Monday, October 23, 2017

The good intentions racket

Politics is increasingly about motives, not results

The curse of modern politics is an epidemic of good intentions and bad outcomes. Policy after policy is chosen and voted on according to whether it means well, not whether it works. And the most frustrated politicians are those who keep trying to sell policies based on their efficacy, rather than their motives. It used to be possible to approach politics as a conversation between adults, and argue for unfashionable but effective medicine. In the 140-character world this is tricky (I speak from experience).

The fact that it was Milton Friedman who said “one of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programmes by their intentions rather than their results” rather proves the point. He was one of the most successful of all economists in getting results in terms of raising living standards, yet is widely despised today by both the left and centre as evil because he did not bother to do much virtue signalling.

The commentator James Bartholomew popularised the term “virtue signalling” for those who posture empathetically but emptily. “Je suis Charlie” (but I won’t show cartoons of the prophet), “Refugees welcome” (but not in my home) or “Ban fossil fuels” (let’s not talk about my private jet). You see it everywhere. The policies unveiled at the Conservative Party conference show that the party is aware of this and (alas) embracing it. On student fees, housing costs and energy bills, the Tories proposed symbolic changes that would do nothing to solve the underlying problem, indeed might make them worse in some cases, but which at least showed they cared. I doubt it worked. They ended up sounding like pale imitations of Labour, or doing political dad-dancing.

“Our election campaign portrayed us as a party devoid of values,” said Robert Halfon MP in June.

“The Labour Party now has circa 700,000 members that want nothing from the Labour Party but views and values they agree with,” lamented Ben Harris-Quinney of the Bow Group last week. I think that what politicians mean by “values” is “intentions”.

The forgiving of good intentions lies behind the double standard by which we judge totalitarians. Whereas fascists are rightly condemned in schools, newspapers and social media as evil, communists get a much easier ride, despite killing more people. “For all its flaws, the Communist revolution taught Chinese women to dream big,” read a New York Times headline last month.

“For all its flaws, Nazi Germany did help bring Volkswagen and BMW to the car-buying public,” replied one wag on Twitter.

Imagine anybody getting away with saying of Mussolini or Franco what John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn said of Fidel Castro or Hugo Chávez. The reason for this double standard is the apparently good intentions of communist dictators: unlike Nazis, communists were at least trying to make a workers’ paradise; they just got it wrong. Again and again and again.

Though Jeremy Corbyn is a leading exponent, elevating intentions over outcomes is not entirely a monopoly of the left. It is something that the coalition government kept trying, in emulation of Tony Blair. Hugging huskies and gay marriage were pursued mainly for the signal they sent, rather than for the result they achieved. (Student loans, to be fair, were the opposite.) Indeed, George Osborne’s constant talk of austerity, while increasing spending in real terms, was an example of the gap between intention and outcome, albeit less sugar-coated.

I can draw up a list as long as your arm of issues where the road to failure is paved with counterproductive benevolence. Gordon Brown’s 50p top tax rate brought in less tax from the richest. Banning foxhunting has led to the killing of more foxes. Opposition to badger culls made no ecological sense, for cattle, hedgehogs, people — or badger health. Mandating a percentage of GDP for foreign aid was a virtuous gesture that causes real inefficiency and corruption — and (unlike private philanthropy) also tended to transfer money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.

Or take organic farming, which has been shown repeatedly to produce trivial or zero health benefits, while any environmental benefits are grossly outweighed by the low yields that mean it requires taking more land from nature. Yet the BBC’s output on farming is dominated by coverage of the 2 per cent of farming that is organic, and is remorselessly obsequious. Why? Because organic farmers say they are trying to be nice to the planet.

My objection to wind farms is based on the outcome of the policy, whereas most people’s support is based largely on the intention. There they stand, 300ft tall, visibly advertising their virtue as signals of our commitment to devotion to Gaia. The fact that each one requires 150 tonnes of coal to make, that it needs fossil fuel back-up for when the wind is not blowing, that it is subsidised disproportionately by poor people and the rewards go disproportionately to rich people, and that its impact on emissions is so small as to be unmeasurable — none of these matter. It’s the thought that counts.

