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03/09/2008

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Leo

If Buckley's legacy has been exaggerated, it is only because he had a disproportionate influence on today's political commentators and enthusiasts.

paco

In addition to sharing Posner's skepticism about the truth-value of any given religion, I totally agree with Posner that William F Buckley's supposed influence is grossly exagerrated. I never met him in person, but to me he came off as a kind of pompous know-it-all, which turned me off as a young adult (I admit I was geek for watching "firing-line" as an adolescent, probably not his target audience). With respect to JS Mill and the convention liberal platitude of "my rights ending where nose begins", this formula is of no avail on solving real-world conflicts which -- as Coase noted in his famous social cost paper -- are "reciprocal in nature". I won't go any further here since that is the subject of a book-length project I am working on. But suffice it say that -- to use an example of my beloved prof guido calabresi -- to protect silence lovers we must impose a harm on noise lovers. So the real question is not so much who harms who, but which harm-producing activity can be modified at least cost

James Kennedy

I think we have to remember that, whatever the quality of conservative or libertarian ideas, if you don't have someone to spin them and get rid of leftist intertia (like Buckley), you're gonna have a very hard time getting any ideas across. Coming from Australia, I can say that an intellectual battle (known as the 'history wars') has been waged for over a decade now. Leftists have been driven back to their intellectual caves, but there was only one real leader for the right-wing side: our (recently deposed) Prime Minister John Howard. Public intellectuals work in an environment deprived of quality, evidence or diversity of opinion, and finding someone to challenge the orthodoxy is extremely rare (out of 21 million people our guy had to balance this with his Prime Ministerial responsibilities). So I think that, whether or not he really understood market economics, and whether or not you agree with his opinions, it is sad to see a conservative like Buckley pass away. A conservative or libertarian public intellectual is a very rare and special thing.

Jim Leitzel

My understanding of John Stuart Mill is that he did not believe that "people have a moral entitlement... to engage in any and all conduct that does not create a palpable harm to other people." Mill was a utilitarian, but he explicitly renounces in On Liberty any independent utility for liberty -- his support of the harm principle is based on his views of its relatively beneficent consequences: “Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”

Jim Leitzel

My understanding of John Stuart Mill is that he did not believe that "people have a moral entitlement... to engage in any and all conduct that does not create a palpable harm to other people." Mill was a utilitarian, but he explicitly renounces in On Liberty any independent utility for liberty -- his support of the harm principle is based on his views of its relatively beneficent consequences: “Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”

M. G. Prime

Judge Posner:

Shouldn’t “ began in the Clinton Administration and expanded in the Reagan ..”
read “began in the Carter Administration and expanded in the Reagan … “?

shaum

"However, the stagflation of the 1970s exposed the failure of conventional “liberal” (in the welfare-state sense) policies..."

Professor Becker, thank you for your insightful post. I'm curious as to this specific line though...I'm no economist and have very little background in understanding the effect of various policies. Perhaps the economic community has pounded this issue repeatedly and has firm conclusions as to the cause of stagflation in the 1970's. My question is this:

What was the effect of non-socially liberal policies on creating the stagflation, such as the prolonged Vietnam war, and the oil embargo? Was the stagflation totally the result of welfare policies? Does spending on military, war, or costs spread across the board on energy NOT effect the economy from a stagflation standpoint?

If we were to spend our money today on providing an expanded medicare and health care coverage for everyone up to 18 years of age, and not on a war in Iraq, would this have a more detrimental impact leading towards stagflation than our current spending arrangements? Does it depend on the amount of dollars spent? Or are the allocations and subsequent economic calculations set up so that military spending and does not have the detrimental impact?

neilehat

This essay covers a lot of recent history and territory. My first introduction to Buckley came as a junior high school student who stumbled upon him pontificating on some topic on television at a friends house. My initial response at the time was, man!, this guy uses a lot of polysyllables (big words) and not only that, he talks funny. Some would say "erudite", but I still think he talked funny. Anyway, the desire to play a quick game of pickup baseball at the school yard won the day. Sorry Bill. BTW, a copy of the National Review's rhetoric for writers, "The Art of Persausion", sits close at hand in the bookshelf by my desk. He may have had more of an impact on the Nation's children and education than was thought. Though I still prefer Mencken.

