Adam Hochschild – To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918

Adam Hochschild – To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918

A superb history of World War I, from the generation-long buildup all the way through the aftermath. What sets this book apart from the standard WWI histories is the substantial attention it pays to the anti-war movement of the time.

The stakes were much higher back then—both in terms of the war’s casualties compared to today’s wars, but also in the treatment of dissidents. Britain in particular went well beyond arrests. Anti-war activists and conscientious objectors were hit with punishments ranging from censorship to imprisonment to, ironically, the death penalty.

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Mistaken Identity

While doing antitrust-related research, I was surprised to find an old op-ed of mine cited in a 2015 paper by American University law professor Jonathan B. Baker in the Antitrust Law Journal.

I was even more surprised to learn that I am apparently a conservative! I’ve always thought my worldview and policy positions are to be influenced by the rather different liberal tradition espoused by David Hume, Voltaire, Adam Smith, and F.A. Hayek of “Why I Am Not a Conservative” fame.

Then again, Baker seems to use the word “conservative” as shorthand for “I disagree with this,” rather than to describe a coherent philosophy along the lines of Edmund Burke or Russell Kirk.

Baker even acknowledges that some of the people he cites object to being characterized as conservatives, then calls them that anyway. This not the approach of a careful or charitable arguer.

Accordingly, I will reject Baker’s semantic gymnastics and intellectual incuriousity, and continue to identify as a liberal in the original, correct sense of the term.

Agenda for the 116th Congress: Trade

The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s new agenda for Congress, “Free to Prosper,” is out. It has an entire chapter devoted to trade, which will be a busy issue for years to come. To cut to the chase, here are our specific recommendations:

  • Repeal Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.
  • Repeal Sections 201 and 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.
  • Refuse to pass legislation enacting retaliatory trade barriers.
  • Institute a rule explicitly forbidding the president from enacting retaliatory trade barriers.
  • Pursue a bilateral trade agreement with the United Kingdom.
  • Pursue a bilateral trade agreement with the European Union.
  • Pursue either a bilateral or a multilateral trade agreement with China.
  • Oppose industries who want to burden future trade agreements with trade-unrelated provisions on labor, environment, intellectual property, and regulatory “harmonization.”

President Trump’s doubling of tariffs has already cost the economy almost 1.8 percentage points of growth. That means 2018’s 3.4 percent third quarter growth could have been 5.2 percent instead. If the economy veers into recession in the near future, President Trump’s trade policies will likely have played a major role. Congress needs to act as soon as possible to prevent further damage.

Our trade policy recommendations follow four general themes that have bipartisan appeal—important in a newly divided Congress.

The first theme is that the executive branch has grown too powerful. Only Congress has the rightful authority to tax. The president has abused the tariff-making authority Congress delegated back in the 1960s and 1970s with Sections 232, 201, and 301. The time has come for Congress to take back that power so no president cannot further abuse it.

The second theme is to move on from the “reciprocity” model for tariffs—the idea that America will only lower its tariffs if other countries also lower theirs. American tariffs hurt American consumers and producers regardless of what other countries do. To paraphrase the renowned Cambridge economist Joan Robinson, when other countries dump rocks into their own harbors, the solution is not to dump rocks into our own harbors.

Not only have America’s higher tariffs failed to convince other countries to lower their trade barriers, our trading partners have raised their in retaliation. American consumers and producers are being hit twice as hard—once by our own tariffs, and again by other countries’ retaliations. That’s more rocks and less harbor. Congress needs to do some dredging, and quickly.

Third, Congress should work with the executive branch on liberalizing trade with other countries. New agreements with the United Kingdom and European Union should emphasize not just lower tariffs, but the concept of regulatory equivalence. Basically, this means that if a product is deemed safe for people in the UK to use, then the U.S. government should automatically deem it safe as well. Such a policy would reduce compliance costs for each country’s domestic producers, reduce frictions to international commerce, and serve as a positive foreign policy gesture to boot. Note that this is different from regulatory harmonization, in which countries agree to have identical regulatory policies. Instead of harmonization’s uniformity, equivalence has an ethos of “if it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for me,” while allowing countries to continue to experiment with new policies that might be more effective.

China is more complicated. President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which still has 11 member countries, with more likely to join. The binding agreement commits China to make many of the reforms the Trump administration has unsuccessfully been pressuring China to make via higher tariffs. It is not too late for the U.S. to rejoin the TPP.

