Mencken’s Clear Vision

by Don Boudreaux on December 26, 2008

in Politics

Here’s my latest column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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fundamentalist December 26, 2008 at 10:48 am

"The only way to success in American public life lies in flattering and kowtowing to the mob."

That's the real problem, not the politicians. You can't expect to have good politicians in a democracy when the voters are just as bad. A true republic might give us statesmen, but in a democracy as we have become, that will be absolutely impossible. Just as it is impossible to have good politicians, it's impossible to limit the power of those same politicians because the people don't want it limited. Mencken's only fault was that he blamed politicians instead of the people. Democracy has its own way of punishing a stupid, lazy and immoral citizenry: it elects politicians just like the people.

Flash Gordon December 26, 2008 at 12:12 pm

In California and New York the politicians are fooling the people by calling tax increases "fees." In California calling a tax a fee avoids having to have a super majority legislative approval, and in New York the motive is just to use the word "fee" to make voters less hostile to the idea.

And in both states the majority, i.e., the mob, seem to be falling for it. The do indeed get the government they deserve, and apparently desire.

The minority who see through the ruse don't desire it and don't deserve it, but will be stuck with it.

dg lesvic December 26, 2008 at 4:25 pm

With all due respect for the efforts of Mencken, and all the others, so far, in the fight for civilization, the fact is that it hasn't been enough, we haven't gotten to the root of the problem. Mises, Hayek, Boudreaux, and many others, have tried to lead us to it, "the bottom line," as Boudreaux called it.

If we're serious about the fight for civilization, we will heed their call to it, to the ultimate issue of civilization, redistribution.

muirgeo December 26, 2008 at 5:22 pm

"The only way to success in American public life lies in flattering and kowtowing to the mob."

H.L. Mencken

I have a Mencken book on my desk but have not read it. I wonder if he has a solution to dealing with the mob? In historical terms mobs were usually controlled in rather brutish ways I'm sure Mencken wouldn't approve of but does he have another way?
Me… I'm still convinced mob rule is best as imperfect as it is. Best we can do is better educate the mob.

brotio December 26, 2008 at 7:07 pm

"In historical terms mobs were usually controlled in rather brutish ways I'm sure Mencken wouldn't approve of but does he have another way?" – Mierduck

The Constitution of the United States attempted to diffuse the mob in many ways: An Electoral College to curb the power of populous states relative to less-populated states, limiting the power of any one branch of government, and limiting the scope and power of the federal government relative to the States.

Much of this diffusion has been done away with, most notably with the ratification of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments, and with the Supreme Court's unwillingness to enforce the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

The founders disliked mob rule (democracy) and did their best to try and check that power. Socialists like Mierduck love mob rule and the tyranny it brings; as witnessed by Mierduck's hearty support for stripping people of the right to secret ballot.

vidyohs December 26, 2008 at 7:52 pm

"Mencken's only fault was that he blamed politicians instead of the people. Democracy has its own way of punishing a stupid, lazy and immoral citizenry: it elects politicians just like the people.
Posted by: fundamentalist | Dec 26, 2008 10:48:57 AM"

I suggest you reconsider this, fundamentalist, because Mencken really was
a clever and intelligent guy, since you claim he missed that fact that democracy is the problem……well, I just can't get my thoughts around that suggestion. I believe he was ahead of you on that curve.

I believe any reading of Mencken will lead one to know that he understood the real problem as well as anyone. The fact that Don quoted Mencken assailing politicians in the manner he does is not establishing that Mencken did not understand the truth about politics. Nor do I think that was Don's intention or slip-up.

vidyohs December 26, 2008 at 8:04 pm

Don,

The last three paragraphs of your letter are really the pith.

Some one said, "If God didn't exist, man would have to create him."

Since we both know that not all men share the same God, why would we limit our understanding of the above quote to think that some one else's God must be the same kind of God we believe in.

Those who are incapable of believing in the diety of the Bible still need a God for the same reasons all men need a God.

