Bookshelf update: Anne Applebaum’s “Gulag”

January 22, 2015

Renaissance scholar astrologer

I’ve updated the “What I’m reading” widget to the right to reflect the latest item on the Public Secrets lectern, Anne Applebaum’s “Gulag: A History.”

 

book cover applebaum gulag

I’ve only just started it, so I can’t comment on my impressions of the writing or the quality of the Kindle formatting, but the topic is compelling: a complete history of the Soviet prison camp and slave labor system from its foundation under Lenin to its final dissolution in the 1980s. Like reading a book on the Holocaust, I suspect this is the kind of history that will have me hating humanity by its end. Gulag is available in both Kindle and softcover formats.

PS: Why, yes. This is a shameless bit of shilling on my part. I like getting the occasional gift certificate that comes from people buying stuff via my link. Wouldn’t you?


Sunday Book Review: “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century”

January 11, 2015

book cover kengor dupes

Dupes is good book on an important, under-covered aspect of our political history: the relationship over the last nearly 100 years between liberals and progressives, on the one hand, and the communists (big “C” and small “c”) who used them to advance their goals. The book is meticulously footnoted and historian Paul Kengor is scrupulously fair to his subjects, often at pains to point out that the targets of the communists’ most vicious attacks were not conservatives and Republicans, but anti-communist liberals, such as Harry Truman and Woodrow Wilson.

On the subject of dupes, Kengor writes:

This is a book about dupes, about those Americans who have unwittingly aided some of the worst opponents of the United States. Misled about the true aims of foreign adversaries, many Americans (and other Westerners) have allowed themselves to be manipulated to serve opponents’ interests.

He rightly notes that for the duped, the main enemy was always to the Right, not the communists who were committing atrocities year after year, to which these dupes were blind, sometimes willfully so. Among the revelations (or perhaps just “arguments settled”) in the book are Senator Ted Kennedy’s clandestine offer to cooperate with the USSR against President Reagan and the truth that most of the famous “Hollywood Ten” really were members of the Communist Party, or at least highly sympathetic toward Stalin.

The book brings the topic of “dupery” into the modern era by connecting the generations of communists and socialists from the 1920s through the 60s radicals (especially the SDS and Weatherman) to those same radicals’ connections to President Obama in his Chicago days. It closes with an intriguing look at whether Humphrey Bogart, who violently denounced the communists when he discovered he had been duped over the Hollywood Ten, was himself a member of the Party or at least very sympathetic toward it at a low point in his life in 1934. Again, Kengor is very judicious in his analysis of the available evidence.

If I have one criticism, it’s that the book seems more a history of the communists and socialists, than of the dupes they played for sometimes-willing suckers. Still, Dupes fills a gap in our country’s recent history and is well-worth reading. The book is available in Kindle and hardcover formats. As for the Kindle edition, I’m happy to say I encountered no typos or formatting problems, which are all too common in e-books. Kengor’s writing style flows easily, sometimes conversational, but is never unprofessional.

Recommended.

RELATED: I earlier reviewed Paul Kengor’s “The Communist,” his biography of Frank Marshall Davis, President Obama’s Stalinist mentor during his Hawaiian boyhood.


Scientific proof: Socialism makes you more likely to lie and cheat

July 21, 2014
"Liar"

“Liar”

This is amusing. Researchers from the University of Munich and ST’s beloved Duke University conducted a joint study that examined a person’s willingness to lie, if he could profit from that lie. The subjects were Berliners who were asked to play a game in which they could win a small amount of money. Each person would roll a die and record the results: higher numbers meant you won more money. This is what they found:

Honest participants would be expected to roll ones, twos and threes as often as fours, fives and sixes. But that did not happen: the sheets handed in had a suspiciously large share of high numbers, suggesting many players had cheated.

After finishing the game, the players had to fill in a form that asked their age and the part of Germany where they had lived in different decades. The authors found that, on average, those who had East German roots cheated twice as much as those who had grown up in West Germany under capitalism. They also looked at how much time people had spent in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The longer the participants had been exposed to socialism, the greater the likelihood that they would claim improbable numbers of high rolls.

The article carefully points out that this disparity might also be due to the relative poverty of the old East Germany (and the region does continue to lag the rest of the country to this day), but, come on. A Socialist society, in which the State controls the money you’re allowed to make gives you every incentive to cheat, just as the incidence of tax cheating goes up here when tax rates rise beyond a certain point. These people are doing what the system encouraged them to do.

What makes this amusing is that it’s directly contrary to the Socialist claim of being able to “perfect’ society, culminating in the USSR’s “New Man.” Instead, it’s apparently the capitalist societies, with their bourgeois notions of personal accountability, limited government, free enterprise, the Rule of Law, and property rights that produce more honest citizens.

Maybe they should survey conservatives vs. progressives, next. smiley wink

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Will Chile’s Politicians Ruin the Latin Tiger?

May 25, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

Sigh. The Left never learns. I wonder what “Killing the goose that laid the golden egg” is in Spanish?

Originally posted on International Liberty:

There aren’t any nations with pure libertarian economic policy, but there are a handful of jurisdictions that deserve praise, either because they have comparatively low levels of statism or because they have made big strides in the right direction.

Hong Kong and Singapore are examples of the former, and Switzerland deserves honorable mention.

And if we look at nations that have moved in the right direction, then Chile is definitely a success story.

The free-market revolution in Chile is remarkable. If you look at the Economic Freedom of the Worldrankings, Chile was in last place in 1970 and third from the bottom in 1975. But then reforms began. It climbed to 60th place in 1980, 40th place in 1985, 28th place in 2000, and Chile now has one of the world’s freest economies, hovering around 10th place.

