. Theodore Dalrymple watches the Paris and London police ignore real crime while they enforce laws of little consequence against the well behaved.
The contrast between the authorities’ alacrity on one hand in preventing innocent filming for a matter of a few minutes (the policeman said authorization was necessary because it might cause a disturbance, and, being kind, I refrained from laughing), and on the other their slow response to a nasty incident that might have ended in murder, was emblematic of the modern state’s capacity to get everything exactly the wrong way around, to ascribe importance to trivia and to ignore the important. There are, of course, many more employment opportunities in trivia, since there is much more that is trivial in the world than is important.
Also recommended: Fred Reed's Notes on the Pussification of America. Will this end at some point?
Also, Education Realist has an interesting essay about the 3 major mainstream positions of school reformers who battle each other. She ends on a very optimistic note.
Finally, this: eventually, all three reform positions will realize that they can’t have what they want, that our schools aren’t failing, that their expectations are ludicrous.
I do not share her optimism. My own version of an optimistic outcome: very sophisticated software will take over more teaching work and this will enable smarter people to get their kids educated at home regardless of what deluded reform movements the tabula rasa believers continue to spawn. Basically, do not expect the quality of governance to improve in America. The most important question: how to escape from the consequences of America's decay?
Francesca Borri, an Italian journalist in Syria who hides her foreign identity under a hijab, says the rebels spend their time battling each other and enforcing sharia law.
Locals here don't refer any more to "liberated areas", but to east and west Aleppo – they don't show you pictures of their children, or of siblings killed by the regime, but simply the pictures of beautiful Aleppo before the war. Because nobody is fighting the regime any more; rebels now fight against each other. And for many of them, the priority is not ousting Bashar al-Assad's regime, but enforcing sharia law.
Read about what sort of society the rebels are enforcing, about the rampant diseases, and other reasons I feel lucky to not be there.
But I see an opportunity for European countries with the Syrian civil war: Give free transportation from European countries to anyone who wants to fight as a jihadi.
A British man in Syria has told the BBC he is fighting for a group linked to al-Qaeda.
Afghanistan is another place where European Muslims who favor sharia law could go to fight. This is a practical way to remove people who are entirely hostile to Western cultures and values. At the same time, the Syrian government could be given aid to fight these jihadis. Also, the Christians who are being massacred could be allowed to move to Europe replace the Jihadis who leave Europe. Or they could be moved into a state carved out of pieces of Syria and Lebanon.
... liberals’ proudest achievement, the modern welfare state, tends to resist, corrupt and baffle their efforts at comprehensive reform.
This was the message of Jonathan Rauch’s book “Government’s End,” which was first published in the Clinton era, and which I’ve recommended before as essential to understanding liberalism’s struggles in the Obama years. Because our government spends and regulates so much, Rauch argued, because its influence sprawls into so many walks of life, because so many clients and beneficiaries and interest groups depend on its programs and policies, the policy status quo is far harder to dislodge today than it was during the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.
The policy status quo is rather like a captain of the Titanic seeing an iceberg in broad daylight and holding on a course directly aimed at it. Liberal policy proposals on such issues as medical care and immigration amount to requests to make the propeller spin faster. The correlation of forces is shifting in favor of a faster collision with the iceberg. You can not change that. The course of American society is baked in.
We are not so fortunate that the welfare state serves as our biggest problem. Much more intractable problems are accelerating our decline. Is it good to understand the course and causes of decline? One theory has it that you can become happier by understanding all that could go wrong. Perhaps. I'm trying to work toward being happy in spite of the larger society. I have made much progress in that direction and my happiness has become much more decoupled from the fate of the nation. But I know I'd be happier still if the causes of decline were reversed.
Have you developed a deep enough understanding of human nature that you can say you've taken the red pill? Does this make you more or less happy?
My own reaction to the red pill: I've become very motivated to insulate, insulate, insulate. I want a great life raft. I want a destination for a good escape and a way to do well in a refuge well removed from all that is going wrong in our society.
“It is no accident that the president used the Obama sequester and shutdown to punish the military family,” he said. “It is part of his DNA. In fact it is in the psyche of the entire liberal/progressive establishment – the elite. President Clinton outed himself and this ilk when he declared his loathing of the military. Who could believe progressives/liberals care about veterans and military?”
It would be a mistake for generals, colonels, and the supporters of a strong US military to see the root problem as Obama's value clash with military values. Rather, Obama's actions are sending loud signals about where America's elites now stand in their thinking about the US military and these signals should cause a reappraisal of the devotion that serving officers think they owe to America's rulers and population.
