Counterproductive

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President Obama makes speech after insistent speech about his remedies for our country's economic and fiscal distress. Does he really think that this demagogic overexposure does more to build than to destroy confidence?

The president should remain silent while learning basic economics. Then another — but quite different — speech might do some good.




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Risky Business

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There I was, minding my own business and rereading Emerson’s Nature (with the intent of writing something about how the Transcendentalists would reject out of hand today’s “green” cult) when I was interrupted by rhetoric so strikingly stupid I was compelled to put down the old book.

The president was on the television, babbling:

And when you look at what independent economists are saying about the American Jobs Act, my jobs plan, uniformly what they are saying is, this buys us insurance against a double-dip recession, and it almost certainly helps the economy grow and will put more people back to work, and that's what the American people want . . .

It’s excruciating to me how this affirmative action-borne halfwit misuses the word “insurance.” And this is more than just a semantic objection — the stupidity that statists show about matters of risk and insurance are a major reason America is stumbling toward bankruptcy.

I make my living writing about risk and insurance for professionals and interested laymen. It’s important stuff, a nexus of philosophy and finance. So it galls me particularly when some hack yammers about “insurance against . . . recession.” That’s like insurance against bad luck or unhappiness. There’s no such thing.

Insurance entails many elements but two are most important: risk identification and risk transfer. The first involves understanding and organizing the specific causes of loss that a person or entity faces in given circumstances. The second involves finding a counterparty willing — for a fee — to indemnify the person or entity against the losses that occur from those specific causes.

The point here is that no one, and no form of insurance, can eliminate risk. All that insurance does is move the risk around. Done well, it moves the risk in a way that makes economic sense to all parties involved.

The president believes that his latest spending spree is insurance. If so, who’s the person or entity identifying the risk? He? We? And who’s the counterparty agreeing to indemnify against the specific losses? They? A bunch of rich guys who aren’t Jeffrey Immelt?

The answer, of course, is nihil and null set. The American Jobs Act transfers nothing and insures against nothing. And I hazard the prediction that will accomplish nothing.

Hacks like Obama confuse the concepts “insurance” and “subsidy.” And this isn’t a new mistake for the president. Four years ago, when I reviewed his meager campaign document The Audacity of Hope for this magazine, I wrote:

Obama’s most tortured pages are the ones that deal with issues of risk and security in public policy. Like most statists, he has a weak understanding of risk theory.

“The bigger the pool of insured, the more risk is spread, the more coverage provided, and the lower the cost. Sometimes, though, we can’t buy insurance for certain risks on the marketplace — usually because companies find it unprofitable. Sometimes the insurance we get through our job isn’t enough, and we can’t afford to buy more on our own. Sometimes an unexpected tragedy strikes and it turns out we didn’t have enough insurance. For all these reasons, we ask the government to step in and create an insurance pool for us — a pool that includes all of the American people.” (177–78)

This passage makes Obama seem either ignorant or willfully misleading about risk allocation and insurance. . . . no [counterparty] — including the state — can “step in” and create a risk pool after a loss (in his words, a “tragedy”) has occurred. The purpose of risk pools is to gather resources before a loss occurs, so that they can be allocated when one does.

That part about stepping in and setting up risk pools after a loss is important. It’s essentially what Obama is doing now — arguing for more borrowed money to be spent “creating jobs” after high unemployment numbers have been reported.

This willful stupidity about risk and insurance explains much about Obama’s ineffectiveness as an executive. And I still wonder today what I did four years ago: do statist hacks believe in collectivism because they don’t understand risk and rewards? Or do they believe in collectivism first and then ignore risk because its rules contradict their halfwit pieties?




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Getting There from Here

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Libertarians have little reason for optimism these days. Things could have been different. If government interventions since the 1930s had not crowded out profit-oriented enterprise, then programs for retirement, medical care, relief of poverty, dependable energy, and protection of property rights and of the environment would have evolved in more satisfactory ways. Private enterprise would have taken account of increasing life expectancy, increasing mobility, reduced intergenerational solidarity within families, improving medical technology, and changes in the labor force and labor market. The details of flexible evolution could not have been (and cannot now be) foreseen.