And the results are amazing. Now known as the Latin…

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Whether You Call it Socialism, Statism, Fascism, or Corporatism, Big Government Is Evil and Destructive

March 15, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

In one sense, it’s just arguing over terms, but I do think proper nomenclature is important to understanding. But Mitchell has a point that “Socialism” and “Fascism” are too emotionally charged and may instead impede understanding. “Statism” is a good, neutral noun to use in their place, though I also like Goldberg’s (from H.G. Wells) “Liberal Fascism.”

Originally posted on International Liberty:

Regular readers may have noticed that I generally say that advocates of big government are “statists.”

I could call them “liberals,” but I don’t like that using that term since the early advocates of economic and personal liberty were “classical liberals” such as Adam Smith, John Locke, and Jean-Baptiste Say. And proponents of these ideas are still called “liberals” in Europe and Australia.

I could call them “socialists,” but I don’t think that’s technically accurate since the theory is based on government ownership of the means of production. This is why I’ve been in the strange position of defending Obama when some folks have used the S word to describe him.

I could call them “fascists,” which Thomas Sowell explains is the most accurate way of describing the modern left’s economic ideology, but that term also implies racism. But while leftists sometimes support policies that hurt minorities

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New York City Is About to Become New France

November 7, 2013

Phineas Fahrquar:

By electing de Blasio, New York City has put itself back on a path at the end of which lies the corpse of Detroit.

Originally posted on International Liberty:

We know that countries suffer when taxes get too high, in part because investors, entrepreneurs, and other successful taxpayers escape to jurisdiction with less oppressive fiscal regimes. France is a glaring example. On steroids.

We know that states also suffer when the tax burden becomes to onerous, leading to an exodus of jobs and investment.Jerry Brown Promised LandCalifornia and Illinois are case studies of this self-destructive practice.

But it’s especially foolish for state governments to over-tax because it’s relatively easy to move from one state to another. Escaping a high-tax nation, by contrast, is a much costlier step and some governments impose quasi-totalitarian barriers to emigration.

Well, if states are foolish for imposing excessive taxation, then local governments that do the same thing are downright suicidal. It hardly requires any effort to move to another neighborhood on the other side of a city’s borders.

That’s why Detroit was doomed…

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The Obamacare chronicles: Building the moocher class, subsidy by subsidy

October 14, 2013
"Turn right for Obamacare"

“Turn right for Obamacare”

I’ve talked before about the perverse incentives built into Obamacare (Browse this category for more examples), but those have been largely about the incentives provided to businesses to cut hours and stop hiring full-time workers thanks to the onerous burdens imposed by the ACA. But now we have an example from the other end, that of the victim consumer of Obamacare.

The San Francisco Chronicle looks at the situation of people caught in a trap by Obamacare: On the one hand, the coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act, along with its ban on lifetime benefits caps, has caused a tremendous rise in insurance rates. (For example. And again.) On  the other hand, people making up to 400% of the poverty level are eligible for varying degrees of subsidies — money provided by our taxes and federal borrowing.

The problem is that some people are caught on the wrong side of the subsidy boundary: if you make 401% of the poverty level, your rates may triple, you may be forced to buy coverage you don’t need, but you also get no subsidy. Like they used to say on Starkist commercials, “Sorry, Charlie!”

But, hey, no worries! The Chron’s Kathleen Pender has the solution for you: earn less, so you can get a larger subsidy. Her main example deals with the Proctors, a San Francisco couple in their 60s who make just above the 400% mark and so do not qualify for subsidies, but are suffering huge increases in their insurance premiums. Pender covers tax and IRA strategies the couple can follow to get them under the magic boundary and greatly reduce their direct insurance costs. But the kicker comes in this line:

You can also consider reducing your 2014 income by working just a bit less.

Yes, you read that right: Obamacare makes the cost of individual policies so high that it is in the economic interests of some people to become less productive and earn less, because they need that government subsidy to survive economically — or to survive at all.

This is what economist Dan Mitchell has described as the “poverty trap.” While the quote below talks about welfare benefits and the disincentives they create to earn more and be more productive, I think it applies equally to the Obamacare subsidy question:

Most people focus on the huge burden that the food stamp program imposes on taxpayers, which surely is significant, but there is another economic cost that is equally worrisome, and it applies to all income redistribution programs. Whenever the government gives people money simply because their incomes are below a certain level, that creates a poverty trap. More specifically, because people lose benefits for earning more income, they are penalized with very onerous implicit marginal tax rates for climbing the economic ladder.

I highlighted that last sentence because it illustrates perfectly the situation faced by the Proctors and others; if you substitute “insurance premiums” for “marginal tax rates,” you’ll see what I mean. And, heck, let’s call those insurance premiums what they are: a tax. You’re required under penalty of law to pay them, even if the money goes to a company, rather than the government. For you and me, there’s no effective difference.

(And you should read and bookmark Mitchell’s post. He has another that contains a chart that graphically shows how welfare traps people in poverty.)

Pender’s article, in short, reveals the insidious heart of Obamacare: it creates incentives for people to become moochers, infantilized wards dependent on the government, rather than productive, self-reliant citizens building wealth for themselves and others.

And, in my darker moments, I suspect that’s the whole point.

PS: Before anyone goes after me for mentioning the Proctors, I’m not blaming or criticizing them. It’s the Democrats and their anti-constitutional monstrosity that put them in this bind. They’re free to act in their own best interests given the circumstances in which they find themselves, and I’ll not throw stones. It’s the people who created this mess who deserve the brickbats.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


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