We Live in Huxley’s Dystopia, Not Orwell’s

Our friend Ross Douthat’s latest column looks at the curious combination of anomie, social atomization, and sexual surfeit that is more and more central to our culture and notes that Aldous Huxley saw this coming in Brave New World. Immersive entertainment and porn on demand are among the factors that are driving us away from genuine intimacy as “our hedonic forms of virtual reality are catching up to [Huxley’s] pornographic ‘feelies’ and his ‘Violent Passion Surrogate.’ . . . And on the evidence of many internet-era social indicators, they increasingly play the same tranquilizing and stabilizing roles.” We’re amusing ourselves, maybe not to death, but at least into a stupor.

Huxley’s vision of our humanity being eroded by what would have been unimaginable material and sexual plenty in the 1930s, when he wrote the book, makes for a stark contrast to the gray impoverishment of Oceania in 1984, a vision of a Stalinist state predicated on what must have seemed to Orwell like the new norm of privation caused by wartime rationing. Today, however, some of our most serious problems are diseases of plenty: Drugs and food and porn are omnipresent, and so are opioid overdoses, type II diabetes, and loneliness. Charles C. W. Cooke wrote in 2015: “1984 may be often cited by critics of linguistic corruption and security theater, but it ultimately forecast a landscape that is ascetic and austere and, in truth, wholly unfamiliar to us. In fact, our present arrangement is quite the inverse of that imagined by Orwell.”

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Brave New World‘s publication, I wrote, in a 2012 essay entitled “Brave New World (Is Here!),” that we’re so overstimulated that we’re depressed: “People have become like the famous depressed Central Park polar bear who became listless because he didn’t have to work to catch his dinner.” I noted that the book’s iconoclastic throwback figure, John the Savage (a fellow who stands athwart technology yelling, “Stop!”), falls for one of Huxley’s brave new women but “as she obligingly unzips her clothes for him he becomes despondent and flees.” Life has become too easy. “Compare the dismal reports you hear from campuses that meaningless hookup culture and midnight booty-calling have replaced romance and courting,” I wrote at the time. “Women whose grandmothers marched for sexual liberation wonder why they can’t find a man willing to commit. Huxley foresaw that this soul-hollowing effect would follow from making sex purely recreational.”

White House

Loyalty Tests May Hurt the Trump Administration

Though I hesitate to weigh in on inside-the-Beltway intrigue, I’ve been following the unceremonious firing of deputy national-security adviser Mira Ricardel with interest. The Wall Street Journal reports that First Lady Melania Trump played a central role in her removal, as her staff suspected Ricardel of leaving negative stories about Mrs. Trump and her team. It is worth noting, however, that as CNN reports, Ricardel had made enemies in part by clashing with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. According to CNN, “her disputes with Mattis preceded her time as deputy national security adviser, going back to the presidential transition when Ricardel sought to block Mattis from hiring certain people who had been critical of Trump or were viewed as insufficiently loyal to Trump.” One suspects that at least some of the people Ricardel successfully blocked from serving in the Pentagon are now cheering on the first lady for claiming her first scalp.

How is it that Ricardel managed to secure the position of deputy national-security adviser in the first place? Normally, you’d think that fact that Mattis didn’t hold her in terribly high regard would be an obstacle. Ricardel’s rise could be a testament to her prowess as a bureaucratic warrior. But it could also be a reflection of the fact that the Trump White House has had limited options to draw on. Many Republican foreign-policy professionals were deeply skeptical of Donald Trump during his campaign for the GOP nomination, and many of them continue to be wary. The result is that much of the party’s foreign-policy bench is either unwilling to serve or, for those willing to swallow their reservations, incapable of passing the loyalty tests established by Ricardel and others. Given the high turnover that’s characterized the Trump administration thus far, this could prove a big problem in the months to come.

Economy & Business

Compete with China by Investing in Ourselves

Earlier this month, Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia Business School and a veteran of the George W. Bush administration, wrote a short piece for the Financial Times that made a very wise point: If we’re concerned about China’s trade abuses, we’d be wise “to look inward and do what is needed to help America compete.” In particular, I welcomed his call to “revive and increase federal support for basic research in science and technology,” with an eye toward driving further advances in computation, software, artificial intelligence, and robotics that will ultimately redound to the benefit of U.S. workers, and to increase public investment in human capital while boosting the earned-income tax credit.