Government has forestalled any such evolution. The Great Depression, itself the consequence of botched policy, brought many experiments, including Social Security and privileges for labor unions. Wage controls in World War II brought employer-centered medical insurance. Politicians now have ample opportunities to urge their bright ideas, including more regulation as well as more spending.

It is easy to recommend limited government in a libertarian society. But how can we get there? “Entitlements” and commitments to police the world have saddled the government with extreme financial burdens on top of the explicit and ever-growing national debt.

Libertarian politicians must be willing to negotiate. Academicians, though, should not fudge their analyses in hopes of political influence. A generation ago, Clarence Philbrook rightly condemned such “realism” (American Economic Review, December 1953). Among politicians, everything should be on the table, even tax increases. I rather admire the sober approach of the Simpson-Bowles commission. It is scandalous that politicians should be intimidated into signing Grover Norquist’s antitax pledge. The recent debt-ceiling increase may have been a legitimate bargaining chip, but it was irresponsible to resist any compromise that included it. It is deplorable to call people like Michelle Bachmann libertarians (as I have heard in conversation). The Republican presidential aspirants (including, apparently, the eager-to-be-drafted Sarah Palin) hardly command enthusiasm. Among academics, dogmatic outright anarchists also harm the cause of a free society.

Getting there requires starting from here, which requires restoring government fiscal health on the way. (Remember about sometimes taking one step back to take two steps forward.) Ways can be found to shrink deficits and debt as fractions of GDP and eventually even in absolute terms. That is feasible, fiscally and economically.

Politically — that is another story. Voters, by and large, have become too dependent on government to tolerate libertarian ideas any time soon. Drift will continue, and the government will eventually have to repudiate its debt and other commitments. Default will not come openly but through inflation, through destruction of the dollar.

I am anxious to be shown wrong. Can anyone offer any plausible grounds for cheer?




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Fiscal Sanity

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When the Tea Party took control of the House of Representatives in 2010, my worry was that they would sell out and become status quo conservatives — like most Republican politicians who have paid lip-service to laissez faire.  After the 2011 debt crisis, my fear is precisely the opposite.  The Tea Party House is too idealistic, too unwilling to compromise.

It seems to me that most Tea Party House members have been influenced (at some distance, granted) by Murray Rothbard, who suggested that you must insist upon total capitalist freedom right now. They have also been influenced by Ayn Rand, who likened compromise to poison. This must make a lot of libertarians happy, but it makes me both scared and happy. There are two reasons why I am scared, and one very different reason why I am happy.

First, as someone who believes in practical idealism, I believe that change must be enacted slowly or it will be doomed to long-term failure. The government has been quasi-socialist since the New Deal, and the American economic system has developed in such a way that it is designed for government to play a role. Simply eliminating all government intervention overnight instead of gradually phasing statism out would almost certainly harm the economy and worsen the recession, as the system would be unable to cope with the gaps in its structure.

Going from freezing to boiling instantly is a shock to any system, whereas increasing temperature gradually enables an organism to adjust and adapt. If the United States government shuts down before the free market has a chance to adapt and develop systems to replace government functions, the result will be chaos.

Second, if the Tea Party House refuses all compromise and continues to insist upon an idealism-or-nothing approach, the American public may become afraid of the dangers of radical change, and popular sentiment may easily turn against the Tea Party and libertarianism. The Tea Party and libertarianism are not identical, but the Tea Party movement is essentially a populist lowbrow form of libertarianism. If the Tea Party brand becomes unpopular it could set the libertarian movement back decades. The majority of the voting public can easily get scared by apparent extremists who threaten economic calamity in the name of abstract ideals.

