[emphasis in boldface type by Abyssum]


Following on the Reason forum I linked yesterday, The Federalist’s contributors weigh in on reform conservatism with a debate here. http://vlt.tc/1xky  I will quote from the most negative portion, from Rachel Lu: “It’s very strange to me that three separate people would read and respond to Levin’s piece without saying almost anything about subsidiarity, which was one of his major themes. One of the principal objectives of the Reformocons is to find ways to decentralize government. That seems to me like a conservative objective, and one that might help us to break the stranglehold of oppressive, faceless government institutions without just coming across as political obstructionists. (“The Party of No.”) So it’s odd that other participants in the roundtable didn’t have much to say about that.

“As I see it, there are two reasons why one might like the Reformocons. One is pragmatic. However much you hate the welfare state, elderly entitlements and so forth, simply abolishing them isn’t politically possible. It’s better to talk reform than to do nothing at all, but “nothing at all” has for the most part been the road taken by the GOP. Perhaps Reformocon suggestions aren’t all good, but at least they’re trying to come up with alternatives to the status quo that the general public might possibly accept. That’s a good thing.

“The other possibly-appealing thing is that Reformocons are willing to work with a “thicker” view of liberty and human good than many conservative intellectuals today are willing to countenance. All three respondents notice this and react with distaste, accusing Levin of social engineering, lacking faith in free enterprise, and so on. I confess that I’m laughing a little here about your essay in particular, because you accuse the Reformocons of being “crass” and then go on to make what to me seems like the most crass suggestion of the whole roundtable: that Reformocons only favor marriage and family over libertine alternatives is an expression of white-middle-class boosterism. Do you really believe that?

“To me it seems like a good portion of the conservative movement has in recent years has given itself over to what I sometimes snarkily describe as “a giant, bonanza celebration of the naked public square.” We’ve just accepted the (modern, secular) idea that a value-neutral government, suffused with aggressively secular commitments, is the only alternative to being suffocated by the modern administrative state. But as some of us see it, this vision is itself just a slightly-less-advanced version of the same disease, which can’t possibly function as a true or effective longer-term guardian of our liberty. Obviously a great many people disagree with this perspective, but it surely isn’t crass. I think the Reformocon approach (involving more subsidiarity, loosely supported by a more-substantive vision of human good) is an attempt to translate a more Aristotelian or perhaps Burkean strain of conservative though into a pragmatic policy agenda.”

A few responses: first, I absolutely believe that reformocons are engaged in “white middle class boosterism” out of a desire to wed principle with identity politics. I don’t view that as particularly insulting, just pragmatic (see the immigration policy views of most reformocons – not Yuval – on this matter). Second, I don’t view reformocon policies on marriage and family as particularly problematic or a “libertine alternative” as anything essential to a pro-growth agenda – reformocons don’t seem to break from traditional Republican views on marriage and family in any significant way, except perhaps in granting larger child tax credits to adopting gay couples? (That said, I don’t know the views of Salam, Strain, and Pethokoukis on gay marriage.) Third and finally, I don’t believe that reformocons in any way represent a more subsidiarity-focused brand of conservatism. The degree to which Yuval presented that perspective in his piece, it read to me as a defense of tried and true pure conservatism, not some new spin on the old ideas. As such I didn’t engage with it in my response because I don’t think of it as anything they are trying to reform, but rather rediscover. Reform conservatism has largely positive motivations – it’s just not very focused on limited government. That’s the problem.


Americans are still upset by how much they spend on utilities and groceries. http://vlt.tc/1xkw  “Since last June, the top three categories with the highest percentages of consumers saying they are “spending more” (groceries, utilities and healthcare) have stayed in the top five. Of these, only groceries showed a modest decline in the percentage of Americans saying they are spending more (three percentage points), while utilities and healthcare both inched up slightly (three points and two points, respectively). None of these changes, however, are statistically significant. Consistent with the steep decline in gas prices over the past year, the only category to show a major shift in spending is “gasoline or fuel,” in which 21% of Americans in March said they were spending more, compared with 50% in June 2014. Thirteen percent said they were spending less on gas last June compared with 55% this March. The net spending difference has shifted from +37 (spending more minus spending less) to -34.”