Thus, the God of State, whose scripture is the writings of communism and socialism.

The religion of socialism has exactly the same attributes in every facet that reflects back to the public. A god, its own bible filled with scripture, believers, high priests, lesser priests, evangelicals, conversions, and hereitics (such as you and I).

Government can only be worshipped by those who fear to live their own lives in accordance to their own character and ambition, and fear to take responsibility for all that occurs as a result of their own individual pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

Sure are a lot of them, eh? Yet, because of them so much misery happens.

Gil December 26, 2008 at 10:09 pm

Why doesn't vidyohs, D. Boudreaux and co. not suggest another solution – privatise sovereign land ownership? If "well the Founding Fathers came closer to an idyllic nation yet it came to grief" then why not instead privatise the sovereignty and let competition see what happens?

Mesa Econoguy December 27, 2008 at 12:27 am

I have a Mencken book on my desk but have not read it.
Posted by: muirgeo | Dec 26, 2008 5:22:53 PM

Likely because you cannot read.

I wonder if he has a solution to dealing with the mob?
Posted by: muirgeo | Dec 26, 2008 5:22:53 PM

Quite. Literacy.

dg lesvic December 27, 2008 at 1:12 am

Gil,

I second your suggestion for "private sovereign land ownership."

But just suggesting it won't bring it about.

There is an obstacle to it that must be removed. Prof Boudreaux has told us what it is, the desire for plunder and redistribution.

So, is your suggestion, like the weather, something merely to be talked about, without doing anything about it, or are you willing to confront the ultimate obstacle in its path, the "bottom line," as Boudreaux called it, the issue of redistribution?

Gil December 27, 2008 at 5:53 am

I didn't suggest I was a Anarcho-Libber, dgl (Just do type in gilduck or vidyohsgoose ( }>:P ) into the search for this site for more). But I think I did pretty much convert vidyohs to Anarcho-Libertarianism. And, besides, private sovereign landownership is more or less a world made up of Monarchies.

dg lesvic December 27, 2008 at 6:35 am

Gil,

So, you're not in favor of "anarcho-libertarianism," but have converted others to it; why, because, to them, your opposition to it was a recommendation of it?

Your term "anarcho-libertarianism" implies that the free market is anarchy. To the contrary, it is a self-governing process, and, interference with it, interference with government, not itself government but anti-government, and not regulation but restriction of the market.

If your suggestion was for monarchy, why would you have expected Prof Boudreaux to have suggested it, too?

And, if you were not suggesting the completely free market, why not?

Gil December 27, 2008 at 7:03 am

Well dgl I think I may have converted vidyohs (he'll correct on this) because of his (and others like him) disdain of 'Gumvint'. If 'Govmint is thuggery' and 'taxes are theft' then why still offer 'Guvmint' a minimalist role in society? Why should 'Guvmint' have a special monopolistic privelege to land ownership, national defence, courts, etc., when Libertarians would argue elsewhere other goods & services should be left to the free market.

I agree that 'anarchy' is non-term because all societies, real and imagined, will have some sort of hierarchies. Anarcho-Libertairianism is a strand that says 'Guvmint' should be disbanded and all goods & services be held in private hands and competition will make the world a better place.

And, finally, I said that a world where land was held in private ownership and where landowners compete with each other and with landtenants would look the same and act pretty much the same as Monarchies. Triple H agreed to some extent and referred to Monarchies as 'privately-owned states'.

vidyohs December 27, 2008 at 10:45 am

Gilduck,

The delusion that you converted me to anything is in itself the most hilarious thing I have read in quite a long time.

No, my duckling, you just assign labels to people because you haven't the intellectual flexibility to deal with the complexity of individuals. Like most psuedo-intellectuals you have to have neat little pigeon holes because random chance and individuality just seems to drive you crazy.

Remember, duckling, that labels are meaningless until you confirm the product inside the package.

The answers to your first silly-ass question about privatizing sovereignty is included in this post of Don's, and in past post. My basic agreements with Don will also be found.