However, it’s not clear how Hubbard intends to reconcile calls for increased spending on basic research, human capital investment, and wage subsidies for low-income workers with his call for a serious program of fiscal consolidation. One could argue that we ought to shift resources away from social-insurance programs that chiefly benefit the old to various programs that invest in the young. Leaving aside the political obstacles to such a swap, which include the fact that older citizens vote at far higher rates than their younger counterparts and that the parents of young children represent a shrinking share of the electorate, squeezing enough money out of, say, Social Security and Medicare to finance his ambitious agenda for the future would be exceptionally challenging.

In a wide-ranging essay for Foreign Affairs, Kenneth F. Scheve and Matthew J. Slaughter sketch out an ambitious program of human-capital investment that they describe as a strategy for solidifying support for a dynamic market economy. Though I don’t agree with Scheve and Slaughter’s agenda in every respect, it has much to recommend. Notably, they estimate that it “would cost the U.S. government about $250 billion each year, which would represent the largest federal investment in human capital in American history.” That’s not a sum of money you’d find by rooting around under your sofa cushions. In the near-term, at least, it would necessitate either a drastic increase in deficit spending or in taxes. Scheve and Slaughter favor the latter approach, and they outline a number of tax increases that could close the gap. But the tax-averse find themselves in a bind. Consider that savings from the ambitious Social Security and Medicare reforms outlined by Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute in his recent federal budget plan wouldn’t come close to filling this gap.

I say all of this ruefully, as my sympathies are with Hubbard and Scheve and Slaughter. Over time, I suspect that Democratic calls for dramatic expansions of the safety net will make these proposals, and the new taxes they will require, look more palatable, though I don’t doubt others will disagree.

Politics & Policy

Canadian Hospital Waiting Room Promotes Euthanasia

(Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS )

How in the tank for euthanasia has the Canadian medical establishment become? This much:

A source sent me this photograph of a public information announcement that appears on a large television screen in a William Osler Health System hospital urgent care waiting room pushing euthanasia to patients!

The ad oozes compassion. The visual is a photo of a male doctor’s hand gently resting on the arm of a woman in a hospital bed, accompanied by the following text:

Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD)

MAiD is a medical service in Canada, whereby physicians and nurse practitioners help eligible patients fulfill their wish to end their suffering.

The PR notice then provides a toll-free phone number that people interested in being killed can call to obtain more information.

This is profoundly abandoning. Realize, these patients may be afraid. They may be in pain. They may be depressed. And what one act does the hospital from which they seek succor push? Killing.

The ad makes no mention of palliative care or other means to reduce or eliminate suffering without killing. It does not describe that counseling can help people regain the desire to live. There is no hint that suicide prevention services might be available. And it obscures the fact that MAiD is a euphemism for homicide by lethal injection.

Think about how shockingly far the culture of death has penetrated Canada since the country’s Supreme Court imposed it on the entire country three years ago.

  • Not only is euthanasia now legal, the government and courts are transforming access into a positive right. And, they are telling dissenting physicians in Ontario that they either must kill qualified patients, find a doctor willing to do the dirty deed (known as an “effective referral”) or get out of medicine.
  • Not only that, but access will almost surely soon be expanded from competent adults to include the legally incompetent, including children–the latter category pushed by pediatricians.
  • And there seems to be no limit to ways in which people with serious medical conditions can make themselves qualified to be killed–for example, self-starvation until they grow weak enough to legally receive the lethal jab.

This PR announcement–again, without any mention of life-affirming alternatives–demonstrates that euthanasia is not only being normalized by Canadian medical societies and hospitals, but is well on the way to being perceived by the powers that be as the “treatment” of choice for those with serious medical conditions.

At least, that’s my take away from the above. And it makes perfect sense. A society that becomes obsessed with eliminating suffering quickly embraces eliminating the sufferer as a means.

And considering that Canada has a single payer socialized healthcare system, what better way to save on costs than by gently persuading those with the most expensive conditions to choose death over fighting to stay alive? Indeed, there is already at least one case in which a disabled patient was offered euthanasia after being denied the independent living services he says he needs to maintain the desire to carry on.

Euthanasia corrupts everything it touches, including the healthcare system and a society’s perception of the value of people with serious disabilities and illnesses. Those with eyes to see, let them see.