Dan Mitchell v. Reihan Salam on the flat tax. http://vlt.tc/1xl0  “I want to improve work incentives, but it’s important to realize that the EIC [Earned Income Credit] is “refundable,” which is simply an inside-the-beltway term for spending that is laundered through the tax code. In other words, the government isn’t refunding taxes to people. It’s giving money to people who don’t owe taxes. As an economist, I definitely think it’s better to pay people to work instead of subsidizing them for not working. But we also need to understand that this additional spending has two negative tax implications. When politicians spend more money, that either increases pressure for tax increases or it makes tax cuts more difficult to achieve. The EIC is supposed to boost labor force participation, but theevidence is mixed on this point, and any possible benefit with regards to the number of people working may be offset by reductions in actual hours worked because the phase out of the EIC’s wage subsidy is akin to a steep increase in marginal tax rates on additional labor supply. In any event, I don’t want the federal government in the business of redistributing income. We’ll get much better results, both for poor people and taxpayers, if state and local government compete and innovate to figure out the best ways of ending dependency.”

Facts about the minimum wage. http://vlt.tc/1xku  “About 20.6 million people (or 30% of all hourly, non-self-employed workers 18 and older) are “near-minimum-wage” workers. We analyzed public-use microdata from the Current Population Survey (the same monthly survey that underpins the BLS’s wage and employment reports), and came up with that estimate of the total number of “near-minimum” U.S. workers – those who make more than the minimum wage in their state but less than $10.10 an hour, and therefore also would benefit if the federal minimum is raised to that amount. The near-minimum-wage workers are young (just under half are 30 or younger), mostly white (76%), and more likely to be female (54%) than male (46%). A majority (56%) have no more than a high-school education.”

RELATED: Disinherited: How Washington is betraying America’s young. http://vlt.tc/1xiz Majority in US still see opportunity in foreign trade. http://vlt.tc/1xjs   Martin Feldstein on how GDP accounting underestimates growth and improvements in economic well-being. http://vlt.tc/1xir  Jeb Hensarling: Boeing’s threat to move American jobs overseas if Ex-Im Bank ends is ‘a bit of bluster.’ http://vlt.tc/1xiy  Largest US pensions divided on activism. http://vlt.tc/1xjj


Thomas G. West. http://vlt.tc/1xkt  “From the earliest colonial days, local governments took responsibility for their poor. However, able-bodied men and women generally were not supported by the taxpayers unless they worked. They would sometimes be placed in group homes that provided them with food and shelter in exchange for labor. Only those who were too young, old, weak, or sick and who had no friends or family to help them were taken care of in idleness…

“Poor children whose families could not provide for them, including orphans, were put out to suitable persons as apprentices so that they would learn “some art, trade, or business” while being of use to those who were training them. However, this was not to be done, in Jefferson’s plan, until they had attended public school for three years, if necessary at public expense.

“All the typical features of early American welfare policy can be seen in Jefferson’s descriptions and proposals: The government of the community, not just private charity, assumes responsibility for its poor. This is far from the “throw them in the snow” attitude that is so often attributed to pre-1900 America. Welfare is kept local so that the administrators of the program will know the actual situations of the persons who ask for help. This will prevent abuses and freeloading. The normal human ties of friendship and neighborliness will partly animate the relationship of givers and recipients.

“A distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor is carefully observed. Able-bodied vagabonds get help, but they are required to work in institutions where they will be disciplined. Children and the disabled, on the other hand, are provided for, not lavishly but without public shame. The homeless and beggars will not be abandoned, but neither will they populate the streets. They will be treated with toughness or mercy according to their circumstances.

“Jefferson’s idea of self-reliance was in fact family reliance, based on the traditional division of labor between husband and wife. Husbands were legally required to be their families’ providers; wives were not. Nonsupporting husbands were shamed and punished by being sent to the poorhouse. Poor laws to support individual cases of urgent need were not intended to go beyond a minimal safety net. Benefit levels were low. The main remedy for poverty in a land of opportunity was marriage and work.”


