Why, I'm Old Enough to Remember…

… this old National Lampoon cover:


That's where my depraved mind went when I saw the latest Reason cover:

[Buy this magazine or the bird gets it]

Yes: If you don't buy this magazine, we'll shoot this stork.

But the referenced article is very good. Elizabeth Nolan Brown says Storks Don't Take Orders From the State.

On the left and the right, in Europe and the United States, a consensus is growing: People aren't having enough kids—not enough to support the welfare state, not enough to preserve the culture, not enough to keep advanced economies young, thriving, and entrepreneurial.

The last time the U.S. was at replacement level fertility (the number of kids the average woman must have to stave off population decline, without immigration) was 2007. Replacement level fertility is roughly 2.1 kids per woman. Since then, America's total fertility rate dropped to 1.66. This, in turn, led to a lot of unanswered questions about the fate of federal entitlement programs, innovation, education, politics, and culture in an aging country.

To many, the solution is obvious: Americans should have more children. Yet pro-natalist policies have a weak track record in every country where they've been tried. They're incredibly expensive, they produce few or no gains in fertility, and they can lead to a disturbingly authoritarian form of governance where individual choices about family formation are deprioritized and women are pressured to have babies for the national good. Efforts to control birthrates at the population level inevitably end with efforts to control women at the individual level. Meanwhile, birthrates have declined in tandem with several social upsides as well: better education, greater wealth, longer life spans, and more freedom for women.

ENB convincingly argues that we are, for better or worse, on track for vastly different demographics, no matter what governments do. That's not necessarily bad, but government policies that depend on an ever-increasing supply of young taxpaying workers are likely to break.

Briefly noted:

  • And a weary country moans and searches for the TV remote. Charles C. W. Cooke welcomes back his friends to the show that seemingly never ends: The Trump & CNN Show Returns.

    Rarely in the history of popular entertainment have we played witness to a duo as gainfully co-dependent as CNN and Donald Trump. Hall and Oates, Statler and Waldorf, and Rodgers and Hammerstein can all eat their hearts out. Sure, they did some good work. Certainly, they complemented one another. Yeah, when you think of one, the other appears sua sponte from the ether and glues himself to the billboard. But Trump and CNN? That’s next-level Hollywood gold. They laugh. They cry. They spar. They correct each other’s sentences. And then, when the cameras stop rolling, they guffaw all the way to the bank. There’s no business like show business.

    Season One of The Trump & CNN Show ran from 2015 to 2016. Season Two, which was finally greenlit yesterday afternoon, will start in New Hampshire on May 10. As with the first version, the locations and stories are expected to vary, but CNN has confirmed that episode one will take the form of a “presidential town hall next week in New Hampshire” that will serve as Trump’s “first appearance on CNN since the 2016 presidential campaign.” By all accounts, Donald Trump was as keen to rekindle the relationship as CNN, whose “executives,” a senior Trump adviser told Semafor, “made a compelling pitch” to the former president. Having received the offer, Trump swiftly agreed that it was time “to jumpstart the relationship,” and the rest was history. At this point, it is unclear whether CNN’s spin-off show, #Resistance, will be brought back for a second run.

    Also chiming in at NR was Mr. Indispensable, in an addendum to his Morning Jolt column. (Which is mostly about Biden's vaccine mandate floperoo.)

    Does anyone else find it a little odd that for the past two to three years, or even longer, so many contributors to CNN characterized former president Donald Trump as a “threat to democracy,” “terrifying,” a “vibrant threat to democracy”; how his team “adopts the narratives of autocracy,” how he’s “dangerous,” how January 6 “appears darker and more dangerous by the day. . . .”

    . . . and then the network turns round and agrees to host a live televised town hall with him on May 10?

    How exactly is CNN going to promote this? “He’s the vibrant threat to democracy that you don’t want to miss! He led a coup, wants to be a dictator, and will stop at nothing to punish anyone he deems an obstacle — and we’re putting him the spotlight for a whole hour, live! You never know what he’ll say or do next — so tune in next Wednesday!”

    I remember during the runup to the 2016 primary season, I was in an Epping restaurant where a big screen was tuned to CNN. And there was a lengthy live shot of Trump's campaign plane about to land somewhere in South Carolina. Which seemed to last throughout my meal. Whenever I looked up: yup, plane still flying.

    Slow news day, I suppose. Still: did no cute zoo animals give birth that day? Did no toddler fall down a well? No, the big news, deserving live coverage, was Trump's plane about to land in South Carolina.

  • I hear you asking, friend: Will repealing the payroll tax cap save Social Security? Well, Kevin D. Williamson has your answer: Repealing the Payroll-Tax Cap Won’t Save Social Security.