You share a common trait with muirduck, STrUmPiT, et. al., none of you can read and comprehend worth a damn, much less suffer yourself the imagination to understand how successive posts tie together.

dg lesvic December 27, 2008 at 12:56 pm

Gil,

Rushing to go out, now, so don't have time to wade through what at first glance seems like a lot of evasion and illogicality, so, to get right to the point: if you believe in the free market, and would fight for it, why wouldn't you follow Boudreaux's lead to the main and ultimate issue, redistribtuion?

Sam Grove December 27, 2008 at 1:33 pm

I think the ultimate issue is political power, which makes redistribution possible.
Or do you consider them the same issue?

Cheers December 27, 2008 at 2:34 pm

I think the ultimate issue is power itself. Both desired by the wielder and by the victim. Ultimately, whether it is wielded by the political class, the crown, or the corporation, at the end of the day, there is someone who wields the duality of protection and redistribution. Sometimes redistribution is used as a reason for protection, and sometimes protection is used to protect the redistributive element, but those two elements are constants.

The only question is how they come to pass, and how they are limited.

They can come to pass through despotic warlords, inheritances passed through monarchies, or by the vote of the people.

They can be limited by contest of strength, private armies, or by constitution.

It seems to me that when participating in society, it's simply a choice between those option sets.

TrUmPiT December 27, 2008 at 2:39 pm

I agree that redistribution would be unnecessary if everyone were rich. Or, maybe not. I had an econ professor who made a point that if everyone had a million dollars, then a million dollars wouldn't be worth much. If this is true, and who am I to question Phd economists, then apparently the evil system only works with a wealth differential. The rich can only be truly rich if they have poor people to slave for them. And this is what you support with your all your heart. I don't, needless to say.

Sam Grove December 27, 2008 at 3:36 pm

I had an econ professor who made a point that if everyone had a million dollars, then a million dollars wouldn't be worth much.

If everyone had a million dollars, then everyone would have to work and trade with each other from an equal base. There would come to pass a differential, because the product of some would be worth more than the product of others, some would be willing to work and produce more than other, some would have talents that make them worth more than others, etc.

Worth more to whom? To others.

apparently the evil system only works with a wealth differential.

There may be evil aspects in any systems, and they are worth addressing.
First, a definition of evil must be agreed upon before we can have meaningful discussion.

There is an inherent tendency in humans to ascribe opponents as evil.
This is a product of the "Us vs. Them" game, a manifestation of human tribal instincts.

Babinich December 27, 2008 at 4:05 pm

"I had an econ professor who made a point that if everyone had a million dollars, then a million dollars wouldn't be worth much."

I hope you didn't have to pay for this bit of wisdom…

Sam Grove December 27, 2008 at 4:35 pm

"I had an econ professor who made a point that if everyone had a million dollars, then a million dollars wouldn't be worth much."

It depends on what value the dollars represent.

If the dollars were created merely by running printing presses, then they would not be worth much. If the dollars were created in response to demand because of the need to facilitate trade of created value, that is, if the dollars represent the output of productive effort, then they are worth what they can buy.

who am I to question Phd economists

Ideally, an individual with a functioning and critical mind.

dg lesvic December 27, 2008 at 6:19 pm

Without going into all the reasons why Mises, Hayek, Boudreaux, and yours truly have felt that redistribution was "the crucial issue on which the whole character of future society will depend," as Hayek put it, can we agree that it merits at least some if not all of our attention.

Can we agree that this is the ultimate question of it: does taking from the rich to give to the poor reduce or increase inequality?

If we can agree, as apparently we have, that it doesn't reduce but increases inequality, why can we not agree that we ought, at least once in a while, to say so?

What would be so hard about saying so? When the Obamas talk of "spreading the wealth around," why could we not point out that the market already did so; why, when we they talk of reducing inequality, could we not point out that their method, taking from the rich to give to the poor, was completely counterproductive, that it didn't reduce but increased inequality?