Don Devine on the importance of fusionism. http://vlt.tc/1xl2  “Even from the beginning, fusionism was used in two senses. First, it was viewed as political, as the coalition that built upon the magazine’s readership to bloom in the electoral campaigns of Barry Goldwater and Reagan. As political scientist Aaron Wildavsky later noted, linking traditionalists and libertarians creates a powerful coalition between two of the four basic political types. (His other two were “egalitarian” and “fatalist.”) Indeed, Wildavsky found this the most likely democratic governing coalition. And America’s new political movement did become enormously successful. It nominated Goldwater, and both nominated and elected Reagan. (Granted, this coalition would, over time, fuse so many different interests under the term “conservatism” that its extreme diversity came to undermine its intellectual integrity.)

“The second sense of the term—the one Reagan identified—was philosophical. Intellectually, fusionism represented a synthesis, at the center of which was the individual person. As Professor Larry Siedentop details in his 2014 book “Inventing the Individual,” notwithstanding minor earlier stirrings in Epicureanism and Stoicism, the idea of the morally equal individual arose for the first time in history under St. Paul (and Jesus), who in a major departure from past beliefs placed the individual rather than the family at the center of social and political life.

“This new individual was free to reject the family and traditions generally and yet was formed by them, existing therefore in a constant state of moral tension between them. The individual, by becoming the deciding moral agent, leaned toward freedom or toward tradition in concrete situations, but did not set either one as the pinnacle of a fixed ideological hierarchy.”


Heather Wilhelm. http://vlt.tc/1xko  “Friends, let us consider the mattress. Let us meditate upon it, not in its earth-bound, atom-based, material form, but as a symbol or Platonic form. The mattress is squishy. It lacks any backbone or sense of agency. It is easily manipulated. It is not a critical thinker; in fact, it does not think at all. You can probably see where I’m going here, so I’ll move on.

“Let us now contemplate modern feminism, a movement that drives university professors to offer agonized trigger warnings for poems like Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock,” which is not about rape, but about a young rapscallion who cuts off a piece of a lady’s hair. More importantly, let us look at the latest feminist shock study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, which claims, among other things, that a jaw-dropping 37 percent of American women will be victims of rape or attempted rape by the end of their freshman year in college.

“Let’s pretend, as a thought experiment, that these shocking numbers are accurate and representative of reality. (They are almost certainly not, thanks to flaws in the study—including some seriously cloudy numbers surrounding alcohol use—but work with me here.) If these mind-boggling numbers are real, after all, American women live in a savage, dangerous wasteland rivaling some of the worst war-torn environments in history, and maybe even the one in “Game of Thrones.”

“With this in mind, if you really care about women, shouldn’t your first priority be locking this army of perpetrators—male monsters, apparently still on the loose, ready to assault other women—in the clink? Shouldn’t item one on the feminist agenda involve encouraging women to officially report sex crimes, seek some real justice, and stop the alleged madness? Alas, in the world of today’s feminism, hand wringing is 80 percent of the fun.”

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. More fundamentally, the principle of subsidiarity is solidly based on the principle of free will. Each human being was giving by his creator the incredible freedom of decide whether to accept or deny the one overshadowing reality of this creature’s and the world’s existence: the existence of this creator, and consequently to return his love to this creator. Indeed the all loving creator gave that freedom because the love He seeks back from His creatures cannot be forced. If creatures are free to make that most important decision, they are all the more free to make a myriad of smaller decisions regarding their everyday lives. Liberals fundamentally do not believe in God, and this gift of free will therefore their vision is that human beings are weak, incapable of sustaining themselves and need an all-powerful state to protect them, Liberals do not believe in a God of Love and His plan for us: in this, they are following the plan of the Enemy of mankind. The Church should always present this matter of freewill when issues of subsidiarity come in the public forum. That will be an effective means of evangelization as well as of providing some sanity in public discourses and public affairs.

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