This is so even though the Tea Party represents the very best ideals embodied in a long history of American patriotism dating back to the American Revolution. As a case in point, many Tea Party House idealists voted against the debt ceiling compromise, meaning that they wanted the government to default on its debt, which would have triggered a doomsday scenario for the American economy. I suspect that this scared many mainstream voters.

Nevertheless, and in spite of the above, I am actually happy as well as scared that the Tea Party House has taken such an insane approach. The Tea Partiers are crazy, but the modern liberals and conservatives are crazy too, and our insanity is better than theirs. A debt default would have been no more insane than ObamaCare or the war in Iraq. Trillions of dollars of unchecked growth in entitlement spending and more tax-and-spend Democratic budget deficits over the next decade would do more harm than a temporary government shutdown. Lofty idealism is a breath of fresh air, given the stagnant corruption that has emanated from Washington for the past century, and “much must be risked in war” (to quote The Return of the King).

I am happy with the Tea Party House’s strategy because the Tea Party could easily lose the House in 2012 and the movement might stall and dissolve, so this 2011–12 era may be our one and only opportunity to shrink government and restore fiscal sanity. Therefore the Tea Party should continue to fight to cut the government as much as possible, and make it difficult for future Congresses to undo its achievements, because the Tea Party may not last forever. The Tea Party House could be our one shot at saving America from an Obama-led collapse into socialism. In the context of my happiness over the Tea Party House’s unyielding idealism, a little bit of fear isn’t really such a bad thing after all.




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The New Civility

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There is a scene in the classic movie My Fair Lady in which a hapless Eliza tries to talk with people who are out of her league, trying to pass herself off as one of them. She makes a hash of it, and Professor Doolittle tries to cover it up by calling it “the new small talk.” I thought of that scene when I learned of one of the recent election events our Great Leader held.

As I have reflected oft before, Obama, when running for office, was a man of many personae. One of the most appealing to an electorate weary of the "politics of personal destruction" (which in those days it was mainly waged against the then president Bush) was “HealObama.” HealObama was the man who would listen respectfully to the angry voices, and by so doing lower those voices, calming them with his gentle, soothing ways, just as he would lower the surging seas by walking on them on his way to a future without global warming. He would be truly the adult — nay, the Messiah — in the room.

In office, HealObama has not much been in evidence. Obama’s favorite trope is to remind his critics that he won, while questioning their own political motives and grossly distorting their political views. He is the master of the strawman technique: anyone who questions onerous regulations is an anarchist, unable to understand that government has its proper role; anyone who questions racial quotas is an unreconstructed racist, indifferent to the need for justice; anyone who questions huge deficits is a millionaire or billionaire, fonder of his personal jet than of the poor children starving to death because of the evil Bush’s horrible policies; and so on. In office, Obama has been an old-fashioned bitch, full of hostile and nasty bile directed at any dissenters.

The bitchery has of late been fully displayed in electioneering. Perhaps the best illustration occurred when he addressed his loyal labor soldiers at a rally in Michigan. Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa was “warming up” the crowd with a few healing remarks, including this love bomb:

We got to keep an eye on the battle we face: the war on workers. And you see it everywhere, it is the Tea Party. And you know, there is only one way to beat and win the war. The one thing about working people is we like a good fight. And you know what? They’ve got a war, they got a war with us and there’s only going to be one winner. It’s going to be the workers of Michigan, and America. We’re going to win that war.

He added, in his best Capo Corleone style, “President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march. . . . Let’s take these son of bitches [sic] out and give America back to an America where we belong.”

Obama’s response? He said he was “proud” of Hoffa and other labor “leaders.”

Yes, behold the healing politics of mutual respect! The new civility. Obama's soldiers are apparently seething with the same rage that so obviously animates the man himself. It is a kind of unreasoning, instinctive, infantile, and narcissistic feeling of entitlement that easily conduces to violence directed at any perceived resistance. It is a swirling maelstrom of self-absorption that makes its possessor feel naturally entitled to power over the lives of and possessions of the “other.” You know, the enemies in the war, such as those dirty billionaires and their jets.

