We're pleased to announce that the Ben and Joel Podcast is becoming the City Journal Books Podcast! Although our name and home base may be changing, the content of the program will remain the same. We'll continue to offer 21st-century conversations for listeners with 19th-century attention spans with authors of books we think are interesting, enlightening, and particularly relevant to the public discourse.
In this episode, City Journal associate editor Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, a national affairs columnist for Philadelphia Magazine's The Philly Post, talk to Charles R. Kesler about his new book, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism. Kesler is the Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government at Claremont-McKenna College, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, and editor of the Claremont Review of Books.
Among the questions we discuss:
• What ideas motivate Barack Obama?
• Who's the audience for this book? How should a liberal engage this book?
• Do conservatives know more about liberals' political history than liberals do?
• How did Woodrow Wilson's "New Freedom" reshape American politics?
• How did Franklin Roosevelt inexorably tie liberalism to the Democratic Party?
• How did Lyndon Johnson outdo FDR and Wilson?
• Does Obama represent a "fourth wave" of liberalism?
• What do American progressives owe to the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel?
• Did history end for American conservatives in 1787?
• Do conservatives unknowingly accept liberal premises?
• And much, much more!
Please visit and "like" Ben and Joel and City Journal on Facebook to comment on this interview, as well as to receive regular updates about the podcast and links to our weekly syndicated column with ScrippsHoward News Service. You'll be glad you did!
Programming note: Let's call this one the last episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" and the inaugural episode of the "City Journal Books Podcast." Upcoming guests include: Stephen Knott, Greg Lukianoff, and Richard H. Immermann.
Jim Manzi, the founder and chairman of Applied Predictive Technologies and a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, joins Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis to discuss his new book, Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society (Basic/City Journal).
Among the questions we discuss:
• What do we know?
• Do we know enough to make sweeping social policies?
• What's wrong with experimenting with reforms? What kind of experiments should we be conducting?
• Can scientific research overcome political forces?
• Do top-down reforms ever work?
• Have the education reforms of the past 20 years made a difference?
• Can liberty and technocracy co-exist?
• What's Manzi's problem with Mark Levin?
• And much more!
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Natural Science," Rush
• "She Blinded Me With Science," Thomas Dolby
• "Political Science," Randy Newman
• "Science is Real," They Might Be Giants
• "What's the Matter Here?," 10,000 Maniacs
• "I Don't Know," The Lounge Brigade
Please visit and "like" the Ben and Joel page on Facebook to comment, as well as for updates about the podcast and links to our weekly syndicated column with ScrippsHoward News Service.
Programming note: This episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" is Vol. 5, No. 10 for 2012. Once again, Skype behaved strangely. So if you're wondering why Joel sounds like he's speaking in an empty auditorium, that's why.
What a show! Returning to the podcast, possibly for the last time, is Steven F. Hayward, author of the Almanac of Environmental Trends, the two-volume Age of Reagan, and other fine books. Hayward has been stirring up trouble on the right lately, first with his essay in the fall issue of the Breakthrough Journal on "Modernizing Conservatism"; then with his recent article at National Review Online and follow-up posts at Powerline comparing Newt Gingrich to Winston Churchill.
We asked Steve to come on the podcast to confess and recant his heresy. Instead, he embraced the charges and doubled-down. Listen and judge for yourself.
(Incidentally, Hayward laid the groundwork for some of this in the second volume of his Age of Reagan. We discussed his assessment of the Reagan Revolution and the present state of the conservative movement on this podcast in 2009.)
Among the questions we discuss:
• Is conservatism failing?
• What, if anything, can replace the Republicans' "starve the beast" strategy?
• Is the welfare state really a "fact of life"?
• What would an ideal tax system look like? How about a progressive consumption tax?
• Can politicians ever stop tinkering with the tax code?
• What can Republican governors teach us?
• Does the United States need a third party?
• Is the gap between left and right unbridgeable?
• And much, much more!
Music heard in this podcast:
• "The Inquisition," Mel Brooks
• "Family Affair," Bobby Hutcherson
• "Heretics," Andrew Bird
• "We Just Disagree," Dave Mason
• "Good King Wencesles," Unknown Artist
Programming note: We've changed the way we identify the episodes. This episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" is Vol. 4, No. 8. You might be wondering, whatever happened with Vol. 4, No. 1? Eventually, "lost episodes" become corny clichés.