Economy & Business

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Right about Amazon’s Corporate Welfare

Democratic Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks in the Bronx, N.Y., November 1, 2018. (Jeenah Moon/REUTERS)

After a long process, Amazon finally announced that it will locate its new headquarters in New York and Virginia. Following the announcement, Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that “Amazon is a billion-dollar company. The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”

As a result of her tweet, conservative commentators all over twitter and on shows like Fox Business’s Varney & Co. are making fun of her. They argue that her reaction is yet more evidence that she doesn’t get economics and that doesn’t want New Yorkers and Virginians to get the thousands of jobs that will be created there thanks to the new headquarters.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Ocasio-Cortez is mostly correct on this matter, and her conservative critics are wrong. Handouts like this to Amazon and other prominent companies are appalling in their cronyism, pure and simple. I agree that she doesn’t understand economics and that her socialist ideal is a recipe for fiscal and economic disaster. But her conservative critics reveal their own economic misunderstanding when they support targeted tax breaks as a means of creating jobs.

First, let’s be honest. Tax incentives aren’t anywhere near the top of the factors that company considers when deciding where to locate. In all likelihood, Amazon first surveyed all available locations searching for factors that really matter most — factors such as the presence of a skilled workforce, adequate infrastructure and transportation options (airports and a vast subway network), as well as synergies with other companies for the purpose of enhancing production supply chains and access to professional services. Once, it had a list of places that fit its needs, it might have taken under consideration the tax incentives.

Indeed, the literature is clear: Tax incentives aren’t what sway companies to move. As my colleagues Michael Farren and Anne Philpot write in a new report:

Government finance expert Natalie Cohen interviewed site selection consultants and economic development experts in research conducted for the Brookings Institution, finding that [“]While corporate decision-makers’ top location concern is the availability of education and training, policymakers and lay people often think that tax incentives matter most. Tax incentives and tax packages are uniformly viewed as low priorities by location consultants, relatively unimportant to the basic decision.”

Tax incentives are generally considered only after the primary location analysis is conducted, and at that point the decision is between different municipalities in the same region.

Recent research by University of Texas professor Nathan Jensen found that fewer than 15 percent of companies receiving subsidies from the Texas Chapter 313 economic development program had their location decision swayed by the program’s handouts. A majority of the companies in the 86 case studies Jensen conducted were likely to locate in Texas regardless of subsidies—for example, oil and chemical companies that needed access to region-specific natural resources and ports did not need subsidies to sway their decision. Jensen concludes that “many of the companies involved were coming to Texas even before being authorized to receive the incentives.

This explains why New York is already the home of many tech companies. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Alphabet Inc. unit will add office space for more than 12,000 new workers, an amount nearly double the search giant’s current staffing in the city, people familiar with the matter said. On Monday night at the Journal’s D.Live tech conference, Google financial chief Ruth Porat confirmed the company plans to double its New York City staff of 7,000 over a decade.

The same is true about Crystal City, Va.:

Crystal City, a 1960s-era office and residential development close to the Pentagon, has seen its fortunes wane over the past decade or so, as major tenants, including Defense Department and private-sector tenants, have pulled up stakes.

Its sheer size and proximity to Washington, Reagan National Airport, metro stops and other transportation, made it an attractive prospect for Amazon’s ambitious second-headquarters plan, according to people who have been involved in the discussions. Adding to its appeal, it is also largely in the hands of a single developer.

In other words, Amazon would have likely made the same decision with or without subsidies. It also explains why no amount of subsidies can drag a company to a place that isn’t economically vibrant or that is in the middle of nowhere. But face it: Amazon was never going to move to, say, Opelika, Ala., or Marfa, Texas, no matter how gargantuan the promised tax breaks there.

More importantly, while there’s no doubt that Amazon’s HQ2 will add something, including jobs, to the economy, it could have not only have added these jobs and economic growth from the economy without the subsidies, but the payoff to the local economy would have likely been larger absent the handout. There is a broad body of economic research that shows that targeted state subsidies to private businesses — while often promoted as a “market-friendly” means to boost growth, jobs, and development — have little to no net positive effects. George Mason University’s Christopher Coyne and Lotta Moberg wrote a review of the research and concluded that such subsidies are in fact often damaging because they misallocate scarce public resources while encouraging rent seeking, regulatory capture, and cronyism.

Farren and Philpot have an entire section reviewing the literature and the distortions such incentives create. Here is one small tidbit:

This parallels research by University of Maryland professor Dennis Coates, who found negligible and even negative effects of professional sports stadium construction—which is nearly always subsidized by public funding—on local economic outcomes, like per capita personal wages, wages per job, and total wage and salary disbursements.

In addition, blatant cronyism is unfair to local companies who face heavier tax burdens than the favored companies and, in addition, a future tax burden that is likely heavier as a result. I live in Arlington, and judging by the number of bonds on the ballot (i.e., requests to add to the county’s debt), I take it that Arlington could have used the cash it is throwing at Jeff Bezos. Unfortunately for us, our taxes will be raised to pay for all that extra debt they just approved.