In office, Obama has been an old-fashioned bitch, full of nasty and hostile bile directed at any dissenters.

This is beyond morally repellent — it enters the realm of the sociopathic. With gleeful abandon, Obama’s regime has trampled on citizens' rights and attacked its perceived enemies, oblivious to the mess it has meanwhile made of the country’s economy. The demented shriek that “it’s all Bush’s fault” is its only excuse now, and it is as pathetic as it is puerile.

You need not be Nostradamus to see what kind of election we are in for. The statist rent-seeking mob — the affirmative-action incompetents, the welfare takers, the crony capitalists, the ACORN and other “community-organizing” scamsters, the Panther poseurs, and the union goons — will be out in numbers, prepared to use force and fraud to see that their candidate wins.

The Republicans had better be prepared for the fight. They had better have plenty of lawyers ready to contest the tsunami of election fraud and voter coercion that is headed their way. And the voters had better watch their backs.




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Welcome the Space Aliens!

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Last month, Nobel Laureate economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman seriously suggested that what we need to stimulate the economy is an outside threat. Referring to the jobs created during World War II, he wrote, "If we discovered that, you know, space aliens were planning to attack and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat and really inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months. And then if we discovered, oops, we made a mistake, there aren't any aliens, we'd be better [off]."

Well Mr. Krugman, a space alien did attack. Her name was Irene, and she is still causing havoc in the northeastern states. Billions of dollars were spent preparing for her arrival, and billions more are still being spent cleaning up her mess. Billions more were lost in opportunity costs as people stayed home that weekend, reducing the incomes of restaurant owners, taxi drivers, and other establishments owned by hardworking business people.

As it turned out, Irene didn't attack where she was expected, and many of the billions spent on sandbagging shorelines, boarding up windows, and evacuating neighborhoods were wasted. But according to Krugman, that's a good thing. We enjoyed all that economic stimulus, without enduring any of the damage. Win-win, right?

How is the alien attack working out for you, Mr. Krugman? Have you seen a big turnaround in the economy? Will you be cheering again this winter, when municipal leaders have no money left in their budgets for snow removal and pothole repair? But you don't have to wait until winter to see the results of such faulty thinking. Ask the family who spent $1,000 on gas, hotels, plywood, and batteries when they evacuated for the weekend. Because of that expenditure, they won't be able to spend that $1,000 on school clothes, a new computer, a real vacation, or even debt reduction.

I doubt that Keynesian Krugman is backing down any time soon. In fact, if an alien attack can produce so much economic stimulation, just think what a pandemic disease could accomplish! According to some cheerful historians, the bubonic plague was the best thing that happened in the Middle Ages. When the plague killed off an estimated half of the workers in Europe, supply and demand forced wages up, creating an economic turnaround that funded the continued growth of the second half of the last millennium. Wow! We ought to build a monument to those heroic fleas.

In fact, forget Obama's mantra, "Pass the Jobs Bill." Let's just pass the germs.




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Cesspools of "Education"

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As readers of this journal know, I like to highlight work being done by classical liberal thinktanks. A recent piece by the estimable George Leef of the John William Pope Center for Higher Educational Policy affords me the opportunity to do so. It touches a topic about which I have written myself.

The topic is the dirtiest, darkest secret in American education: the general weakness of university education departments, through which pass most future teachers. These departments effectively control the teacher credentialing process in most states. They are truly cesspools of educational mediocrity.

Leef reviews a paper by an economist, Cory Koedel of the University of Missouri. Koedel conducted a detailed analysis of the grades given in education department courses, and we are all shocked — shocked! — to find grade inflation rampant.