After a hiatus, the podcast returns at the tail-end of tax season and tea party mania. Ben Boychuk and Robb Leatherwood last month interviewed John O'Hara, author of A New American Tea Party: The Counterrevolution Against Bailouts, Handouts, Reckless Spending, and More Taxes. We very much wanted to post this sooner, but paying work got in the way. Our apologies to O'Hara, who gave a great interview here.
Among the questions we explore:
• Who's running these tea parties?
• Are the tea parties really creatures of the Republican Party?
• Is there a coherent tea party platform?
• Aren't tea parties really just astroturf?
• Can the tea party movement move beyond street protests to shape political reform?
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Anarchy X," Queensryche
• "Gun Battle," (From the "Billy the Kid" Ballet Suite), Aaron Copland/London Symphony Orchestra
• "New Avengers-Raw Deal Mix," Snowboy
• "Tax Free," Jimi Hendrix
• "Traitors (Verräter)," Peter Thomas
• "Always Tomorrow," The Shazam
• "Eyes of a Stranger," Queensryche
Some of my more thoughtful conservative friends have criticized President Obama's bigger initiatives -- like the health reform law -- from a "first principles" argument that economic liberty is the foundation of, well, liberty liberty. Any governmental act that interferes with the rights of individuals to their property or profit is a reduction of liberty and thus potentially a step down the slippery slope to tyranny. I think it's an insightful argument, but I also think it's got limits.
And I think those limits might be demonstrated by the Heritage Foundation's 2010 Index of Economic Freedom. What's notable is that the two "countries" ranked highest on the index -- Hong Kong and Singapore -- might be great places to make cash, but they're not what most Americans would think of as substantially "free." (The United States ranks ninth.) Hong Kong might be listed as a separate "country" for the purposes of the index, but it's ruled by Chinese Communists; it might be more free than the mainland, but there are still rather significant concerns about freedom of expression. And Singapore? It's the authoritarian government that gave us caning and ranks 133rd in the World Press Freedom Index.
Heritage's index, obviously, doesn't take those things into account. Instead it ranks each country on a list of 10 criteria, including property rights, business freedom, government spending and "labor freedom." Weirdly, Canada -- with its big socialistic health care system -- ranks ahead of the United States.
I don't think my thoughtful conservative friends would assert that countries with libertarian policies only for corporations and not for citizens are truly free. Nor would I want to suggest that the ability to express yourself freely is the only criterion for liberty; economic liberty is an important component. But it appears that low taxes and free trade are no guarantee of freedom; I suspect it probably follows that a more-regulated health system isn't the end of our Republic.
Cross-posted from Cup O' Joel.
The title of this series is a work-in-progress. Perhaps intended consequences is better. Or predicted consequences. We might have to work on that, because President Obama and Congress are quickly proving to be either charlatans or fools (and it's just as likely they are both.)
As I noted here Wednesday, the negative reaction of the private sector to the schemes of the America's new health care central planners did not take long to materialize. In fact, reacting to Verizon's notice to employees that the regulatory and tax burdens of ObamaCare will result in a decrease in benefits due to increased corporate costs, I wrote:
[This] story will be repeated thousands of times in the coming months.
"Months" is turning out to be a slow-walk prediction. According to Bloomberg News, AT&T "will book $1 billion in first-quarter costs related to the health-care law signed this week by President Barack Obama."
American industry giants John Deere ($150 million), Caterpillar Inc. ($100 million), AK Steel Holding Corp. ($31 million), Valero Energy (up to $20 million), and 3M Co.($90 million) have also come out with their legally mandated earnings and costs estimates, and they ain't pretty. Overall, consulting firm Towers Watson estimates health-care costs may shave as much as $14 billion from U.S. corporate profits. Based only on AT&T's estimate — and the fact that corporations try to give the sunniest "negative" numbers legally possible to stockholders and the Securities Exchange Commission — I'm guessing Towers Watson will be upping that estimate down the line.