Sam Grove December 27, 2008 at 7:48 pm

Redistribution makes the poor worse off and increases income disparity.

There, I've said it.

(Waiting for change)

dg lesvic December 27, 2008 at 8:24 pm

Now, Sam. did that really hurt so much?

And while that was pretty good, why not say it just right?

Taking from the rich to give to the poor does not reduce but increases inequality.

And here's a late news flash.

President-elect Obama has just announced that he will not take office, and recommends Ron Paul in his place!

Now, how's that for results?!

TrUmPiT December 27, 2008 at 8:39 pm

I agree with you that when a billionaire dies and leaves the bulk of his billions to his infant child, as was the case with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and his baby daughter, Christina that millions of poor people are made worse off and it results in continuing and nauseating income disparity. Therefore, we need hefty estate taxes to stop that dynasty-perpetuating nonsense. That goes for the Kennedy and Bush family as well. Had Bush not been born with a silver foot in his mouth, perhaps the country would have been spared his foul inheritance of the presidency. Twas a very rotten thing that the U.S. Supreme court did, too, to hand it to him on a silver platter. I agree with you 100%, Samuel Grove, although this may be the last time we agree 100% about anything.

Sam Grove December 27, 2008 at 9:11 pm

I agree with you that when a billionaire dies and leaves the bulk of his billions to his infant child, as was the case with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and his baby daughter, Christina that millions of poor people are made worse off and it results in continuing and nauseating income disparity.

Made worse off?

I doubt that it made much difference at all.

dg lesvic December 27, 2008 at 9:21 pm

Trumped,

Granted that taking from the rich and taking from their heirs are not exactly the same thing, but they're close enough to have basically the same result, making the poor poorer. Is that what you really want?

Gil December 27, 2008 at 9:36 pm

Why dicker over inequality? Inequality should increase because it's all to easy to imagine poor-arse societies and poor-arse people. Rich societies keep moving on getting wealthier and wealthier and poor-arse societies stay were they are therefore people have to get more unequal. Simple.

Gil December 27, 2008 at 9:45 pm

Say vidyohsgoose have you swaggered over to http://www.mises.org for a gander? :V

You disagree against Guvmint being disbanded and privatised so what do think Guvmint should be and what taxes are legitimate to support it and what laws are worthy to obey?

Crazy-arse talk of 'voluntary' Guvmint running off donations is either a joke or some sort of cutesy vague club with no real power such as the Vatican (as in most Catholics ignore the Popes' views on sex, abortions, homosexuality, etc.).

TrUmPiT December 27, 2008 at 10:03 pm

Do you think a 2 year old baby knows how to run a billion dollar shipping company better than the government would? you guys are warped and nuts. Good night.

Maximum Frank December 27, 2008 at 10:24 pm

Here is our libertarian blog, complete with a sharp critique of Paul Krugman's latest op-ed!

http://thelibertas.wordpress.com/

Babinich December 27, 2008 at 10:42 pm

TrUmPiT on Dec 27, 2008 @ 8:39:09 PM

"I agree with you that when a billionaire dies and leaves the bulk of his billions to his infant child, as was the case with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and his baby daughter, Christina that millions of poor people are made worse off and it results in continuing and nauseating income disparity."

Why are millions of poor people worse off? How exactly would the government spend that confiscated money?

It is disillusion to believe that the government, any government, is better at allocating confiscated wealth to noble causes than the individual whose wealth was confiscated.

Life is unfair… In cases like this, reality, it is incumbent on the wronged individual to exercise their will to balance the scales.

John Locke said that "no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, or possessions."

Now what do we have? Locke turned on his ear. Why? Not for any philanthropic purpose but for the consolidation of power through class warfare.

Never do those that "divvy up the pie" live the lives they impose on others.

This ideology of robbing Peter to pay Paul is wicked and has to be defeated at every turn.

brotio December 27, 2008 at 10:46 pm

"Do you think a 2 year old baby knows how to run a billion dollar shipping company better than the government would?"