Koedel found that profs in education departments award good grades to virtually all their students. In many ed school classes, all “students” receive As. It’s Carrollean: all the kids are winners, so all must have prizes. Koedel notes that this was recognized as a problem half a century ago. And I recall reviewing a book back in 1987 (Education’s Smoking Gun, by Reginald Damerell), a book that excoriated ed departments as hopelessly obstructionist and patently useless. But given the continuing decline of American students in the international rankings, this matter seems worth addressing with renewed interest.

Koedel notes that one reason for the easy grading is that there is no market discipline to check it. If an engineering department routinely gave As to even the most incompetent students, the market would punish it—very soon, its graduates would simply not find jobs. But no such discipline faces incompetent education school grads.

Of course, if we privatized the public school system by voucherizing all the schools, there would suddenly be market discipline. But I won’t pursue that topic here.

Leef adds a second reason for the fact that grade inflation is especially rampant in ed departments: they are ruled by an ideology that includes the view that the role of the teacher is to impart self-esteem directly to the student. Ed profs are merely being consistent — making their students feel good by shoveling the As at them.

I have no doubt that a big part of the problem with ed schools is a loopy leftist ideology, a kind of aging hippie Weltanschauung that worships books like Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It’s no surprise that when Bill Ayers decided he wanted to stop waging revolution and start working for wages, he became an ed school prof.

But I suspect that another part of the problem is simple ignorance about how to instill self-esteem. Alas, ed school profs don’t read Aristotle (he is, after all, a really dead white male). His view is one that the best teachers instinctively hold. It is that the way to create self-esteem is not to try to instill it directly, but instead to help each student develop his potential, his virtues; and from the exercise of his virtues he will get his rightful self-esteem. If you have a student who has ability at, say, math and music, encourage her to develop those abilities as far as she can, and from the mastery of those subjects will flow her self-esteem.

I am grateful to Leef for pointing out something of which I was unaware. Japan — a country where student performance has traditionally been excellent — has no ed schools. All teachers must actually get an undergraduate degree in an actual academic subject, and then find a teacher with whom they can apprentice, to learn the mechanics of the profession.

This raises the intriguing question of whether we could implement such a system here. Certainly something like that is being done by the group Teach for America, which takes Ivy League graduates in solid subjects and just gives them a course in the mechanics of classroom instruction. Its graduates are highly sought after.




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Face Time

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I was not an early adopter of Facebook. And I joined for commercial reasons. For a short time a few years ago, all the smart people in book publishing were saying that social media was the future of book promotion. Of course, at that point, the smart people in every industry were saying that social media was the future of promoting any product or service. Some of those smart people may have been in the employ of Zuckerberg & Co.

That conventional wisdom, like most such, turned out to be an exaggeration of a minor observation. My firm’s efforts at promotion through Facebook have yielded modest results. (The well-worn triad of direct mail, author spots on local talk radio, and carefully-chosen display ads remains the most effective way to promote books.)

Despite this, I still use Facebook. And may use it more than ever. It’s a pleasant diversion, a low-maintenance way to stay in touch with family, friends and a group of “Facebook friends” — acquaintances from high school, college and other points in my life. It offers the interactivity of a chat room with the promise of enough vetting to keep out the most egregious cretins and child-molesters.

It’s also an interesting laboratory for measuring people’s attitudes about sports, politics, pop culture and the news.

One thing that I’ve learned is how presumptuous — and erroneously presumptuous — people are about the means and motives of online entertainment. Many of my acquaintances presume that there’s some system of consumer-protection law that applies to their dealings on Facebook. This applies especially to matters of “privacy.”

Facebook is, like Google, an advertising company at heart. The business model is to create an online space that people will visit regularly — and then to sell access to those people. Many of the activities on Facebook are designed to capture information about users likes and dislikes, so that Facebook can create detailed consumer profiles and sell precisely-calibrated access to advertisers.Yet multitudes of Facebook users rage childishly when this or that detail comes to light about how the site collects information.

Another lesson (and the real reason for this Reflection): the politics and beliefs of most Americans are so ill-formed and erratic that it’s difficult to engage them in a meaningful way.