As for the likes of Joe McCarthy, he was Wisconsin's gift to America. At the time he was the driver of the biggest "Bandwagon" in town. I would put him in the same category as P.T.Barnum with his Greatest Show on Earth (unfortunately a lot of people got hurt). In the end though, large numbers of suspected Liberals and Commies, both real and imagined were purged from the government. I'm surprised he didn't go after Eisenhower.

Patrick

Posner writes:
"Modern conservatism, to the extent that it is a coherent movement, combines free-market economics (to a degree) with political and social conservatism (tough on crime, strong on national defense, friendly to religion, critical of liberal social values, hostile to trial lawyers and judicial activism). It was not a movement created by Buckley, able journalist and polemicist though he was."

If Buckley didnt create this synthesis, he created the magazine, National Review, where it was expounded by Frank Meyer in 1959, and he at least gave it a forum for articulation. This task was ideological, journalistic and political in ways that Posner under-rates, mainly because he doesnt share the enthusiasms of the whole coalition. Pity, because Posner as a free market libertarian owes much of such successful reforms to those political leaders, like Reagan and Gingrich, who did. He admits that indirectly; there is not a majority for free markets; the coalition is a political one, not ideological, which together can be a political majority. Buckley was indespensible to modern conservative movement precisely because he made that improbable union look natural and inevitable through his passion and articulation.

Buckley was one of the great "connectors" (tipping point reference) whose contribution was as much to bring to the fore the genius of others who could play a role in that free-market anti-communist traditional values synthesis. Buckley was not an economist, let alone a great economist like Hayek or Freidman, but he was friends with both, and he gave them avenues for preaching the free-market gospel to the conservative 'base' via "Firing Line". It was through Buckley that I first heard of, read and got to appreciate Hayek; I suspect many more learned of Hayek through Buckley's avenues of popularization than learnt of him in graduate economics seminars.

I could cite other causes, groups, or individuals where Buckley had a part in 'stirring the pot'. His enthusiasms were wide-ranging and his journalistic output prodigious. Perhaps some oped writers who were under Buckley's wing over-estimate his influence, but Posner has managed to do the opposite.

Jack

Ha ! Shaum your "questions" are so incisive that I think you are too modest and have a very good idea of the answers; let's see if we agree:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`

"However, the stagflation of the 1970s exposed the failure of conventional “liberal” (in the welfare-state sense) policies..."

jjj.... This unsupported clinker caught my ear as well.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What was the effect of non-socially liberal policies on creating the stagflation, such as the prolonged Vietnam war, and the oil embargo? Was the stagflation totally the result of welfare policies? Does spending on military, war, or costs spread across the board on energy NOT effect the economy from a stagflation standpoint?

........... hmmmmm you noticed? Then as now the war was bleeding us economically. It's NOT a coincidence that Nixon had to either devalue the dollar or take us off the "gold standard" and let it........ try to float. Well, in terms of oil, gold, silver and R/E it sank. Then, as today, soaring oil prices (or shrivelled dollars? As today?) unleashed cost-push inflation.

Then, as today, our Fed Reserve responded to cost push inflation as if it were demand pull inflation and dramatically tightened money. Tight money and continued inflation, of course, pushed up interest rates; bankers and others like to get a return that's above the rate of inflation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If we were to spend our money today on providing an expanded medicare and health care coverage for everyone up to 18 years of age, and not on a war in Iraq, would this have a more detrimental impact leading towards stagflation than our current spending arrangements?

jjj.... Look around? The nations NOW spending money on comprehensive health care for all "under the age of 120" are enjoying strengthening currencies and balance sheets that do not include $700 billion in trade deficits. In short? No. But truth IS we are burdened down with spending nearly twice what the civilized nations spend on healthcare plus the hefty costs of the "war".