What the serving officers in the US military need to understand: your own loyalties are misplaced. Most of the military missions you get sent to do abroad do not increase the security of the American people. That was true under Bush and is true under Obama. You are being misused and abused even if you are allowed to remain in the US military.
The elites do not feel loyalty to you. Get over it. This is not 1940s or 1950s America. That country has already died. The longer you offer unearned loyalty the further the elites will be able to go in pursuing goals that are incompatible with your values and legitimate interests.
The lowered physical standards in order to allow women to join elite combat units are a sign that the elites do not value US security as much as they value promotion of falsehoods about human nature. By trying to make the US military function in spite of the elites you are enabling the elites to be unrealistic. Don't do it.
Losing billions of dollars per year with future losses as far as the eye can see. Congress blocking necessary severe restructuring. The United States Postal Service starts to show signs it knows it is in desperate straits.
USPS could try to survive by delivering goods same day from local businesses. Delivering information physically is just so pre-internet. They've got to make bigger strides in physical goods delivery or die. However, being a creature of Congress and with a strong union works against their ability to cut costs.
USPS wants to end Saturday mail delivery. They ought to go even further and end, say, Wednesday deliveries and also concentrate home mail boxes in old neighborhoods into central boxes for each neighborhood. Plus, shift most post offices into the backs of department stores like pharmacies.
But the practice of sending checks in the mail is being abandoned as Americans are becoming increasingly comfortable with paying their bills online. As late as 2002, 75 percent of all bills were paid by mail and only 17 percent were paid electronically. In 2012, by contrast, the Postal Service reports that 56 percent of bills were paid electronically and only 40 percent by mail. (The rest were paid in person).
All those billions per year in losses will eventually come out of the pockets of tax payers.
I do not expect the USPS to turn around and do what it needs to thrive. UPS and Fed Ex will make inroads against the post office and I would not be surprised to see Amazon and Wal-Mart to start running their own local delivery services in some areas as their death match gets more intense.
Margareta Wahlström points out people like to live neart water in spite of greater risks of disaster.
The risk of economic loss from floods is increasing particularly quickly in OECD countries. In the United States, for example, 2010 census data indicate that 39% of the population lives in shoreline counties. There are already 49 million housing units in these coastal areas, with an average of 1,355 building permits issued daily. Last year, this settlement pattern severely exacerbated the impact of Hurricane Sandy – the second-costliest hurricane in US history.
The 39% number is a surprise. Measured by desirable land the United States is much fuller than it looks.
If the plains states heat up and dry out due to atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulation we'll see an even bigger shift of people to the coasts.
Those plains states are key to keeping the United States calorie self-sufficient. Did you know that only 15% of US corn gets exported? The popular image of the United States as a large crop exporter is looking dated. Population growth due to immigration is going to boost domestic demand while causing more farm land to get converted to suburban subdivisions.
In 2008 only 38% of Mexican police had their high school diploma.
In the United State most high school dropouts are not working at all (see table 3), let alone as police.
Democracy fail: Several months ago the NY Times reported on another way that local governments have found to burden the future with costs from the present.
So in 2009, the Santa Ana Unified School District borrowed $35 million using an inventive if increasingly controversial method known as capital appreciation bonds, which pushed the cost of the construction on to future taxpayers. Not a cent is owed until 2026. But taxpayers will eventually have to pay $340 million to retire that $35 million debt.
Democracy in America is becoming more dysfunctional and destructive. It is incredibly unfair to burden people who haven't been born yet with the impulses to spend of current elected officials.
The San Jose Mercury News has a Bay Area public employee compensation database. The link I provide is set to filter for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) employees. They get paid very very well.
If anyone pokes around that database with other filters I would be curious if you reported back in the comments with links to other especially highly paid government employees.
On the bright side, at least public transit reduces traffic on the roads. By contrast, some other government agencies have a net negative impact and would do so even if they cost nothing to fund. In particular, any social program that reduces the cost of irresponsible behavior (especially irresponsible reproduction) generates large long term costs.
Read this NY Times piece on the extensiveness of US National Security Agency eavesdropping.
What boggles my mind: why would a computer administrator contractor be able to get access to so many documents? How many individuals in the NSA had access to that many documents?
For example, is this at least intended to be treated as highly compartmentalized information in the NSA?
In Baghdad, T.A.O. collected messages left in draft form in email accounts maintained by leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant group. Under a program called Spinaltap, the division’s hackers identified 24 unique Internet Protocol addresses identifying computers used by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, making it possible to snatch Hezbollah messages from the flood of global communications sifted by the agency.
The NSA could have encrypted files and directories. So even if someone managed to read a directory the files would not have been readable. Why was Snowden able to get access to tens of thousands of files? Is the NSA really that lax internally? Does the NSA have foreign moles internally passing documents to China or Russia?