Recently, several of my Facebook friends posted approving comments about Warren Buffett’s “integrity” and “bravery” in calling for higher taxes on the wealthy. I pointed out — as I have in this space — that there’s no integrity or bravery in Buffett. At least on this issue. He’s acting in self-interest, and being cagey about it. His company’s holdings include several life insurance companies that sell annuities and other tax-avoidance mechanisms. The higher the federal tax rates, the more his products sell. He’s like an arsonist who owns the fire-extinguisher shop across the street from a theater that he sets afire during a sold-out performance of La Boheme.

Despite the ugly truth, some of my Facebook friends insisted that Buffett looks out for the working man. So, I pointed out that he is also a large shareholder in the Washington Post Company — whose highly-profitable Kaplan Education unit destroys the lives of working-class idiots by selling them worthless degrees financed by costly student loans that aren’t dischargable in bankruptcy.

At this point, a friend of one of my Facebook friends — who could read the comment thread through his connection to my friend (such is the nature of a social network) — commented that my use of the term “working-class idiots” was offensive. And that he knew better than I how predatory Kaplan Education is because he had borrowed tens of thousands of dollars to get a useless certificate in 3D animation from that very company. And that, several years later, he remains unemployed. But he wasn’t as angry at Kaplan or Buffett as he was at me for describing his ilk unkindly.

The What’s the Matter with Kansas wing of the American Left argues that presumedly right-leaning corporate interests brainwash the middle class into voting against its own interests. But that brainwashing isn’t a Right/Left phenomenon. The same argument could be made of the presumedly left-leaning Warren Buffett and the unemployed friend of my Facebook friend.

We who value liberty have a long way to go in explaining our case to the American masses. We have to assume our fellow citizens know nothing. Or, worse, we have to assume that most of what they know is affirmatively false. And we have to do it nicely.

I use Facebook as a tool to sharpen my skills in this effort.




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Paraders Step in the Right Direction

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Every year the Yonkers African American Heritage Community hosts a two-day festival and parade in downtown Yonkers, 15 miles up the river from Manhattan. Every year the Yonkers City Council agrees to provide police, parks, and emergency personnel to serve the event, paying exorbitant overtime fees to do so.

But this year the city told festival organizers that they would have to pay the city's costs to secure the event. The result? The committee opted to host a one-day festival at the community center, instead of the parade. They simply could not afford the tens of thousands of dollars they would have had to pay city workers in order to host the two-day, citywide festival.

This is exactly as it should be. If an event isn't worth tens of thousands of dollars to the people participating in it, why should it be considered worth tens of thousands of dollars to the taxpayers who may not even be attending the event? Or worse, who may be inconvenienced by the parade and the noise?

Earlier this summer the Yonkers Puerto Rican/Hispanic Parade & Festival was canceled for the same reason. When nearby White Plains began billing parade organizers for police and cleanup last year, many of their community organizations also turned to hosting single-location festivals instead of the rowdier and messier parades.

Municipalities across the country should follow this example. Traditions are important. They bring communities together and create bonds across generations. But the details of a tradition can be changed to fit the times. No longer should taxpayers be expected to foot the bill for parties and festivals enjoyed by small groups within the larger groups. Festival organizers should raise money the private way: sell advertising, seek private sponsorships, offer vendor booths, and charge fees. The lessons our mothers taught us apply to municipalities and community organizations: if you can't afford it, don't do it.




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Irene: The Man-Made Disaster

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I am a victim of Hurricane Irene.

My friend and I were visiting New York when Irene “struck” early today — Sunday, August 28. We had plane reservations to leave the city on Saturday, August 27. Delta Airlines canceled our reservations on Friday afternoon. It, like all the other airlines, abandoned traffic to New York more than 24 hours before any hurricane could possibly have caused trouble at the airports. Because of these cancellations, travel throughout the nation was convulsed.

