Up with Kevin, Part I


Lately, I’ve been doing some talking about my friend and colleague Kevin Williamson — Kevin D. Williamson, to be formal. At an event in Boston, I introduced him as “a rare combination: sage and bad***.” My excuse is that we were in a beer hall, literally. Later, in print, I modified this description to “sage and hombre.” I think that’s better anyway.

I would now like to do some more talking about Kevin. I’d like to talk about his book — a book with a long title: The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure. (To get it, go here.) As is my custom in this space, I will not write a proper book review. I will not even write an improper one. I will offer some observations, arising from the book.

Starting with . . .

. . . the title. I like it, but I have a complaint about it: If you’re going to go colloquial, go all the way. In my opinion, no one would say “and it’s going to be awesome.” They’d say “and it’s gonna be awesome.” But I can see where “gonna” might have been a colloquialism, or an informality, too far, for a publisher.

In the 1990s, there was a book called “Makes Me Wanna Holler.” “Makes Me Want to Holler” would have been all wrong.

Anyway . . .

Kevin dedicates his book as follows: “For my father, who taught me more than he knows.” I was writing about dedications the other day. A few years ago, Paul Johnson wrote a biography of Jesus (that’s an unexpected phrase, isn’t it?), and he dedicated it “To my mother, Anne Johnson, who first taught me about Jesus.”

The best dedication of all, I think, is Bruckner’s — the one he gave his Symphony No. 9: “To God the Beloved.”

In the introduction to his book, Kevin cites Leonard Read’s classic essay from 1958: “I, Pencil.” It is a little lesson in economics: How does a pencil get made? It explains why a free economy is vitally necessary. I wish students were asked to read it — it doesn’t take much time — along with Keynes, Marx, and the others.

WFB (William F. Buckley Jr.) had a nice line: “I majored in Keynesianism at Yale.” (That said, I understand that classical liberals have made greater inroads into econ departments than they have into other areas of campus life.)

Naturally enough, Kevin mentions the “No. 2 pencil” — the “simple No. 2 pencil.” I’m sure there’s an answer, and I’m sure I could Google it in a second, but it’s sort of funny that one never hears of a No. 1 pencil.

Or do one (as Fats Waller would say)? (“One never knows — do one?”)

Kevin writes,

Read’s conclusion . . . is that nobody knows how to make a pencil. Nobody is in charge of the operation, and nobody understands it end-to-end. From the assembly-line worker to the president of the pencil company, thousands or millions of people have tiny, discrete pieces of knowledge about the process, but no coordinating authority organizes their efforts.

I thought of something a very bright fellow once told me. This was Ross McKitrick, one of the “two M’s” — the other M being Stephen McIntyre. These are the guys who have been hugely inconvenient to the Climatic Research Unit in Britain, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a body of the U.N.). I wrote about them a few years ago, in a piece called “Two Inconvenient Canadians: The unlikely men who shook up global-warming science” (here).

Let me drop in on the relevant paragraph:

McKitrick makes a further point: Many scientists, in many disciplines or subdisciplines, have a finger in the climate-change pie. They tend to say, “In my own particular field” — be it sea ice or solar physics or what have you — “I don’t really see evidence for global warming. But I of course accept the consensus view.” This calls to mind one of (Robert) Conquest’s Laws: “Everyone is a conservative in his own field of expertise.”

This does not correlate precisely with what Kevin says, but, again, the one thing reminded me of the other.


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