Also, how does Snowden morally square his decision to give journalists documents about how well the NSA spies on a terrorist group that killed a lot of people in Mumbai when it went on a killing rampage in a hotel there?
The N.S.A.-G.C.H.Q. wiki, a top secret group blog that Mr. Snowden downloaded, lists 14 specialists scattered in various stations assigned to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terrorist group that carried out the bloody attack on Mumbai in 2008, with titles including “Pakistan Access Pursuit Team” and “Techniques Discovery Branch.
Snowden seems naive. The NSA seems incompetent on internal computer security.
Update: No sooner did I ask if the NSA could be this incompetent that this story comes out from Reuters: Exclusive: Snowden persuaded other NSA workers to give up passwords - sources. Okay, about two dozen idiots gave Snowden their passwords. The mind boggles. Still, why did a couple dozen people in Hawaii have access to so much information? Also, does NSA seriously not drill into their employees strict rules about password handling?
Reading Tom Holland's very excellent book Rubicon: The Last Years Of The Roman Empire.
Instead of the Senate's traditional isolationism, Pompey embodied a new doctrine. Wherever Roman business interests were threatened, the Republic would intervene - and, if need be, impose direct rule. What had once been a toehold in the east was now to be a great tract of provinces. Beyond them was to stretch an even broader crescent of client states. All were to be docile and obedient, and all were to pay a regular tribute. This, henceforward, was what the pax Romana was to mean. Pompey, who had won his proconsulship with the backing of the financial lobby, had no intention of repeating Lucullus's error by treading on its toes.
Change some names and does this resonate for you today?
One point I find interesting: Some reactionary weblogs are arguing for a return of monarchy. They see democracy as increasingly failing to provide good leaders or wise decisions (and I agree with that). Well, rebels against the Roman Republic often were led by self-titled kings and they used of the trappings of monarchy as a propaganda tool against the Roman Republic.
For the memory of Alexander's greatness had always served the Romans as a reproach. Even worse, it provided an inspiration to their foes. In the east the model of kingship established by Alexander had never lost its allure. For more than a century it had been neutered and systematically humiliated by Rome, yet it remained the only credible system of government that could be opposed to the republicanism of the new world conquerors. Hence, its appeal to monarchs, such as Mithridates, who were not even Greek, and hence, most startling of all, its appeal to bandits and rebellious slaves. When the pirates called themselves kings and affected the gilded sails and purple awnings of monarchy, this had not been mere vanity, but a deliberate act of propaganda, as public a statement as they could make of their opposition to the Republic. They knew that the message would be read correctly, for invariably, whenever the order of things had threatened to crack during the previous decades, rebellion had been signaled by a slave with a crown.
The Roman Republic became an empire with an emperor as ruler. The rebels did not manage to break free of Rome's republic. Rather, the Republic eventually turned into the very sort of government that the slaves used to signal a revolt. Will the United States go the same way?
What is different today: Capital is gradually breaking free of a dependence on large numbers of manual laborers. The large nation-state might become severely weakened by the ability of capitalists to move most of their robotic capital out of the major nations. The call for a flight of Silicon Valley brains to some sort of safe haven has already been made. But we are still waiting to see if destinations for such a flight will emerge.
Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight.
One big problem with nuclear proliferation: If NYC or SF gets nuked one day with a bomb delivered by, say, a ship if a few dozen nations have nukes it will be much harder to know where that nuke came from.
Another big problem with nukes: Any time a regime gets overthrown national control over their nukes can be lost for some period of time. Imagine a revolution in Pakistan for example. Or once the oil production drops far enough in Saudi Arabia and living standards plummet it is really not hard to imagine a revolution there.
Will the Israelis attack Iran? Imagine the Saudis secretly saying they'll look the other way while Israel planes transit Saudi air space on the way to Iran.
Poor guys. I've got to cry some crocodile tears for brutal killers in Brazil after reading the funniest story in the New York Times today. The Gray Lady hires writers who like to cast killers as victims of The Man. The poor victims (i.e. the killers) did what they did because powerful people make other people feel hopeless and underpoliced.
The truth seemed far more complicated. It involved two murder victims — a distressed teenager and an older friend with a temper — and interior Brazil’s wider culture of knives and revenge. It touched on hopelessness and rage born of poverty and inequality, and mistrust that seethed from inadequate policing and uneven access to justice.
It touched on hopelessness and despair. Well, no wonder the killers sliced the guy up into pieces. No wonder the guy first killed some other guy who wanted to kill him for throwing him out of a soccer game. Inequality. The gift that keeps on giving when the New York Times needs to spice up a story with something other than the cold hard facts.