It is worth asking what are the tradeoffs politicians are willing to impose on taxpayers in order to shower Amazon with privilege. Farren and Philpot look at this matter too. They have a great table on page 13 of their report that shows that New York, with the money that’s now going to Amazon, could have paid for three years of road maintenance or have reduced the corporate income tax rates by 5.42 percent, which would benefit ordinary companies without political favor. Virginia could have reduced the corporate income tax by 45.16 percent and maintained the roads for four years with that money. Congrats Amazon and sorry everyone else!

These tax breaks are wrong. Dead wrong. And your repeating until you are red in the face that they are great because a company will create jobs will not make these breaks ethically or economically acceptable.

If we want sustainable economic growth, we must shift away from policies tailored to benefit specific firms and toward policies that improve the general environment so all who can compete successfully for consumers’ dollars can flourish. But such a shift is hard to make if you know your neighboring state is pulling out all the stops to attract a given business to its hills or shores.

That’s why my colleague Matt Mitchell came up with the idea of an interstate compact — an agreement in which state governments pledge to mutually disarm in the subsidy war. I wrote about it a few months ago:

Properly structured, such a compromise could provide the right incentives for states to quit obsessively spending taxpayer dollars on conspicuous but unwise development “investments.” Within a state that joins the compact, all firms face the same tax burden. That means no special privileges for Amazon, so we can get back to a place where companies serve individuals instead of the other way around.

Until Mitchell’s idea sees the light of day, the swamp continues to seethe, and the unhealthy marriage between government officials and large firms flourishes.

Here is a list of all of the research on this issue by Mercatus Center scholars.

National Review

Dusty & Gleaves Rhodes: Class Acts

Dusty Rhodes

I’m pleased to report that, quite by chance, I found myself attending a conference with Gleaves Rhodes, Dusty’s glamorous and spirited widow. We had dinner Friday night and had a good catch-up. It was ten years ago, some of you will recall, that Dusty was stricken with a rare and toxic mix of Parkinson’s and dementia. He was told he had a year, year-and-a-half to live. Dusty being Dusty, he lived until last March, indulging to the end his large appetites for politics, football and classical music. There is no whine whatsoever in Gleaves Rhodes, but you can only imagine what a heavy lift the caregiving has been. The good news is that she has moved back to her beloved Hilton Head and engaged fully with old friends and new enthusiasms. Gleaves reminded me how much Dusty loved his time at NR, and how touched she has been by the outpouring of respect and affection for him. Gleaves is what we throwbacks used to call a class act.

Politics & Policy

Herbert Ira London, Ph.D. — 1939-2018

Dr. Herbert Ira London.

The conservative movement lost a giant Saturday. And I lost my oldest friend in New York. Herbert Ira London, Ph.D., a legendary public intellectual, succumbed to coronary disease at age 79.

The 6’5” London excelled at basketball in high school, at Columbia University, and was drafted by the NBA’s Syracuse Nationals, but an injury foiled his hoop dreams. He sang a hit rock & roll record in 1959 and became a cherished professor, conservative activist, and author of 30 books.

London ran for New York mayor in 1989. As 1990’s Conservative gubernatorial nominee, he polled just 1 percent behind Republican Pierre Rinfret. The GOP picked London for state comptroller in 1994.

After founding and leading NYU’s Great Books–oriented Gallatin Division from 1972 to 1992, London was the Hudson Institute’s president from 1997 to 2011. He launched the London Center for Policy Research in 2013 and spearheaded it until his death. The Center’s scholars focus on solving America’s foreign and domestic challenges.

“Herb was a Renaissance man’s Renaissance man,” said London Center vice president Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer. “In all aspects, he was a peerless scholar and visionary leader who knowledgeably and comfortably could discuss history, philosophy, art, science, and the latest baseball scores.”

“Herb was not only a spectacular leader, he was a good man,” said Laddyma Thompson, the London Center’s secretary and treasurer. “An amazing father to his three daughters, Stacy, Nancy and Jaclyn; an effective instructor to young people; a brilliant mentor to professionals, both fledgling and venerated; and a devoted husband to his wife, Vicki.”

National Review columnist John Fund’s greatest gift to me, ever, was my 31-year friendship with Herb London. About a week after I moved from Los Angeles to the Big Apple to start my MBA studies at New York University, John introduced me to this one-of-a-kind gem.

The three of us met at a now-kaput restaurant called Bayamo on Broadway near NYU. Herb and I became instant friends and subsequently enjoyed countless lunches, dinners, and conversations. We often ground our molars marveling at the idiocy of Big Government.