The government took possession of the Mustang Ranch in Nevada and lost money. The government can't even make money in the Oldest Profession (yet Mierduck thinks government should run the health care industry). A two-year-old couldn't do any worse.

dg lesvic December 27, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Gil,

Whatever is "simple," trying to make sense of what you're saying certainly is not.

Here's what is simple. You either want to be free or you don't. If you do, you've got to combat the primary motivation for enslaving you, the desire for plunder and redistribution, and, specifically, the notion that plunder pays. You've got to show that it doesn't, that it is counterproductive, bringing about the exact opposite result of what was intended.

Then, and only then, will you be free, if that's what you want.

Trumped,

You asked if I think that a 2 year old baby knows how to run a billion dollar shipping company better than the government would?

No, I do not. What makes you think I would?

It may be simple for you to decide how the world should be, but not so simple getting it that

Babinich December 27, 2008 at 10:53 pm

Gil on Dec 27, 2008 @ 9:45:07 PM

"Crazy-arse talk of 'voluntary' Guvmint running off donations is either a joke or some sort of cutesy vague club with no real power such as the Vatican (as in most Catholics ignore the Popes' views on sex, abortions, homosexuality, etc.).

emphasis mine…

Those folks are not Catholics so do your best to put them in some other strata like hedonist…

Sam Grove December 27, 2008 at 10:56 pm

"Do you think a 2 year old baby knows how to run a billion dollar shipping company better than the government would?"

If anyone thinks that was actually the case, well, stupid may be too good a word for them.

Gil December 27, 2008 at 11:30 pm

Huh? How exactly are you super-duper unfree dgl? Yeah you can't get all you want but so what? Yeah you don't Guvmint telling you what the maximum speed you can do a public road however you'd could drive on a privatised road system would have speed limits too but that'd be OK because it's the free market at work. Or, better yet, the Guvmint dares to compromise your rights to carry firearms yet a private owner could tell you to "check your guns at the door if you want to enter". How embarrassing if a shooting occurred on that private property and you were left defenceless because of a private owner just as easily as the Guvmint? On the grand scheme, you are free, there's no 'world guvmint', and besides, someone has to own land and sooner or later you're going to move to someone's else land and have abide by their rules and regulations.

Gil December 27, 2008 at 11:40 pm

Do elaborate babinich. The point that Catholics can pick and choose which edicts the Popes have issued illustrates the point I made of wishy-washy 'power' institutions. What difference does it make if those who don't follow 'true' Catholicism shouldn't have the right their maintain their right to call themselves 'Catholic'?

Perhaps one good example of power was when the Japanese Emperor ordered the Japanese forces to surrender – and they did. The Pope can waffle on against contraception, abortion, etc., and must be dismayed when most (Western) Catholics take this as mere suggestions and pretty much ignore him.

Hence my question of why talk of a voluntary government? Presumably this is a government funded by voluntary fees, can make edicts, have everyone pretty much ignore them and not bother to contribute and it dissipates. If the current U.S. government was converted to this then what happens when this voluntary government dissipates? Does all the public land, roads, etc., get privatised anyway?

dg lesvic December 28, 2008 at 12:20 am

Gil,

It seems to me that we are from two different dimensions, and any meeting of the minds is impossible. So, sorry, but, where you're concerned, I give up.

Sam Grove December 28, 2008 at 1:15 am

Lefties frequently accuse libertarians of advocating "law of the jungle" or "survival of the fittest" in our support of free markets.

Question: Why do they suppose these rules aren't extant in the political realm?

Gil December 28, 2008 at 2:47 am

I wasn't advocating 'survival of the fittest' let alone 'law of the junle' rather that private ownership may not be substantially different (in the areas still left public) since private owners have the same rights to exclusion as the government does.

Crusader December 28, 2008 at 4:24 am

Here's one thing I don't get. If Libertarians are an "utter joke", "1% of the electorate", blah blah blah, why do lefties come here and troll us relentlessly as though we had power?

