In a temporary obsession over the mysteries of interstate taxation (a subject of forthcoming posts—skip alert!), I missed an important event until my twelve-year-old reminded me today: on September 23, Bruce Springsteen turned 65. Happy birthday, and God bless! And do let’s celebrate. Mick Jagger famously intoned that he’d rather be dead than sing “Satisfaction” at 45; how’s that working out for you, Mr. Geezer? Mr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who’s not much into revving up young people but would rather have government force them to subsidize others, wants to be dead at 75; let’s see how that plays out. Say about the…
The Secret Service has a difficult and important job but, like other government agencies, it appears to use failure as an excuse to grow its powers. The Secret Service has recently suggested screening tourists in a facility blocks away from the White House to detect threats and enlarge the buffer zone around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The agency floated this proposal immediately after an event of breathtaking incompetence.
When I was young, discrimination had a good name. It was the ability to distinguish between the good from the bad and to prefer the former to the latter. My teachers tried to form my taste so that I could discriminate, and I am grateful to them – more grateful than I seemed at the time – for that.
Since then, of course, the emotional charge of the word discrimination has changed. It is now entirely negative. It means to treat people not according to their individual merits, but badly because of the supposed characteristics of their group as assumed by brute prejudice. To discriminate is to be unfair, unjust and cold-hearted. Discrimination is at the root of many ills, not least of them poverty and inequality.
But is it ever rational to discriminate on the basis of group characteristics?
First the obligatories: The nauseating video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then fiancée, now wife, into unconsciousness in an Atlantic City casino should have landed him in the New Jersey state prison system. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell so badly bungled the case and the communications surrounding it that he ought to be disabused of the delusion that his very public job is a personal right to which he is entitled until conclusive evidence of actual wrongdoing separates him from it. And the number of domestic-violence cases in the NFL suggests a culture of lawlessness, not to mention simple indecency, among at least some of its players.
All true. And all of it was established, and was being vigorously and effectively debated, in the Tocquevillian sector—namely, civil society—without members of Congress queuing up to offer rhetorical interventions, from calls for official inquiries to demands that teams sit players under investigation. Some of their criticism was right, but on what authority—according to which of the 18 enumerated constitutional powers—were they acting? The moral-preening clause?
Recently, I read a very good book of historical fiction on Cicero. Robert Harris’s Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome tells the story of Cicero from his early career until his election to the consulship. Some years ago, I had started Anthony Everitt’s Cicero, which is admirable biography of Cicero, but somehow my interest waned and I didn’t finish the book. By contrast, Harris’s work had my interest throughout. There is something about a fictional biography – a work written about a person’s life but supplying details that the author does not know to be true – that makes it easier…
If Ezekiel Emanuel (age 57) had just stated his preference for dying at 75 or if he were a citizen uninvolved in public affairs, no attention need be paid. There is no use disagreeing with tastes, and the world is full of eccentrics. But Emanuel was one of the enthusiastic cheerleaders of the President’s health care plan, and he offers a lot of reasons to justify his preference. The considerations he adduces and those he fails to account for provide an unsettling perspective on the world view underlying some progressive support for Obamacare.
Insufficient interest in future innovation. Emanuel is concerned that, even if he lives longer than 75, he is likely to be a shadow of his former self. But Emanuel considers the world as it is today, not one that innovation could create when he is 75.
Here’s a summary of Peter Thiel’s take, as expressed recently in the Wall Street Journal, on the contrast between competition and monopoly:
Competition is not as marvelous, and monopoly is not as monstrous, as pop culture and economic theory proclaim. Entrepreneurial creativity brings incessant change, so competitive firms are lame nonentities while firms that win a monopoly position through innovation are magnificent benefactors to their owners and the general public alike.
Thiel is on the right track.
A few posts ago I introduced “citizen suits”—brought by private parties, usually advocacy organizations, in a capacity of “private attorneys general” against the government to make it do something—as an example of the derangement of our administrative and constitutional law. Here’s a bit more on the real-world aspects of the phenomenon, and a few more thoughts:
A ton of these cases are “deadline” suits. Environmental and, increasingly, many other statutes contain countless provisions saying that the administrator or agency “shall” regulate this, that, or the other thing by date “x.” More often than not, the agency misses the deadline, and the Association of Irritated Residents (an actual group) or some such outfit strolls into court and demands compliance. Agencies rarely fight these cases.