Under the aegis of the delightfully unspecific Center for the Study of Society, Herb organized lunchtime meetings of the New York Discussion Group. This usually involved an author or thinker who presented a topic for about ten minutes at a local club, restaurant, or high-rise conference room. Then, about 15 to 20 of us journalists, academics, attorneys, and entrepreneurs would pepper the speaker with challenges and grill him with questions. This was like a doctoral defense, but with better food. At one such gathering, we pondered “teleological vs. ontological cosmology.”

At a less elevated session, we somehow veered onto the subject of adult entertainment. With his thick Dutch accent and octogenarian Old World charm, frequent National Review contributor Professor Ernest van den Haag declared: “I believe pornography should be illegal — but available.”

Herb and I also enjoyed many thought-provoking and engaging meals together, one on one.

“Deroy, it’s time for one of our Cassandra Brothers lunches,” Herb occasionally told me by phone. We sat down in a local steakhouse or Italian spot (he was a confirmed Italophile) and, like the princess whose ignored prophecies sealed the doom of Troy, we feasted on the topic of how much better things would be if our many warnings to leaders in Gotham City, Albany, and Washington had not gone unheeded.

Like many polymaths, Herb had his eccentricities.

He never lacked for words in person. He could address any subject with facts, figures, perspective, and historical context, often going on at considerable but enjoyable length.

His emails, however, were among the most taciturn I have encountered. In response to some fairly elaborate observation of mine that might trigger a 45-second monologue in person, I got “Yes,” “No,” or “Thank you” via e-mail.

Since childhood, Herb was fascinated with hippopotami. His credenzas, bookshelves, and coffee tables overflowed with glass, stone, and ceramic hippos. A bartender once served me a beer bottle whose label showcased such an African amphibian. I proudly presented it to Herb who received it with a smile as wide as a hippo’s.

Herb also had a stunning facility with names and faces. At his 75th birthday party, he stood inside a friend’s living room. He spent about 20 minutes methodically introducing his 50 or 60 well-wishers — not just those he knew well, but also the friends and even dates of his guests. He greeted and welcomed everyone by name, adding a humorous anecdote, intriguing detail, or quote about a recent column or TV interview by each of us there. This was the height of graciousness and a mentalist feat worthy of the Amazing Kreskin.

Herb was dapper, too. His suits, sport coats, crisply folded pocket squares, and colorful ties were reliably exquisite.

“So well dressed — a fashion plate,” said WNYM 970 AM radio host Frank Morano, in a stirring tribute Monday morning. “In that 1990 gubernatorial campaign, Mario Cuomo’s aides got in the habit of calling one another ‘Herb.’ When [Andrew Cuomo’s former top aide] Joe Percoco was indicted, that was one of the things that came out: These guys, all of [the] Cuomos’ corrupt aides — Andrew and Mario — they would call each other ‘Herb,’ because they got in the habit that, when somebody would look good, they would say he was like Herb London.” Morano added: “The world is a less fulfilling, less intellectual place not having him in it.”

What impressed me most about Herb London were not his stellar credentials and accomplishments. The most striking thing about Herb was his humility.

With his résumé, Herb could have had an ego that filled Madison Square Garden. Instead, he was a mensch who rarely focused on himself and his achievements. Rather he used his myriad talents to improve the world without drawing undue attention to himself.

Herb was incredibly approachable. Many sought his guidance, introductions, and advice. They consistently told me that he took time to learn their needs and do his best to help.

Dr. Herbert London and Deroy Murdock.

One day in late October 1994, Herb was running hard to become the Empire State’s next comptroller. He was busy meeting voters, traveling among events, and otherwise seeking victory. I called his office, left a message, and reckoned that I might hear from him after the election.

Well, I’ll be damned if the Republican nominee for state comptroller didn’t call me back about two hours later to ask what was on my mind and see how he could help. I will remember this forever.

As a former Angeleno, whenever I think of New York City, my adopted home, I picture the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and Herbert Ira London, Ph.D. — a great friend, a great New Yorker, and a great American.

His departure is sad, sad, sad! But lucky, lucky, lucky us who knew him. May this spectacular gentleman, friend, scholar, and patriot thrive in our memories and rest in peace.


The Impossible Compromises of Theresa May

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May looks on during the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet at Guildhall in London, Britain, November 12, 2018. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters )

Theresa May’s premiership is likely to go down in history as a series of unfortunate — and regrettably preventable — events. Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016. In July 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron resigned leaving his successor with a Brexit puzzle to solve, and, at that point, a small but significant parliamentary majority. May became prime minister when few others wanted to. It could have been relatively plain sailing.

