In a recent post, I discussed the use of left wing institutions by the right. Here I want to discuss a specific idea for promoting a so called right wing idea – protection of free speech on college campuses from violence and other disruption – by using the methods that the left has employed in the past. A common problem on both public and private campuses is that violent and disruptive protesters prevent right wing (and other controversial) speakers from giving speeches and presentations on campuses. In addition to preventing the events from being conducted in an orderly fashion, the threat…
Archives for January 2017
Last week, in an 8-3 vote, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the Government of Prime Minister Theresa May must seek new legislation before starting negotiations to leave the EU—the so-called Brexit. The Prime Minister had argued that, in light of last June’s referendum in favor of Brexit, and pursuant to the Crown’s sole authority to make and withdraw from international treaties, she could commence negotiations without further legislative action. But the court held that withdrawing from the EU would effect a change in domestic law and that, under the British Constitution, the government may not take such action without parliamentary authorization. The June referendum in favor of Brexit was not legally binding; a new statute would be necessary.
The ruling was not unexpected. May’s Government already had prepared draft legislation, which it presented to Parliament a couple days after the decision came down. The legislation seems very likely to pass in some form. Although the Government resisted having to go to Parliament, undoubtedly because of the possibility of delaying tactics and other obstacles, on balance it seems a good thing. In the long run, Brexit will be seen as more legitimate if Parliament formally votes on it, with members of the Government and the opposition going on record.
The most revealing executive action of the new administration may have been among the least reported. President Trump, by memorandum, ordered the Secretary of Commerce to “develop a plan” under which all new, retrofitted, repaired or expanded pipelines inside the United States would use U.S.-made materials and equipment “to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law.”
Cutting to the chase, the extent permitted by law is zero. The president of the United States neither has nor ought to have the authority to tell private companies making private investments where to buy their equipment or materials. He has no authority to encourage them, pressure them or bully them. The conservative response to a comparable order from President Obama would, appropriately, have been apoplexy.
The economic costs of ditching the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) agreement are substantial, but there are geopolitical costs as well. TTP was designed to cement an Asian alliance to contain a rising and yet still communist China. Trade agreements often have political as well as economic purposes. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was initially a Cold War instrument. Its core members were originally those of the anti-communist alliance. Growing their economies faster helped the West have more resources to contain the Soviet bloc. But it also brought officials and citizens of these nations into more common enterprises, promoting their overriding common purpose.
An international trade legal regime is one of the most effective soft power methods of containing adversaries. For instance, in the case of TTP we not only strengthened our alliances but provided incentives to China to open up its economy, if it wanted to become a member. A more open economy provides a long-run counterweight to the Communist Party and foreign adventurism. When we give up such tools, we are left with less palatable alternatives—using more military force or pursuing a balance of power diplomacy. Both require sacrifices.
President Trump’s Secretary of State designate has already suggested that the administration may be inclined to a more robust military approach to China.
Last week, on January 16, America marked Religious Freedom Day. The day commemorates enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom of 1786, a precursor of the First Amendment. Written by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia statute disestablished religion in the commonwealth—“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever”—and prohibited civil penalties for the expression of religious belief—“all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion.” Jefferson saw the statute as one of his three great accomplishments; along with the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia, he directed that it be noted on his tombstone.
Is it possible for a film’s musical score to undermine the film it supposedly serves? In the case of The Founder, the answer is yes.
The Founder stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the Chicagoan who took a small hamburger stop called McDonald’s and turned it into a billion-dollar global brand. The film depicts Kroc as an unstoppable force of nature but also a ruthless and dishonest businessman. Keaton’s portrayal is fantastic, his character at once a spry, hyper-focused visionary and a heartless SOB.
President Trump more than any President in decades has embraced industrial policy. He not only wants government to favor manufacturing, but vows to use the tax law to prevent manufacturers who are here from shifting factories overseas. And auto manufacturing seems to be his particular focus. To be sure, in this respect his policy has some continuity with the Obama administration, which intervened in extraordinary ways—including bending the bankruptcy laws—to bail out U.S. auto companies.
Industrial policy fails to reckon with the ignorance of government. Central decisionmakers lack the information to choose the best services and products in which Americans should specialize. The past shows that what is best produced here tomorrow will not be what is best produced here today: many of our most productive lines of work did not even exist 20 years ago, let alone 50 years ago. An industrial policy that puts up barriers to companies from moving factories abroad creates a more static economy here at home, one less responsive to the seizing of future opportunities in an era of technological acceleration.
That policy clearly makes American consumers and American shareholders in American companies worse off, because companies will fail to locate where they would be most profitable and to deliver products to consumers at the lowest possible cost. But a government-directed industrial policy is also not good in the long run for the American worker, because the industries that can provide good jobs for the long run change over time, and change faster as technology speeds up.
While I am often critical of the left, there is one area where one must admire their accomplishments: the left is extremely good at designing institutions that promote their agenda. In fact, some of these ideas have been so good that the right has copied them, with success. One traditional area where the left has promoted its agenda is through “public interest” law firms. The various law firms, such as the ACLU and the NRDC, bring lawsuits that have had enormous impact. Over time, the right has formed its own law firms which have also had significant effects. Another area where the…
Do we need a theory of managerial class disintegration? Such an ambitious question can at the least be ventured given our headlines: Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, the European Union and the larger rise of the Euronationalist parties, and the questioning of postwar international institutions, to name a few.