Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rediscovering Principles -- But Which Ones?

I recently discovered a book that purports to utilize a very similar tactic to my own work-in-progress -- commenting on the degree to which modern America conforms to fundamental "Founding" values.

Matthew Spalding ("We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future") cites the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as I do, but for the most part uses a different set of principles from the ones enunciated in the preambles to those documents. (Yes, he talks about liberty, but quickly associates it closely with religion, which as we all know was barely mentioned in the Constitution -- and then only to ensure that there be no religious test for holding public office.)

As might be expected from an author closely associated with the Heritage Foundation, his conclusions (from the last chapter -- I haven't read all the preceding chapters yet) comprise a veritable glossary of modern conservative philosophy: limited government, limited regulation (no mention of the deregulation of financial markets that just about caused another Depression), anti-welfare, anti-gay, pro-religion (anti-secular), opposed to socialized health care, anti-deficit (apparently unless the red ink is used to finance wars that implement an engaged foreign policy), pro-strict constitutional constructionism, pro-free enterprise, and pro-"liberty" (but apparently not opposed to the sections of the Patriot Act that violated the Fourth Amendment).

Appointed judges, intellectual and political elites, mainstream journalists, bureaucrats, and Europeans -- the customary targets of conservatives -- all fall victim to his keyboard. He almost equates property rights to the means of pursuing happiness, totally ignoring reams of evidence to the contrary. (As we know from last week's post, nobody expects a correlation any more between belief systems and evidence.)

Who is Matthew Spalding? He's a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, with a doctorate in government from Claremont Graduate School. (You'll find no mention of his doctorate anywhere in his book. Perhaps he's not proud of it; or perhaps having a degree of that nature makes it difficult to criticize the intellectual elite.) Spalding serves as project leader for the Heritage Foundation's First Principles Initiative, which "seeks to provide a much-needed education for policymakers, the news media and ordinary citizens on the ideas of liberty and constitutional self-government" (quote from the Heritage Foundation website).

Spalding testified recently before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, warning about constitutional and practical problems associated with naming high-level bureaucrats (commonly called "czars") to positions with the power to coordinate public policy in selected arenas (like health care). Perhaps he didn't anticipate that anyone would make a connection between this testimony and the fact that the Foreward to his book is written by none other than William J. Bennett -- reformed mega-gambler, author of "The Book of Virtues" (are you laughing yet?), and former Drug Czar under President George H. W. Bush. Can you spell I-R-O-N-Y?

Seeing something like this in print (a plethora of assertions with minimal footnotes, albeit with a list of relevant references at the end) merely adds to my motivation to publish the counterpoint to that view.


  1. Yes limited government, free-markets and liberty- what awful things they are!!! I still value liberty so I guess I need you to sign me up for the right social engineering program that can distort my brain enough to have a liberal world view. Show me the ways of falling in love with government!!! I need to believe in nothing but government, religion should be banned since it's not politically correct and doesn't conform to the Left's rigid litmus test of what constitutes good Truth. I want to be a fluffy-headed liberal who spends my entire life thinking there's nothing beyond this world, while waiting for a socialist utopia to emerge... I can't wait for government-instituted perfection, it'll be great!!!

  2. "On housing prices, Gosselin claims that "the rise in house prices and the recent plunge grew out of an almost unregulated corner of the mortgage market—the one for riskier loans." But in fact much of this problem arose from regulation. Jeffrey Hummel and I detailed how in Investors' Business Daily ("Blame the Feds, Not the Fed, For Subprime Mortgages," March 23, 2008). Federal government regulation contributed in three ways. First, the federal government helped cause the boom in housing prices by helping cause moral hazard: people taking risks because they know that if things turn out badly, someone else will bear some of the cost. The federal government's semiautonomous mortgage agencies—Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae—all buy and resell mortgages. Of the more than $15 trillion in mortgages in existence in early 2008, about one third were owned by, or were securitized by, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, the Federal Housing and Veterans Administration and other government agencies that subsidize mortgages.

    Although Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were no longer government agencies during the time period at issue, they were government- sponsored enterprises. Many buyers of their repackaged loans, therefore, assumed an implicit federal-government guarantee. That assumption, as we now know, was all too true. This implicit guarantee caused less scrutiny by lenders than otherwise, which helped drive up housing prices."

  3. You obviously don't have any sensible understanding of economics and never bother to investigate any facts beyond the selective ones presented in the newspapers you read. You are promoting another lie of the left that deregulation caused the recession. A blatant fallacy. Government was far more responsible than "free markets". Being that you're so irrationally liberal you probably have no business experience. I'll excuse your ignorance but I can't stand you perpetuating any misconception that we've had free markets in the last 25 years. If you knew anything about the tens of thousands of pages worth of business regulations, you'd know that the term "free markets" is a farce. I'm not suggesting that there's anywhere near enough government to appease your hard left ideas, but people who exist in a more balanced conception of reality scoff at this notion that what we have constitutes free markets. I've pasted part of an article for you to read that offers some of the facts about the impetus of the great recession. You'll probably ignore them or will just dismiss them. But you should be aware that there's a sensible reality outside your silly bubble.