The US did not learn the lesson when it was presented to us in the early 70's and with "cheap and abundant oil" we've gone on as wastefully as you can see by looking at the mix of "autos" on our highways and use far more oil per unit of GDP than the EU and all other countries, so............... it's fairly predictable that high oil prices will impact the US economy much harder than in the nations that have had energy demand dampening policies in place for decades.

Toss in FLAT and declining wages leaving zipnada for discretionary spending and their you have it; a fine recipe for the dreaded stagflation.

Ha! Congress is discussing what to DO about it. But, instead of having a surplus or even a low national debt that could have been accumulated in the better times, they've little with which to use to spur the economy and tacking pump priming spending onto the already huge debt to be passed on to the next generation is a strong argument against federal spending.

It's all something of a shame as we DO need to spend heavily on the repair of highways and other public infrastructure and these projects gin up job creation at all levels and in many disciplines.

In addition to the list of bridge repairs etc, a recent (Atlantic) article mentions $80 billion per year being lost due to traffic delays. But do we dare to tackle a trillion worth of delayed maintenance with the costs of the senseless warmongering and atop the massive DEBT as interest on the debt IS our fastest growing obligation?

With some 10% of the workforce either unemployed, "out of the work force" or "marginally employed", I'd venture we should get on with it as surely it's better to have even more debt and have the asset of a modern infrastructure than to wallow in stagflation with ten percent of our people enduring the joblessness and low pay that is NOT going to re-fill our Federal coffers.

End the war, invest the money in the US, lead by example, carry a big stick but use it rarely?

neilehat

Ahh... the battle lines are drawn. Will it be a Conservative Supply-Side solution, or the Liberal Keynesian solution? Perhaps the best solution is to determine which side has the most light poles on its side.

Instead of defining the "best" economic system based on political ideology, perhaps we ought too return and study the analyses of Freidrich List in the "National System" or Henry Carey's in "The Harmony of Interests, Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Commercial".

It is doubtful much viable change will happen. It's much more fun to drive up and down the streets in the bandwagon drumming up support and taking control of the light poles.

greenpagan

Just more dominant ideas of the dominant class.

The Soviet Union failed therefore Hayek was correct about self-regulating markets?

Meanwhile, markets have failed again. And only Government interventionism will once more save them.

Curious

I know Buckley did not support civil rights legislation but is that so disreputable as Posner and Becker imply? I read once an old piece published in NR about race and civil rights and it more or less endorsed the white supremacy line, which is what I think Posner and Becker mean to associate to Buckley himself.

I have not, however, ever seen anything Buckley he himself wrote along these lines. Maybe it's out there. Could somebody provide a link or quotation? Lots of people opposed civil rights legislation for sound and principled reasons, so I'm assuming Becker and Posner have described his views on civil rights as "repugnant" and "disreputable" because they have something more concrete in mind.

Curious

I used to be a weekly reader and occasional commenter on this blog. I really enjoyed how most of the time Becker and Posner would respond to their commenters each week. Why did they decide to stop with that interactive approach? Besides this minor gripe, the blog remains excellent.

Jack

Neil, I've lived through several eras in which each medicine might be prescribed. In the mid-60's with a roaring economy employing ALL of our productive assets it seemed wise to incent "supply side" investment to spur the building of additional capacity. Even then, it's not a clear case as with ALL working with about as much overtime as anyone would want; who would build the additional capacity no matter what federal incentives were available?

In recent years, we've NO capacity problems and where they MIGHT pop up either a new immigrant, and H1B Visa or offshoring the whole project solves the problem. Thus, "supply side" (trickle down) is fruitless as what is needed is more consumer demand for the surplus goods of the global economy. I GUESS, even Bernanke and Congress have finally gotten the message and are planning to knock down token amounts of ripe fruit in hopes of spurring demand.