The fourth theme is that future trade agreements should stick to trade issues wherever possible. This policy horse left the barn long ago, but it is important to remember for when unintended consequences come to pass in the future. In the short term, it can be expedient to add trade-unrelated labor provisions to buy union support, or environmental provisions to buy support from green energy companies and activists. It is a legitimate question whether the agreements could pass without the support such provisions can purchase. But it is just as easy to add poison pill-style trade-unrelated provisions that could torpedo an agreement. If the long-run goal is to create more wealth for more people—and it should be—trade agreements should stick to trade issues, and separate issues should be treated separately.

For more, read CEI’s “Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 116th Congress.” Previous posts in the Agenda for Congress series:

Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan

Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan

One of the earliest and best expositions of social contract theory. Hobbes also had a more accurate view of human nature than Locke or especially Rousseau, with whom he is often contrasted. The third and fourth parts of Leviathan are bogged down by theology and needless definitions of terms, and Hobbes’ royal absolutism is based more on arguments by assertion and authority than on reason or empiricism. Still, Leviathan has earned its place in political philosophy’s canon.

Don’t Trust Political Memes, and Don’t Share Them

Think of this post as a public service message.

In some ways, memes are the 21st century version of the comic strip or the political cartoon. They can be quite funny, and they make their point in just a second or two. Memes have been a boon for comic-strip-style humor. Someone needs to fill the void left by Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side, and a lot of people have ably volunteered. Anyone with a joke and basic computer skills can make a funny meme, and millions of people can share the fun. National distributors no longer serve as gatekeepers and censors, allowing some unique talents to shine that would have remained dark just a decade or two ago. This has been a wonderful development.

But for many reasons, political memes are typically riddled with factual errors and offer little more than confirmation bias. They should be shunned, not shared.

Here is a quick statistics lesson from one political meme I saw making the rounds recently. That’s not to pick on this meme specifically. There are millions like it, just as bad, floating around the Internet. This is just one I happened to see, though I should note that Turning Point USA has a poor reputation, even by its genre’s low standards.

Also keep in mind that this meme is on the correct side of its issue. Imagine how wrong the wrong ones can be! As Frederic Bastiat wrote, “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.”

Here is the meme:

turning point meme

Here is a list of things it gets wrong.

1: This meme is undated and cites no sources.

2: There is no publication titled “World Economic Freedom Index.”

3: For indexes that do exist, their data do not go back 60 years. They go back to 1970 for the Fraser/Cato index, and 1995 for the Heritage/WSJ index.

4: Venezuela does rank 179th in the 2018 Heritage/WSJ index. But it gives no rankings from roughly 60 years ago. If the 4th place figure comes from a different index, that is not a valid apples-to-apples comparison. But we don’t know where that figure comes from. None is cited. Google doesn’t turn one up, either. For all we know, some intern could have just made it up, and now people are sharing it.

5: Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998. His brand of socialism was 14 years old when Turning Point USA was founded in 2012, not 10 years before this undated meme was created.

That’s five errors in one meme that took less than ten minutes to dig up. That says more about Turning Point USA and political memes in general than it does about Venezuela’s ongoing tragedy.

Don’t trust unsourced political memes, don’t share them, and take people who heavily rely on them as seriously as they deserve–even, or especially, if they share your ideological priors.

Joseph Heller – Catch-22

Joseph Heller – Catch-22

The funniest thing I’ve read in years. In the book, Catch-22 is a fictional rule that fighter pilots cannot fly combat missions if they are insane. But asking out of a mission is proof of sanity, so such pilots therefore must fly combat missions. Similar plays on logic occur throughout the book, making the Abbott and Costello-style back-and-forths even funnier. Other hijinks range from typical young male bawdiness to hilariously petty infighting among the commanding officers, to some of the pilots making some money on the side by using military aircraft to make trade runs to nearby cities, even cornering the markets in various commodities.

The rampant mirth and cynicism only magnify the poignant and tragic scenes, making the book’s anti-war message hit home on multiple fronts. The light makes the shade even darker.

Robert Heinlein – Time Enough for Love

Robert Heinlein – Time Enough for Love

Inspired by the Arabian Nights, Heinlein pieces together a number of stories starring Lazarus Long, a long-lived recurring character of Heinlein’s who is more than 2,000 years old at the time of this book. He is a bit of anti-hero, and more than a little entertaining. This is Heinlein’s longest book, but in practice it is more of a short story collection. They stories share a free, adventurous, can-do, earthy, but overly macho spirit that Heinlein readers will know well. One note of caution: the final story is disturbing, and I do not say this lightly. I do not want to know what was going through Heinlein’s head when he wrote it.