So much for strong and stable

In a year when Britain decided to leave the E.U. and the U.S. decided to elect a reality TV star with a penchant for Twitter rants, it turns out voters weren’t looking for strong and stable after all. Who’d have guessed?

I for one didn’t think it could happen. I was saying to a friend yesterday that I now understood how people had so much trouble seeing Trump as a possibility – I really couldn’t see how anyone could possibly think that Jeremy Corbyn, paleo-socialist and friend of the IRA, would make a suitable Prime Minister. He won’t even sing the national anthem for goodness’ sake. But let that be a lesson that what seems impossible may just be a blind spot in your own thinking.

To be fair, Corbyn didn’t actually win – quite far from it in fact. Labour are still a long way from being able to form a ... Read More

Why can’t we all just get along?

Dylan Matthews has a brilliant post up on the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog where he’s taken a piece written by liberal Jesse Myerson for Rolling Stone and rewritten it as a conservative wish list, while keeping the underlying policies the same. The five policies are (liberal / conservative):

  1. Guaranteed jobs / Making welfare recipients work for the government
  2. Universal basic income / Replacing welfare with a single payment to all taxpayers
  3. Government land ownership / Land-value tax
  4. Nationalisation of US businesses / Sovereign wealth fund
  5. Nationalised banks / Enterprise investment banks

While Dylan uses his post to show how important tribalism is in politics, it also highlights what I think is a more fundamental division in politics: pragmatism vs idealism. All of these policies fail, at least in the way they’ve been presented, either because they are politically untenable or because they grossly oversimplify all of the underlying issues:

  1. ‘Make-work’ programmes are inevitably inefficient, because if the ... Read More

Paine in the Burke

Great review of Yuval Levin’s The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the Birth of Right and Left by Jonah Goldberg. I can’t decide whether to read it, since I’m already pretty familiar with both writers and it sounds like I’m likely to agree with Levin. Everyone, though, can do with a heavy dose of Burke:

Politics ought to be adjusted not to human reasonings but to human nature, of which reason is but a part and by no means the greatest part.

And there, in a nutshell, is the problem with the left: communism, socialism, Keynesianism and international law might all work if we weren’t sinful humans with limited understanding living in a fallen world. But we are. And so we need to do the best with what we have (including our political and cultural institutions) rather than think we’re clever enough to build a utopia from first principles.

Healthcare and the Perils of Marginal Cases

It is no inconsiderable part of wisdom, to know how much of an evil ought to be tolerated.
(Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents)

Animal rights advocates use the argument from marginal cases to show that the distinctions we draw between human and animal life are baseless: if some animals have greater cognitive ability than some humans, how can we justify privileging the latter over the former? But I think it’s instead an example of what can go wrong in this fallen world when we pay too much attention to marginal cases: by focusing on outliers (humans with severe learning disabilities and genius animals) we can lose sight of the centre (the fundamental differences between humans as a class and all other animals). As Rep. Tim Valentine (D-NC) once said, “You don’t have to tell me that a ’possum’s not a person”.

The utter debacle that is the Affordable ... Read More