“Strong and stable.”

Theresa May arrived at the helm with the promise of a “strong and stable” leadership. She is very boring and so looked and sounded the part. She also seemed rather risk averse. Though many expected her to solidify her parliamentary majority with an election, she said this was not her intention: The next general election would be 2020. But in April 2017, May squandered her parliamentary majority in a “snap” election.

The Labour party, under Jeremy Corbyn, and aided by the credulousness of Millennials who had an unusually high voter turn-out, came frighteningly close to victory. Since then, the possibility of another general election has loomed in the background. Worse still: Many Labour MPs now say they would hold another referendum in the hope of reversing the “Vote Leave” decision.

“No deal is better than a bad deal.”

To avoid the catastrophe of an extremely left-wing Labour party coming to power, and the undemocratic disregard for the referendum results, May must strive for party unity. She must also give the country what they voted for — a clean Brexit with regard to Britain’s trading relationship with the EU. This is why May promised that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” However, this promise, too, has been compromised.

Indeed, in order to appeal to the diverse range of viewpoints within her own fractured party (those who voted Leave versus those who voted Remain) and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) with whom the Conservative party reached an agreement of mutual support in 2017, May must be sensitive to a number of conflicting interests. This is to say nothing of the approval needed from the rest of the House of Commons and ultimately the European Union. 

“Brexit means Brexit.”

If pleasing such a crowd sounds impossible — that’s because it increasingly is. The chances of reaching such a deal are looking increasingly remote with every attempted compromise. Moreover, the DUP are beginning to lose patience which, if not salvaged, will further slacken the Conservative grip on power.

It is here that the problem of the Irish backstop has caused major problems. The avoidance of a hard border, for the maintenance of “frictionless trade,” is necessary in order to appease the Republic of Ireland. But May’s latest attempt to solve this conundrum has resulted in what is effectively a backstop for the whole of the United Kingdom, which would make trading with other countries near impossible.

To say many are unhappy about this is an understatement. Last week, Jo Johnson, the transport minister and MP and the younger brother of Boris Johnson, resigned — and other resignations are expected to follow. May will meet with her cabinet on Wednesday to discuss the Brexit draft that has tentative EU approval, the BBC reports.

The trouble is that May’s previous assertion that “no deal is better than a bad deal” is undermined by the fact that the government has no such contingency in place. But for each mistake May makes, the problems become more and more complicated and the situation, more and more hopeless.


Democrats: Give Trump a Few Bill Signing Ceremonies

Democrats are set to take over the House of Representatives. They should resist the urge to spend their time exclusively on holding hearings and investigating President Trump, his 2016 campaign, and his associates.

For one, it’s in their political self interest to do so. They need to be able to take more to voters in 2020 than a list of investigations. They need accomplishments.

And divided government can produce good results. Just two examples: It gave us the famous 1986 tax reform and the 1996 welfare reform.

One obvious and much-discussed compromise would find permanent legal status granted to the “Dreamers” — immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — along with funding for the president’s “border wall.”

In a press conference last week, the president said that “if the Democrats come up with an idea for tax cuts — and I’m a big believer in tax cuts — I would absolutely pursue something even if it means some adjustment.” The president even said he was open to raising the corporate tax rate.

Contra Mr. Trump, the corporate tax rate should stay right where it is. But the president’s apparent willingness to tweak the tax code creates space to improve its design. For example, the code could do better at encouraging and supporting work among low-income and working-class households by expanding earnings subsidies.

I flesh all this out in my latest Bloomberg Opinion column, published this morning. I conclude the column:

Republicans and Democrats alike might remind themselves — and the American people — that Congress is a co-equal branch of government. By working together on legislation to address some of the nation’s many pressing concerns, there’s a chance that Congress might lead the country at least some distance out of our current hostile, partisan stalemate, restoring some civility and sense of common purpose.

That’s a chance worth taking.

You can read the whole column here. As always, your comments are very welcome.

Economy & Business

Virginia Gives Away the Store to Amazon

A building in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Virginia, November 6, 2018. (Al Drago/Reuters )

Amazon’s deal with the Virginia state government to put part of their new headquarters in Crystal City is now official, and the details are dribbling out. Just about all of them are bad.

Begin with the otherworldly claim that “regional and local transit systems have significant unused capacity, even during peak travel periods.” Washington regularly tops the list of worst traffic in the country and the world, with drivers spending “63 hours on average last year in congestion during peak hours.” The Metro System continues to struggle with persistent problems with delays, long-overdue repairs, accidents, and struggles to function in bad weather. The assessment that there is significant unused public and private transportation capacity during peak travel periods can only be reached after using LSD.