Babinich December 28, 2008 at 5:47 am

Gil on Dec 27, 2008 @ 11:40:15 PM

"Do elaborate babinich. The point that Catholics can pick and choose which edicts the Popes have issued illustrates the point I made of wishy-washy 'power' institutions."

Your use of the term "wishy-washy" is meant as a perjorative. So I'll discount this statement as sensationalism.

In truth, all you've done is point out that people have free will.

"The Pope can waffle on against contraception, abortion, etc., and must be dismayed when most (Western) Catholics take this as mere suggestions and pretty much ignore him."

The Pope has not waffled on these issues. I am sure the Pope is disheartened by those that turn away from the teaching of the Church. I am equally as sure that the Pope is heartened by the millions of Catholics who cherish life and assume responsibility for their actions.

Again you use an adjective "Western" as a pejorative. All non "Western" Catholics are assumed to be less than qualified to reason out the alternatives available to them as the result of an action.

Again, the case is very simple: you can no more be a Catholic if you disregard the teachings of the Church than can an individual be a Boy Scout if that individual disregards one of the points of the Boy Scout Oath.

Randy December 28, 2008 at 7:02 am

Trumpit,

"nauseating income disparity"

This really makes you physically ill? Wow. Perhaps you should see a doctor, but my recommendation would be to get a life.

dg lesvic December 28, 2008 at 1:15 pm

I still say that taking from the rich to give to the poor makes the poor poorer.

Are all the Lefties here in favor of making the poor poorer?

Cheers December 28, 2008 at 2:48 pm

To be frank, I'm confused at the difficulty regarding the allocation of resources. It's not a question of who's better at running a shipping company or some such venture. The answer is crystal clear. The person who created the venture is best suited to run it. All others (including both THE TRUST OF THE child and government) are incapable and fall short (though you could make arguments that one is marginally better than the other).

The real issue is that of motivation. Ultimately, as much as anyone wishes to believe, neither individuals, businesses or politicians are going to use the money for the "public good" as their main purpose. They will use it for their own good. Period. The only question is in which of those three situations is "best".

My question in all of this is to Trumpit, specifically, how much money should you be allowed to leave to your children and loved ones, and what argument would you make that disallows me from leaving my property to them?

dg lesvic December 28, 2008 at 3:45 pm

Cheers,

It's nice to see someone here who's really serious. So many I think are just lonesome people crying out for attention. I know. I'm one of them.

The question is not, who is better suited to run the venture, after the passing of its founder, but who better to select his successor, the founder himself or his usurpers?

And, as you said, motivation is the key issue. Being able to leave wealth to one's family is an incentive for creating it, depriving the family of it a disincentive.

And that is part of the reason why taking from the rich to give to the poor makes the poor poorer.

Do you notice that none of the Lefties here dare challenge that conclusion. They have no defense against it. It is their Achilles Heel, and where we should hit them.

muirgeo December 28, 2008 at 11:09 pm

I still say that taking from the rich to give to the poor makes the poor poorer.

Are all the Lefties here in favor of making the poor poorer?

Posted by: dg lesvic

Offer some evidence to support your claim.

dg lesvic December 29, 2008 at 12:59 am

Mr Muir,

There is no evidence, just economic logic. I have presented it here many times. I'm sure you have seen it. Nonetheless, at your request, I shall do so again. This time, pay attention.

Attenhut!

Taking from the rich to give to the poor doesn't just draw money but manpower downward upon the hierarchy of production, and the manpower faster than the money. For manpower doesn't merely follow money but anticipates it. And, with manpower and competition among the poor increasing faster than the redistributed money, they'll be poorer than they would have been without it.

That is but an oversimplified introdution to the theory. For the whole ugly mess, The Forbidden Theory of Redistribution, click on my name below.

dg lesvic December 29, 2008 at 1:00 am

Try clicking on it here.

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