The Paris climate accord is one big virtue-signalling prayer, whose promises, if implemented, would make a difference in the temperature of the atmosphere in 2100 so small it is practically within the measuring error. But it’s the thought that counts. Donald Trump just does not care.

One politician who has always refused to play the intention game is Nigel Lawson. Rather than rest on the laurels of his political career, he has devoted his retirement to exposing the gap between rhetoric and reality in two great movements: European integration and climate change mitigation. In his book An Appeal to Reason, he pointed out that on the UN’s official forecasts, climate change, unchecked, would mean the average person will be 8.5 times as rich in 2100 as today, rather than 9.5 times if we stopped the warming. And to achieve this goal we are to punish the poor of today with painful policies? This isn’t “taking tough decisions”; this is prescribing chemotherapy for a cold.

Yet the truth is, Lord Lawson and I and others like us have so far largely lost the argument on climate change entirely on the grounds of intentions. Being against global warming is a way of saying you care about the future. Not being a headless chicken — however well argue your case — leads to accusations you do not care


England ‘must follow Scottish ban on spanking

The children’s commissioner for England has called on Westminster to follow Scotland’s lead on moves to ban the smacking of children.

The Scottish government has said it will ensure that a bill brought forward by John Finnie, a Green MSP, would become law. Yesterday Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, expressed concern that legal protection from assault could now vary depending on a child’s location.

“The current legislation in England, which grants an exemption from the law on common assault to allow the physical punishment of children, is outdated,” she said. “It should be updated to reflect what the vast majority of parents believe: that hitting children is wrong and there are better and more effective ways of disciplining children and encouraging positive behaviour.”


Air Force Punishes Colonel who Refused to Affirm Gay Marriage

The Air Force has punished a highly-decorated and respected colonel after he refused to publicly affirm the same-sex spouse of a retiring subordinate.

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Col. Leland Bohannon, who was on the verge of being promoted to a one-star general, was suspended from command and orders were handed down recommending he not be promoted.

“His career is likely over and he will likely have to retire as a colonel instead of as a general,” First Liberty Institute attorney Michael Berry told the Todd Starnes Show.
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First Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s most prominent religious liberty law firms, is representing the distinguished military officer.

“This sends a clear message - if you do not have the politically correct viewpoint, you are not welcome in the military,” Berry said. “The military is no longer a place of diversity and inclusion if you are a person who holds to a traditional belief on marriage.”

The Air Force did not respond to interview requests.

Col. Bohannon has flown combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and he is the recipient of the Bronze Star, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Medal.

Last May the colonel declined to sign a certificate of spouse appreciation for a retiring master sergeant’s same-sex spouse.

He was unable to do so because it would have caused him to affirm a definition of marriage contrary to his sincerely held religious beliefs.

First Liberty Institute argues there is no Air Force Instruction requiring a commander to personally sign a spouse certificate.

Col. Bohannon sought the advice of his Command Chaplain as well as the Staff Judge Advocate. He was advised to request a religious accommodation. However, that request was returned six weeks later “without action.”

A two-star general signed the certificate instead.

“(The colonel) went out of his way to make sure his Airman was accommodated,” Berry told the Todd Starnes Show.

But when the master sergeant learned Col. Bohannon did not personally sign the spouse certificate, the Airman filed an Equal Opportunity complaint.

The Airman alleged the devout Christian colonel had “unlawfully discriminated against him on the basis of his sexual orientation.”

The EO investigator determined the colonel had discriminated against the gay Airman – and went on to say that “even had the accommodation been granted, Col. Bohannon would nonetheless be guilty of unlawful discrimination.”

“You have a case where a decorated officer like Col. Bohannon demonstrates integrity and character to go out of his way to accommodate one of his Airmen and the Air Force will not do the same for him,” Berry told the Todd Starnes Show.

First Liberty Institute is urging the Air Force to reverse its decision – charging the military violated their client’s Constitutional rights.


Inconvenient truths for statue topplers, NFL protesters

As activists stumble over themselves to locate Confederate statues to topple or an American flag and national anthem to disrespect, certain aspects undermining their racial claims, past and present, largely go unaddressed.

One such aspect "topplers" ignore is how they also disrespect those who fought for the North.