Why all the gloom and doom? Well, the corporate tax increases are one reason. Another, especially for Verizon and AT&T, is that the tax break those corporations got for crafting their own prescription drug plans for retirees was immediately eliminated in ObamaCare. So, without that tax break to the eeeeeviiiil corporations, they'll have to dump those folks into the inferior government-backed Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. Multiply those actions by AT&T and Verizon by thousands and we'll get a "donut hole" blown through the rigged and sunny CBO ObamaCare cost projections. Why?
The Employee Benefit Research Institute notes that the tax break would have "cost" taxpayers $665 per person next year, but dumping them into Medicare will cost $1,209 per person. Nice going. This is what happens when you don't read the bill, or — more to the point — don't care what's in it as long as it centralizes government power.
This was all predicted by ObamaCare opponents, such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — most prominently at Obama's ballyhooed "Health Care Summit" a while back. Ryan said the cost curve would not bend downward, but upward. Obama blew him off. Reality now laughs in the president's face, and it's not at all funny.
But now Congressional Democrats are childishly stamping their feet. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has fired off a nasty letter to those companies. He's demanding they appear before his committee on April 21 to answer for answering to fiscal reality. The legal obligation of these companies to immediately and publicly estimate the fiscal impact of new legislation, Waxman says, "appears to conflict with independent analyses, which show that the new law will expand coverage and bring down costs."
"The Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers from leading U.S. companies, asserted in November 2009 that health care reform could reduce predicted health insurance cost trends for businesses by more than $3,000 per employee over the next 10 years," Waxman wrote.
That's the thing about "independent analyses." They are hard to control. As Bruce McQuain notes at the libertarian Q&O blog:
You’ve got to love it – Waxman’s strongest case is an association comprised of some CEOs who “asserted” – got that? “asserted” – that health care reform “could” – again, “could” – reduce cost trends.
In other words, instead of actually doing the work of checking with authoratative sources that could have actually run the numbers and vetted the requirements of the law, he, Waxman, went with the assertions of a bunch of CEOs because they said what he wanted them to say. Reminds you a bit of the IPCC, doesn’t it?
Actually, it reminds me of government bullying — the kind the left decries as McCarthyism. Waxman is going to haul these CEOs before his committee and berate them for telling the fiduciary truth they are required by law to tell. He'll be, in essence, bullying them to lie about what the real-world impacts of ObamaCare will be on American companies — and, naturally, the Americans who work for those companies ... otherwise known as us.
What Waxman will actually be doing, however, is highlighting the kind of fraudulent and fantastical accounting that only government can get away with. How dare these corporations defy the word of Obama and Pelosi and Reid and Waxman that the laws of economics are what the government says they are! If we say ObamaCare will reduce costs, they will. THEY WILL!!!! Who are you to say different?! And I'm going to use the power of government to set you straight.
Awesome. This is today's America: The private sector dragged before Congress and berated to agree they believe in the Tooth Fairy.
I'd love one of those CEOs to ask Waxman what color is the unicorn he rides to work each day. I'll settle for: "Have you no sense of decency, sir."
This week's RedBlueAmerica column for Scripps-Howard delves into the question we've argued here at great length. (For the record, I don't particularly care for the headline, but neither Joel nor I have the last word on those matters.)
Here's Joel's take, in brief:
Many conservatives are no doubt sincere, if a bit hysterical, when they warn that the health reform law impedes the liberty of Americans. But they're working from a curiously abstract notion of "freedom." They believe that a larger government inevitably leads to a less-free citizenry -- and they can, in many cases, be correct. The new law, however, will liberate millions of Americans from the threat of illness and bankruptcy that makes them less able to escape debt, leave bad jobs or start new businesses.
If the Congress can command Americans to buy health insurance -- making insurance a condition of citizenship, equivalent to registering for Selective Service -- then there is nothing the government cannot command or restrict. Whatever one thinks of the draft, which the United States ended four decades ago, at least national defense is a clear, enumerated constitutional duty of government. Providing access to health care is not.
The bill Congress passed and President Obama signed on March 23 undercuts Americans' freedoms in other ways, both overt and insidious.
Turns out, this is a running theme among the commentariat this week.
Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times:
In September, Obama got into a semantic argument with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who noted that requiring all Americans to pay premiums for a government-guaranteed service sounds an awful lot like a tax. "No. That's not true, George," Obama said. "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it's saying is . . . that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you." Stephanopoulos invoked a dictionary definition of a tax: "a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes." Obama laughed off the idea that a dictionary might outrank him as the final arbiter of a word's meaning.
"George, the fact that you looked up . . . the definition of tax increase indicates to me that you're stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn't have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition."
OK, put aside your dictionaries. The legislation allocates $10 billion to pay for 16,500 IRS agents who will collect and enforce mandatory "premiums." Does that sound like the private sector at work to you?
David Harsanyi in the Denver Post:
Surely it is inarguable that the debate over a national mandate epitomizes the central ideological divide in the country today.
In broad terms, there is one side that believes liberty can be subverted for the collective good because government often makes more efficient and more moral choices.
Then there is the other side, which believes that people who believe such twaddle are seditious pinkos.
And judging from nearly every poll, the majority of Americans disapprove of President Barack Obama and his defining legislation. Whether they understand the mugging of freedoms in legal terms or in intellectual terms or only in intuitive ones doesn't matter.
Richard M. Esenberg, professor of law at Marquette University, explained the consequences of Obamacare like this: "If Congress can require you to buy health insurance because of the ways in which your uncovered existence (affects) interstate commerce or because it can tax you in an effort to force you to do (any) old thing it wants you to, it is hard to see what -- save some other constitutional restriction -- it cannot require you to do -- or prohibit you from doing."
Andrew Busch at the Ashbrook Center:
The leftist infatuation with Ben Franklin is abruptly over. Franklin’s warning that "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security"—quoted incessantly during the war on terror, back when there was one—has been conveniently forgotten. Apparently, the security of the nation against foreign attack is not sufficient reason to forego the "essential liberty" of affording habeas corpus to paramilitary forces engaged in war against the United States, but to degrade the liberty of the whole people, which is assaulted in a myriad of ways by Obamacare, is acceptable (even commendable) when the prize is the security of government-subsidized band-aids for people with incomes four times the poverty level.
Suffice to say, I'm pessimistic.
Asked if insurance companies might raise their rates on health coverage and blame the increases on the new health-care bill, Pelosi said that the insurance companies should be aware that they’re not “automatically included” in the new health exchanges the bill creates.
“Unless they do the right thing, they’re not going in,” she said. “They will be relinquishing the possibility of having taxpayer-subsidized consumers in the exchange,” she said.
But don't let anyone spread lies about how ObamaCare is a government take-over of the health care industry. No sir.
What if an insurance company has to raise rates but doesn't blame it on the new health care bill? Does that qualify as doing the "right thing"? Even if the rate increases are due to the health care bill, as the Congressional Budget Office said? Is an insurance company on Pelosi's black list merely for raising rates to cover rising costs? Or is it only put in exile if it dares to tell the truth about why its costs are rising? The fact that this is now a legitimate public policy question is rather depressing.
In related news, Verizon just today sent a memo out to its employees saying its analysis of the plan means its insurance rates will go up, so it will probably have to start cutting benefits in the near future. That story will be repeated thousands of times in the coming months. So much for Obama's promises that "if you like your health plan, you can keep it."
More from Dionne's post:
Under the new law, the health exchanges Pelosi referred to will be created in 2014. By pulling customers together, they will give individuals and companies a better chance of bargaining when they buy health insurance. Because the exchanges are expected to serve millions of new customers, insurance companies will want to be part of them.
That's a pretty loose use of the word "want." More accurately, the insurance companies will be have to dance to Pelosi's tune or go out of business — and I'm betting on both happening. To hell with economic forces! Washington will dictate how much health care costs in this country now. I'm betting on that plan not working out so well, either. I'd rather not win that bet, but I have the history of the failure of centrally planned economics on my side.
Richard Adams makes a very good point at NoLeftTurns:
Every bill has unintended consequences. That does not mean one can't predict what that are likely to be, if one pays attention. People don't like being told what to do, and will, if possible try to find ways to avoid laws.
He goes on to suggest what one such predictable consequence might be. Who says nationalizing health care won't be good for the economy? It just depends on what sector of the economy you're talking about...
A few days ago,
Ben H.L. Monkey registered particular disgust with the provision of health reform law that allows young adults to stay on their parents' insurance until age 27 -- urging the "miserable parasites" to kill themselves.