None of this was necessary, or wise, or profitable to anyone. It was the result of a panic induced by government and media, and willingly indulged by the kind of corporations that have acquired the worst characteristics of both &‐ arbitrary power and a zest for misinformation. When our reservations were zeroed out, we were emailed, almost a day after the fact, “Your flight has been cancelled” (no apology, no explanation); then we were told that “we have rebooked you on another flight” — two days later. Notice the transition between the passive mood, which people in power reserve for the bad things they do, and the active mood, which they choose for the good things they don’t do. Our flight wasn’t rebooked by the airline; it was rebooked by us, after we pestered the airline and they eventually returned our call, and after we were unable to rebook it on the airline’s website, which wasn’t working. The woman who finally assisted us acted as if it was an amazing idea that we should be reimbursed for the downgrade of our tickets from first class to coach.

But let me report a few highlights of this ridiculous exercise in misinformation and authoritarianism, by which all America was damaged by a minor storm.

On Wednesday, ABC reported that the hurricane, then reputedly a category 3, or maybe 2, “could be category 4 by Thursday.” Other media, including the Weather Channel, suggested that it would be. When the hurricane came ashore in North Carolina on Saturday, it was barely a category 1, something that the media geniuses never believed could happen to their darling, “the hurricane of a lifetime,” although normal people easily guessed it. By Saturday evening, Irene was visibly disintegrating, had lost its eye, and was about to become a mere tropical storm, and not an especially strong one. Yet at that time, the mayor of New York was strongly advising all people to stay at home between 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday, had closed all mass transit at noon on Saturday, had sent his goons out to advise people living in 30-story buildings that they ought to evacuate, because the park next door might flood, and was telling workers to plan on mass transit still being shut down during their Monday morning commute. He seemed to enjoy himself, decreeing fates like that.

Businesses were closing everywhere in Manhattan, because of the mass transit shutdown, but my friend and I found a restaurant, “Da Marino,” that promised to be open on Saturday evening, and on Sunday evening if possible. To deal with the transit problem, the management had rented rooms for their employees in a hotel next door. So on Saturday night we enjoyed a good meal and listened while people accurately identified Bloomberg as the man who was causing the mess. But most merchants had shut down on Saturday afternoon, or failed to open that day at all. All Starbucks stores shut down. Pastry shops that cater to the local hotel business shut down, even though they had a captive mob of customers. Madame Tussaud’s shut down. Even churches canceled their Sunday services. Leaving Da Marino after an excellent dinner, served to customers reported to be more numerous than at any time in the restaurant’s history, my friend and I looked down Broadway from 49th Street to Times Square. The lights were on, but there was no crowd, no life, no business. A few people drifted across the street, in posses of two or three. Official vehicles could be seen in the distance, idling and flashing their lights. A faint drizzle of rain came down. That was the Great White Way on Saturday evening, August 27.

And why? Because the official class decreed that there should be a disaster.

Back in our hotel, we turned on the disaster reports on TV. Local news was enthusiastic about a picture of Grand Central Station standing empty except for cops who were there to fend normal people off. “No reason why you should go there anyway,” the news anchor said. A young newsperson, standing on location amid a few drips of water, predicted that soon, very soon, the neighborhood in which he stood would be hopelessly flooded. Anchorpeople advertised the fact that 4,000 people were now without electricity in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, not stating how many of the millions who live in those areas are without energy at any normal time. The electric company, prompted by the mayor, threatened to cut off energy “preemptively” to large areas of New York City, allegedly to protect its equipment against flooding. And to make matters worse, yet another of Bloomberg’s constant news conferences was threatened.

My friend and I fell asleep. When we awoke at 10 on Sunday morning, the rain had gone; the sun was shining; and people were walking the streets, sans umbrellas, hunting for places to eat. Places to enjoy. Places to honor with their business. Places that had survived the onslaught of paternalism.

Soon we will hear how many billions of dollars Hurricane Irene cost the nation. But remember: the hurricane itself was responsible for virtually none of those losses. This was a manmade disaster.




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