Any statue connected to the Confederacy has become fair game for them. It matters not most wearing the gray either owned no slaves or, like Gen. Robert E. Lee, were anti-slavery. Interestingly, the last U.S. president to own slaves fought for the North - Ulysses S. Grant.

Thus, despite issues driving North and South to take up arms against each other, these warriors shared some common beliefs.

Topplers also conveniently choose to ignore that the North did not go to war to end slavery, and, as some historians suggest, had the South won it would have ended it. Americans supporting slavery back then supported a flawed law, in human-rights terms, that, nonetheless, was the law of the land for both sides. Yet today's topplers fail to hold the blue to the same standard as the gray.

Common beliefs tended to create a bond of mutual respect, eloquently described by a veteran of the North who went on to become a famous jurist.

Almost two decades after the war, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes gave a Memorial Day speech. He observed he and his fellow Union soldiers had been driven during the Civil War by a belief their cause was just and noble. "But," he explained, "we equally believed that those who stood against us held, just as sacred, convictions that were the opposite of ours - and we respected them as every man with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief. ... You could not stand up day after day in those indecisive contests where overwhelming victory was impossible ... without getting at last something of the same brotherhood for the enemy that the north pole of a magnet has for the south - each working in an opposite sense to the other, but each unable to get along without the other. As it was then, it is now. The soldiers of the war need no explanations; they can join in commemorating a soldier's death with feelings not different in kind, whether he fell toward them or by his side."

As Holmes made clear, the commitment of those on the other side to die for their beliefs demanded respect. Accordingly, the acts of today's topplers fail to do so.

Another ignored aspect of liberal claims relates to an alleged Donald Trump-Russian conspiracy impacting the presidential election. While evidence is still lacking, and after two key members of former-FBI Director Robert Mueller's investigative team have departed, ignored is the fact Russia fanned the flames of America's racial discord with ads planted on social media. It is now established a Russian initiative known as "Blacktivist" used Facebook and Twitter to do so.

This was not something new for Russia. As a former KGB agent, President Vladimir Putin was well aware that agency played a key role during the 1960s in publishing fake news about Martin Luther King. The KGB planted stories such as King being on the U.S. government's payroll, in hopes of triggering his downfall and replacement by a militant leader.

Russia has a long history of sowing the seeds of racial hatred in the U.S. and, undoubtedly, now takes great joy our professional athletes are disrespecting our flag and anthem.

Yet another aspect ignored by race activists is their hypocrisy concerning appropriation claims of black culture by whites. While copying elements of another's culture should be viewed more as a compliment than a theft, these activists see it differently.

At Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, a white girl who had braided her hair was attacked by an enraged black girl for doing so. The latter felt offended the former appropriated black culture. Another incident occurred at San Francisco State University when a white male student wearing dreadlocks was attacked by a black female student for the same reason.

Additionally, after performer Miley Cyrus came out with a video in which she demonstrated her "twerking" talents - a form of dancing, rooted in African culture, involving gyrations of one's backside - she was criticized by black performers Jay-Z and Aealia Banks - for cultural appropriation.

The list of alleged appropriation incidents goes on and on.

But why, then, is the reverse not true - i.e., that blacks coming to America have, over time, appropriated many aspects of white culture?

This is especially so in the form of two major professional sports - American football and basketball - that were invented by white males. The former was the invention of Walter Camp; the latter of James Naismith. The case can be made Bob Douglas, recognized as the father of black basketball, appropriated it from white culture.

Today, watching any professional football or basketball game, a disproportionately larger representation - based on demographics - of black to white players exists. Clearly, these games have allowed more talented black athletes to thrive, reaping in millions of dollars of income in the process.

Arguably, the "appropriation" of these sports by blacks denies incomes to (less talented) white players. Yet at no time, and appropriately so, has the claim of appropriation of a white man's sport by blacks been raised. The truth of the matter is the combined talents of players - both black and white - have clearly made these sports much more competitive.

The political activists creating the racial turmoil in our country need reflect on whether there are realistic justifications for their actions. In doing so, they should consider whether they are being judgmental in attacking those who simply chose to comply with yesterday's law of the land and those being unfairly treated today by claims whites are appropriating elements of black culture.

But, more importantly, they need consider whether their acts, in dividing America, are exactly what others, long committed to our demise, seek to do by fanning the flames of activist discontentment.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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