    Gail Collins, one of the most tedious repeaters of cheap partisan talking points in the business, has some thoughts about Social Security. 

    In one of her regular New York Times conversations with Bret Stephens—the asymmetry in partisanship is dramatic—Collins says:

    [M]y top priority for fixing government finances is to get the rich to pay their fair share of Social Security taxes. … Right now, the Social Security tax cap is so low that anybody who’s made a million dollars or more this year has already maxed out. You and I are getting taxed right now, but Elon Musk isn’t.

    This is, of course, nonsense. 

    It is not the case that anybody who has made $1 million this year (as of May 1) has already maxed out. It is the case that anybody who has made $160,200 has maxed out—because $160,200 is the cap, after which your income is still taxed in all sorts of ways, but not subjected to the payroll tax that, in the great fiction of Washington accounting, “funds” Social Security. 

    KDW also takes on that execrable "fair share" bit of boilerplate. Really, I despise it when comes from politicians' mouths—they're in the business of bullshit, after all. But it's really obnoxious when it comes from a "journalist".

    I assume that the folks paying that "fair share" tax wouldn't actually get increased benefits at retirement reflecting their increased "contribution". That's the progressive definition of fair: not really fair at all.

  • "Unconstitutional?" Maggie laughed and exclaimed, "Why, fiddle-dee-dee!" At TechDirt, Mike Masnick has a little list: Bipartisan Panic: 26 Senators Support Terrible, Dangerous, Unconstitutional ‘KOSA Act’.

    Passing blatantly unconstitutional dangerous laws “to protect the children” based on totally unsubstantiated moral panics appears to be part of a bipartisan mass hysteria these days. The Kids Online Safety Act, or KOSA, is officially back. And, with it, the recognition that over a quarter of the Senate has bought into this dangerous, unconstitutional nonsense:

    It’s sponsored by long-term anti-internet Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn, and has a ton of co-sponsors, who seem all too eager to support this kind of nonsense:

    The Kids Online Safety Act has been cosponsored by U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Katie Britt (R-Ala.). More cosponsors may be added during today’s session.

    If you see your senator in that list, … well, my sympathies.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:03 AM EDT

The True Believer

Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

At some point in my life, I acquired this slim, dog-eared, heavily underlined and student-annotated, spine-cracked paperback for (the sticker on the front cover says) 75¢—list price $1.95. (The Amazon link is to the in-print version: $10.99.) After decades of neglect, it's about time I read it.

I seem to remember that a number of courses I avoided taking in high school and college used it as a text. Well, I bet those courses would be pretty hard to find now. One of the first things I noticed was that the author, Eric Hoffer, was given to broad generalizations about entire classes of people, most of which (um) could be perceived as negative. You can't get away with that sort of thing these days.

Anyway, it was considered important back then, I kept seeing complimentary references to it, and I finally got around to reading it. As the subtitle indicates, Hoffer's book is a finely detailed analysis of the "nature of mass movements". Some of Hoffer's prime examples are Nazism in Germany; the Bolsheviks in Russia; the French Revolution; the rise of Christianity. There are a lot of moving parts, but the biggie for a "mass movement" are the masses, the foot soldiers, the true believers. Hoffer is not complimentary: they are motivated by resentment and a perception of their own inadequacies. They long for belonging, action, even self-sacrifice for a Cause, and they're not particular about the details. (Hoffer mentions that, historically, it's been pretty easy to turn (say) Nazi sympathizers into Communist sympathizers, and vice versa.)

Other components: leaders, "men of action", and "men of words". (Another reason this book might not be as popular in colleges now: as near as I can remember, there are no women present on Planet Hoffer. That wasn't a problem in my academic days, but now…) They all have important parts to play. Come to think of it, this might make a pretty good how-to book for aspiring revolutionary leaders.

(The book came out in 1951. Although there are a couple (negative) mentions of Chiang Kai-Shek, I didn't notice anything about Mao. That would have made a pretty interesting addition.)

One problem with the book: I don't think anyone—even an actual True Believer-is likely to recognize themselves here. But it's pretty easy to pick out descriptive passages and apply them to people we don't like. Section 90 rattles off some characteristics of a leader: "fanatical conviction that he is in posession of the one and only truth"; "faith in his destiny and luck"; "a capacity for passionate hatred"… are you thinking of any particular politician you know?

And it's full of fascinating trivia. Here's something I didn't know: the rise of Christianity happened primarily in large cities of the day. The words pagan and heathen derive from old words for "villagers" (pagani) and those inhabitants of the countryside (the heath).

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:55 AM EDT