Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: Conservative Insurgency

On the headline level Kurt Schlichter (author of Conservative Insurgency) and I agree. Limited government under constitutional law designed to enhance liberty for all citizens is the worthy goal of politics. But under the hood, I increasingly doubt Mr. Schlichter's dedication to that cause.

The book is a retrospective from 2041, describing how Conservatives vanquished Liberals and Progressives once and for all following the dark days of the Obama and (Hillary) Clinton administrations. Conservatives borrowed tactics from Lenin, Saul Alinsky, and Andrew Breitbart, steadily marching through the institutions to not only capture government, but the popular culture besides.

The Conservative Insurgency is descended from the Tea Party, but it has hopefully divested itself of the Stupid Wing (my term) of the Republican Party, of which Ted Cruz, Todd Akin, and Christine O'Donnell are exemplars. I'd add Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, and maybe even Kurt Schlichter to that list.

Mr. Schlichter fails on two counts. First, he disagrees with some fundamental, Libertarian principles, which cause me to doubt his dedication to Liberty. Libertarians believe in free markets, free trade, and open borders. Mr. Schlichter opposes all three.

Second, he's a utopian. As a former Trotskyist I'm totally familiar with utopianism, and am heartily repelled by it. Down that road lies mass murder.

Let's take the utopian dream first. Mr. Schlichter wants to abolish the EBT Card. He devotes a chapter to how welfare cheats are scamming the rest of us by shopping at Walmart. These people, he suggests, should be required to Get A J-O-B.

So let's see how that plays out. Take the city of Detroit as an example (other examples will include much of Appalachia), where anybody with any ambition, talent, and skill has left town. What you have left in Detroit are 600,000 people who are not only unemployed, but completely unemployable. Even if you reduced the minimum wage to zero dollars and zero cents, these people would be unable to find a job.

They are missing the basic skill set. Leave aside any technical skills or the three Rs--just consider things like, for example, being able to take shit from customers and still keep smiling. Or possessing a wardrobe that's presentable outside of the 'hood. Or an ability to defer gratification until the next payday.

Or having a reliable, cost-effective way of getting to and from work. The Liberals will have us build expensive bus and light-rail systems that will cost vastly more than any payroll is going to cover. I like Megan McArdle's suggestion--simply give a reliable car to inner-city poor people who are otherwise capable of working (there are probably a few).

Mr. Schlichter's strategy of hurling mean-spirited invective at them isn't going to help much. I would like to hear his ideas for a cost-effective way of enabling these people to hold a job. He offers none, so I'll volunteer some suggestions for him.

  • The machine-gun approach. Shooting 600,000 folks wouldn't cost much. It does raise a few ethical problems, but anything is justified for the sake of the Utopian Vision. Judging from his language, I think this is Mr. Schlichter's preferred solution.
  • Put them all in jail. It ruins lives, but that's not Mr. Schlichter's problem. On the other hand, 600,000 people x $30,000 to keep each one in prison for a year, and you need a lot of money. And that's just for Detroit. Not cost-effective.
  • Deport them all to Canada. That might work for Detroit, but I don't think it'd work for Appalachia or anyplace else in America.
  • Fund a whole bunch of make-work projects in the 'hood, like they did during the Depression. It'd be fake work supervised by a bunch of unionized, corrupt, federal employees. That's probably not even Mr. Schlichter's model of a utopia.
Sorry, but the EBT Card is the only cost-effective solution to this problem that anybody has thought of. Conservatives might win an election based on phony moral outrage--the pro-utopia crowd--but they'd lose the next one because there is no other practical solution. We need EBT Cards for the same reasons we need Social Security, the police, and the military. Those institutions protect us from the failings of human nature. And human nature will fail outside of any utopia.

In his diatribe against the EBT Card he goes off on a rant against Walmart. He thinks that Walmart invented the EBT Card, or something. In truth, Walmart lives in the reality-based community, rather than in some utopian-inspired pipedream. Their customers are the poorer half of Americans, and thus disproportionately they will use EBT Cards. The (Bill) Clintonistas take great credit for taming inflation during the 1990s. I don't give them any credit. Instead, the responsible party is Walmart, which by insisting on "Always Low Prices" improved the standard of living for all Americans across the board, especially for poor people.

Beyond that, Mr. Schlichter has apparently never lived in small, Midwestern towns, where Walmart is a staple for middle class families such as mine. His remarks are insulting.

But more--in the last half of the twentieth Century, 400 million Chinese were pulled out of poverty. Now I doubt Mr. Schlichter will consider the progress of such untermenschen to be especially noteworthy, but most of us will disagree. Indeed, it is one of the greatest accomplishments of the human race. Sam Walton (along with Norman Borlaug, Malcom McLean, and--yes--Deng Xiao Peng) deserves the lion's share of the credit. Without him, it would never have happened.

Beyond selling to poor people, Walmart's primary sin is that it's big. Per Mr. Schlichter, big business is bad, and small business is good. The only reason he gives is that small businesses are part of the Conservative constituency. In other words, they're future cronies. He advocates for crony capitalism--the only difference is that he'd choose a different set of cronies than the Liberals do. To my mind, this is a distinction without a difference.

A government thumb on the scale in favor of small business is as bad as the other way round. The government has to support free markets. Sometimes that will lead to big business, and sometimes small. Mr. Schlichter is right to oppose crony capitalism in principle, but he fails to do so in practice. He is against the free market.

He's against free trade. He opposes importing "crap" from China. So he supports higher prices and a lower standard of living for Americans. He's also against open borders, but that's the topic for another post.

So I don't see how this guy is a small government Conservative. He wants the feds to regulate labor markets, company sizes, trade, and immigration. This is what most people call Liberalism, or what I'd call disaster.

I'm being tougher on Mr. Schlichter than is fair. I actually agree with most of what he says. But he's a victim of either sloppy thinking, or instead he's caving to the Stupid Wing of the Republican Party. The book is entertaining and engagingly written. As a summary of political tactics it's well worth reading.

Further Reading:

1 comment:

  1. If one lives in the urban sprawl, where big business and government are the norm, one might find it "stupid" to be a Conservative. Shoppers in stores are alienated from others without their I-Phone. They find shopping at Walmart delicious because they are starving for a place where they feel whole. Once not too long ago communities were small. Citizens didn't have much money. Families owned and operated the businesses and farms. The towns shared common morals, interdependency, and culture. Today, so many cultures fight for recognition in the cities. If jobs are created, they will be in big business like Walmart. Big businesses might be persuaded donate to help return education to the states, to support parent-teacher charter schools, to provide the education required for potential future employees to learn the basics of reading, writing, and understanding money. Conservatives like Ted Cruz and Michael Savage are to me heroes. Why? Because they are in the fight, not on the sidelines. I applaud them.