The state of Virginia is giving Amazon more than a half-billion dollars, with the local government of Arlington kicking in another $23 million.

Amazon will receive performance-based direct incentives of $573 million based on the company creating 25,000 jobs with an average wage of over $150,000 in Arlington. This includes a workforce cash grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia of up to $550 million based on $22,000 for each job created over the next 12 years. Amazon will only receive this incentive if it creates the forecasted high-paying jobs. The company will also receive a cash grant from Arlington of $23 million over 15 years based on the incremental growth of the existing local Transient Occupancy Tax, a tax on hotel rooms.

In other words, Arlington is raising taxes in order to pay Amazon to locate there. This is not how government and taxation are supposed to work.

This deal should be tattooed onto the forehead of Governor Ralph Northam. Never let a Virginia Democrat ever claim that Republicans are “in the pocket of big business and special interests” again.

At least the most powerful media institution in the region, the Washington Post, will stand up to this giant corporate giveaway — oh, wait a minute, Jeff Bezos owns that, too.

Technically, this is good news for the real-estate value of the National Review Fairfax County Bureau, a.k.a, Jim’s House. But the Washington and northern Virginia real-estate markets were already expensive, and the Washington area’s cost of living was already high. Arlington’s cost of living is 92 percent higher than the U.S. average. All Amazon’s move is going to do is make an expensive housing market even more expensive, and a high cost of living even higher.

What’s more, this region is so blue it’s Sapphire — but few Democrats will raise any voices in objection. Most local Democratic officials are perfectly fine with corporatism as long as they’re the ones who get to give the speeches at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

Politics & Policy

One Woman’s Service

Betsy DeVos visits a middle school in Dallas in April 2018. (Jay Nordlinger)

“Betsy DeVos is the unlikeliest villain you ever met. She is warm, polite, earnest, and generous. A wealthy woman, she has devoted her life to getting poor children a better shot at life.” That is how I begin my piece on the homepage today.

DeVos is secretary of education, as you know. I talked with her about her life, views, and efforts. I’d like to highlight just two things here on the Corner.

I asked her how she deals with protesters and haters, who are legion. She said, “I try to put myself in their position, their shoes, and try to see things from their perspective.” She believes that many people have been misinformed and misled. If only she could talk to them …

Furthermore, I asked her about resentment of wealth (which I think is widespread, and important). She said, “I think that my husband and I are very generous in what we do and how we do it, and I take very seriously the Biblical admonition that to whom much is given, much is required, and I try to follow that in every part of my life, whether it’s financial resources or any skills that I have, so I do look at this as a service, with a genuine heart for those I have been trying to help for three decades plus.”

I do look at this as a service. By “this,” of course, Betsy DeVos means her work for education, including as secretary.


Beware the Jungle

(Photo from Pixabay)

Robert Kagan is one of the best foreign-policy analysts and writers in America. Years ago, he was an aide to George Shultz in the State Department. Today, he is a scholar at the Brookings Institution. His father is Donald Kagan, the classicist. I ask Bob, “Do you know Greek and Latin and all that?” He says, “Are you going to quiz me?” I tell him I’m unequipped to give such a quiz.

We have done a Q&A, here.

Bob Kagan’s new book is The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World. The thesis of the book is given in the mere four words of that remarkable title. Kagan writes, “The liberal world order is like a garden, ever under siege from the forces of history, the jungle whose vines and weeds constantly threaten to overwhelm it.”

In our podcast, we talk about the 20th century, the international system, NATO, America, China, Russia, populism, nationalism, liberalism, conservatism, and so on. One of our subjects — not a major one but a subject nonetheless — is Nicaragua. More than 20 years ago, Kagan wrote an excellent book called “A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977–1990.” Amazingly, Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas rule on, killing people.

I have learned a lot from Bob Kagan over the years. I learned from him in our Q&A. An outstanding thinker, researcher, and teacher, someone who knows bitter lessons about the world that people in general have forgotten or never knew. The world always has to relearn. Always has, always will. “The problem is, people keep being born,” someone once said.

Politics & Policy

Roger Scruton Under Fire . . . for Comparing the National Front to Mass Murderers

In perhaps the most ridiculous attack yet, Sir Roger Scruton is being accused of supporting the National Front… due to a column in which he mocked the racist political party and compared it to the mass-murderers of the French revolution. To any thinking person, that is a form of criticism, not endorsement, but to the Huffington Post UK’s Paul Waugh, it is not so.