So I found this tidbit in today's Philadelphia Inquirer to be particularly interesting:
Young adults, ages 19 to 29, are the largest group of uninsured, and represent a third of the uninsured, according to data analyzed by Kaiser. Three in 10 don't have insurance, compared to 17 percent of those ages 30 to 64.
Half the uninsured young people work full time at jobs that don't offer health insurance. Many start at small companies, which are less likely to provide insurance.
Now there are undoubtedly some lazy still-living-with-their-parents Peter Pan wannabes among these twentysomethings who don't have insurance. But it appears that lots and lots of them do have full-time work -- and are unable to easily obtain insurance anyway. One could, I suppose, use the term "parasite" to describe businesses that use the labor of young adults without providing them the means to protect their health -- but I suspect reality is much too complicated for that to be a fair generalization. It usually is.
My boss Sam Karnick, from his perch at The American Culture, examines the cultural implications of health care reform. They aren't pretty:
(A) public without a strong understanding of what individual freedom really means and the reasons why it is precious has little defense against the ever-increasing encroachments of government—until something as obviously grotesque, wrongheaded, and overweening as this health care bill comes along.
That’s what makes this fundamentally an issue of culture, and it’s why those stubborn souls who persist in believing in individual rights must engage the culture, especially by wresting control of the public schools from the hands of the progressive myrmidons who have debauched it.
...(I)t’s clear that the real concern was that the option of personal choice was being taken away from individual citizens in this vital area of life. The power to control people’s health care, in addition to the hegemony over the one-sixth of the economy which it represents, conveys to the government an enormous amount of control over individual lives, a level of control surely unprecedented in this nation.
This is not regulation; it is rule. And the public finally realized that the current government does not intend to be gentle in its rule.
I don't really have much to add, except to say that the health care reform debate casts in stark relief, perhaps more than most people would like to admit, how there really are two Americas -- one that believes in the relative benevolence of the state and one that believes in its relative malevolence. One needn't be an anarchist to hold the view that the size of the state is inversely proportional to the size of the citizen. Bigger state, smaller citizens. Bigger machine, smaller cogs.
The legal challenges to ObamaCare are sure to come, on many grounds. It is not wise for opponents of this monstrous usurpation of liberty to get their hopes up — though I find it interesting that the list of state Attorneys General lining up to challenge the mandate to purchase health insurance continues to rise.
However, Ed Morrissey over at HotAir has unearthed an interesting memo that the sacrosanct Congressional Budget Office issued in 1994, the last time government-run health care was a hot political topic:
A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.
Federal mandates typically apply to people as parties to economic transactions, rather than as members of society. For example, the section of the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires restaurants to make their facilities accessible to persons with disabilities applies to people who own restaurants. The Federal Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from paying less than the federal minimum wage. This prohibition pertains to individuals who employ others. Federal environmental statutes and regulations that require firms to meet pollution control standards and use specific technologies apply to companies that engage in specific lines of business or use particular production processes. Federal mandates that apply to individuals as members of society are extremely rare. One example is the requirement that draft-age men register with the Selective Service System. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is not aware of any others imposed by current federal law.
Note the CBO said a mandate on conditions of citizenship, such as what ObamaCare would impose, are "extremely rare," not unprecedented. Yet other than Selective Service registration, the CBO cites no other examples. If they are so rare, one would also think them memorable, and perhaps another example or two would have come up in the evaluation. Interesting. And, of course, one difference between the Selective Service registration and the forced purchase of health insurance is that the former is cost-free.
Yes, I've anticipated the argument that American citizens are forced to pay income taxes — with the targets of the tax and the amount dictated by ever-changing statute. And I'm sure that will be a counter-argument we'll hear in court from ObamaCare defenders. But one may note that the income tax itself was not instituted by mere statute, but by a constitutional amendment. So the people, in a manner enormously more difficult than the way ObamaCare was rammed through, approvingly validated the income tax by making submission to the tax a constitutional requirement of citizenship.
Alas, that was a different time, when even the progressives understood that epochal proposals remaking America and the relationship between the citizen and the state required overwhelming public validation. Today's progressives are of a different breed.
(HT: Daniel Foster)