Better, of course, for both demand, as well as more accurately deploying productive assets would have been wages of median and below rising in concert with the rising tide of productivity increases. Balance and timing is everything in dance, music and running an economy.

J

In the grand scheme of things, I wonder if Judge Posner would even be sitting on the Seventh Circuit (as opposed to being a full-time law professor) were it not for WFB, Jr.

neilehat

Jack, The "trickle down" is a misnomer, it's more like "trickle out". As for that increased amount of money in the system, either through the Fed. Reserve or a tax give back by Congress, It's going to leave the country through either increased oil costs or foreign products that dominate the market place. In the end it will just leave the Nation a little poorer and less able to cope economically.

Have you heard, the U.S. can no longer produce enough small arms ammunition to supply it's forces in Iraq or Afganistan and has had to let a 300 million dollar contract out to Korea to produce it? That's probably got Hamilton rolling over in his grave.

Grim

http://www.grim-games.com/forum

shaum

Correction for my previous post...I mistakenly thought this was Prof. Becker's entry.

Jack, I think we are in agreement, but you have a much clearer idea of what is going on. Nice post.

rwe

Posner is caricaturing Buckley. For instance, he claims that Buckley supported a "bellicose, even militaristic" opposition to the Soviet Union, but that is a gross oversimplification. Buckley certainly did not support a preempitve strike on our adversary--as Posner implies--but wanted the United States to take a more assertive approach in the Cold War.


"Apart from his libertarian streak, Buckley's policy positions were not, for the most part, sound," Posner tells us. And he goes on to sight Buckley's support for Joe McCarthy 50 years ago. But Posner seems unaware that Buckley renounced McCarthy, saying many times that the man "did more harm than good." Again, Buckley's position here was much subtler than Posner sees. Buckley thought that the cause of ridding the government of the likes of Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenburg was a noble one, but that McCarthy pursued that cause with an unforgivable recklesness, in part due to alcoholism.


Really, Judge Posner should know more about the people he chooses to criticize. Gary Becker's post was much more insightful and much fairer to the man. Buckley was not scholar on a par with Friedman or Hayek, but like them he did a great deal to persuade other intellectuals that socialism was a serious threat to our liberty and resulted only in the degradation of man.

rwe

"sight" should read "cite", of course, in my post above.

Fresh Air

Without Buckley, there would have been no Goldwater candidacy. Without Goldwater, there would have been no Reagan. Without Reagan, it's possible Jimmy Carter would have been re-elected. I won't continue the line of thought, as I think Buckley's value is now established.

A.W.

rwe--Posner has made a habit of this. Remember when Milton Friedman died? Posner confessed that he hadn't read much of Friedman's work, and then launched into a largely critical discussion of the great man.

The more I read the obituaries Posner writes, the angrier I get.

Jack

Neil and Shaun, thanks and good point Neil that efforts to spur are less effective due to the leakage to nations that make our stuff, supply our oil, and increasingly, supply us with LNG.

I think the US multiplier effect was about 4 and in Alaska I think we figure about 2 because it so much goes to goods that are shipped in and the money leaves the state. Still, so far, our trade deficits are less than 7% of GDP so perhaps our leaky boat can still make another crossing. It is high time though for us to either increase our means or ........... learn to live within our means. Even after the stock market rally, today the buck made a new low against the Euro.

Jack

Neil and Shaun, thanks and good point Neil that efforts to spur are less effective due to the leakage to nations that make our stuff, supply our oil, and increasingly, supply us with LNG.

I think the US multiplier effect was about 4 and in Alaska I think we figure about 2 because it so much goes to goods that are shipped in and the money leaves the state. Still, so far, our trade deficits are less than 7% of GDP so perhaps our leaky boat can still make another crossing. It is high time though for us to either increase our means or ........... learn to live within our means. Even after the stock market rally, today the buck made a new low against the Euro.

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