The dishonest article has already been cited in Parliament, but it’s worth laying out why it is wrong.

Dr. Scruton opens the column by discussing the French National Assembly in 1789, and the establishment of the “right” and “left” in that context. He goes on to argue for a political axis founded more on the basis of totalitarianism vs freedom than a poorly-applied framework from 18th century France.

To this end, he points out that both major totalitarianisms, communism and fascism are quite close to each other, rather than being polar opposites. Each is built on a rejection of tradition and norms, and cites a spurious claim to the volonté générale, or general will, which in the words of Bertrand Russell, “made possible the mystic identification of a leader with its people, which has no need of confirmation by so mundane an apparatus as the ballot box.” (The description recalls Stalin, Hitler, and Mao alike.)

Having established this, he calls the National Front “an egalitarian and populist movement, hostile to constitutional government and to traditional authority, fired by ideology and a spurious search for a common purpose.” These are not words of flattery; to a traditional conservative like Dr. Scruton, populist movements which rail against tradition and the rule of law, invoking their ideology for a universal mandate recall the devastation wrought by the Nazis and Soviets. He notes that this combination of views puts it on of the “left” of the French National Assembly.

Many have latched onto the word “egalitarian,” perhaps because they use it describe themselves, but in this context it is far from a term of praise, and anyone who is reading it as such is being ignorant, whether wilfully or not. It is a clear invocation of the French Reign of Terror, during which, in the name of égalité, tens of thousands of people (some have estimated about 50,000 in total) were killed by the regime as supposed enemies of the people. In the same holy war for égalité, the regime went on to kill well over 100,000 people, many of whom were civilians, in the Vendée region for their opposition.

French diplomat Jacques Villemain, who has represented France at the International Court of Justice, wrote a legal study of the Vendée campaign, applying the analysis used in the Srebrenica and Rwandan genocides as well as the norms of the time. He writes, “‘Genocide’ as a term hadn’t been defined until the 20th century, but the reality of the acts committed [by the regime] in the Vendée were clearly already considered criminal in 1793-1794. These crimes were so monstrous and unprecedented that they had to invent words for them, ‘dépopulation‘ and ‘populicide‘. These words means what we do when we say ‘genocide’ now.” [translation mine]

The Burkean conservatism that Scruton espouses came about in direct opposition to this brutality, to which he compares the National Front. This is a condemnation, not an endorsement. To say otherwise is to blatantly lie.

Politics & Policy

A NYT/Planned Parenthood Spin Collaboration

Demonstrators at a Planned Parenthood rally outside the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, April 5, 2017. (Ilana Panich/REUTERS)

In response to Planned Parenthood’s New President Appears on CBS and Doesn’t Mention Abortion Once

Leana Wen’s first day on the job running Planned Parenthood was also the occasion for an interview in The New York Times Magazine. Not a single challenging question was asked, and no bit of misleading spin was countered.

In her response to a question about what she thinks of the “misinformation” used against her organization, for example, Wen says, “There is a proposed gag rule in the Trump administration’s approach to federally funded family planning that would disproportionately impact low-income patients. A doctor or nurse would now be forced to censor their speech when it comes to providing women with the full range of reproductive-health options. Imagine if this was diabetes, and doctors and nurses were forced by the government to not give any information about insulin. It’s outrageous and, frankly, racist.”

The truth, endlessly obscured in the press coverage, is that doctors at federally funded family-planning clinics would be allowed to discuss abortion. Any counseling about abortion would have to be nondirective — which is a requirement of Title X appropriations law, not something the Trump administration came up with itself. If a patient said she had decided on an abortion, the federally funded doctor could provide her with a list of health providers including some who perform abortions. These funding restrictions are in no way comparable to telling doctors they cannot “give any information about insulin.”

The Times ran the interview under the headline, “Dr. Leana Wen Dislikes the Politicization of Health Care.” What that verbiage means, of course, is that Wen would like her organization to continue to be the country’s number-one performer of abortions while U.S. taxpayers remain its number-one source of funding. In other words, she likes politicization just fine.

Politics & Policy

Re: Expanding Congress

In response to Why We Should Tinker with the House

I suppose I can, if I squint, see Reihan’s (and the New York Times’s) point about expanding the House and moving toward a more proportional system of representation. But while there are some members of Congress whom I very much admire, I have never once found myself considering that august body as a whole and saying: “Yeah, what we really need is more of these . . . people.”

It’s like trying to cure bedbugs with more bedbugs.

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