Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Federal Reserve and the Great Depression

Did the Federal Reserve fall down on the job and fail to do what it could to stem the Great Depression? Yes. Would things have been better if had there been no Federal Reserve at all? Definitely not.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

North, Wallis, and Weingast: Economic History Seminar for March 19

Economics 211 for Monday: Douglass North, John Wallis, and Barry Weingast (2007), "A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History" (Cambridge: NBER: 12795)

J. Bradford DeLong (2007), "What Should We Think About When Refounding the International Monetary System?"

J. Bradford DeLong (2007), "What Should We Think About When Refounding the International Monetary System?" in Richard Samans, Marc Uzan, and Augusto Lopez-Claros, eds., The International Monetary System, the IMF, and the G-20 (London: Palgrave Macmillan: 9780230524958).

History as Tragedy: The Peloponnesian War: Hoisted from the Archives

Atrios is talking about the Kagan family--Yale historian father Donald and neoconservative hack children Fred and Robert. This reminds me that I wrote something about the (relatively) smart one--father Donald--several years ago, back when we were reading his one-volume Peloponnesian War:

History as Tragedy: The Peloponnesian War: Hoisted from the Archives: The Thirteen-Year-Old got Donald Kagan's (2003) Peloponnesian War (one volume) for Christmas.... [T]he New Yorker's Daniel Mendelsohn [certainly] doesn't think much of it:

Daniel Mendelsohn: Critic at Large: Kagan... informs us that... he wants his work to "meet the needs of readers in the 21st century"... "an uninterrupted account will better allow readers to draw their own conclusions." Uninterrupted, yes, but not unbiased... you tend to come away from his history with an entirely different view of the war than the one you take away from Thucydides....

The only way to do this, unfortunately, is [for Kagan] to flatten Thucydides's presentation of the Peloponnesian War, stripping away the many voices and points of view that [Thucydides] worked so hard to include.... Thucydides tends to be shy about overtly intruding.. not so Kagan. This is most apparent in [Kagan's] revisionist championing of Cleon and other Athenian hawks, whose policies he consistently presents as the only reasonable choice. "It is tempting to blame Cleon for the breaking off of the negotiations," goes a typical bit of rhetorical strong-arming. "But what, realistically, could have been achieved?" Anyone who hasn't read Thucydides will be inclined to agree. [Thucydides's own] explanation of the Athenians' distaste for peace was that "they were greedy for more."

The desire to rehabilitate Cleon inevitably results in a corresponding denigration of the [Athenian] peace party (with its "apparently limitless forbearance") and of the cautious policies recommended first by Pericles and then by Nicias, a figure for whom Kagan has particular disdain. Here Kagan's revisionism borders on being misleading. Nicias had tried to bluff the Athenian Assembly into abandoning the invasion of Sicily, declaring that it would require far greater expense than people realized; but they simply approved the additional ships and troops. This leads Kagan, bizarrely, to characterize the Sicilian Expedition as "the failed stratagem of Nicias." As for the Athenians' massacre of the Melians, Kagan dismisses it as "the outlet they needed for their energy and frustration."

Kagan's perspective on events and personalities at first suggests an admirable desire to see the war with fresh and unsentimental eyes. But after a while it becomes hard not to ascribe his revisionism to plain hawkishness, a distaste for compromise and negotiation when armed conflict is possible. His book represents the Ollie North take on the Peloponnesian War: "If we'd only gone in there with more triremes," he seems to be saying, "we would have won that sucker."

It is certainly the case that I have always found it very strange that Kagan is not much, much more hesitant than he is to dismiss and overturn Thucydides's analytical conclusions and moral judgments. Thucydides, after all, was there. We know next to nothing about the Peloponnesian War that he did not. He knew a great deal about the Peloponnesian War that did not make it into his book. His judgments are based on much more information than we have now, whether he lays out that information in a manner that is to Donald Kagan's liking or not.

Actually, we do know one important, big thing about the Classical Greek world that Thucydides did not know (and that, strangely, Kagan appears not to know). There is a deep, powerful sense in which time was on the side of Athens and its empire. Each decade that the war between Sparta and Athens remained cold rather than hot was a decade for metics and immigrants to the Geek world to think whether they wanted to live in Spartan-allied oligarchies dominated by a closed guild of landowners, or in Athenian-allied places where the (male, citizen) demos ruled and where there was much more growth, commerce, trade, and opportunity.

Each decade that the war between Sparta and Athens remained cold rather than hot was a decade for rich Spartiates to marry the daughters of other rich Spartiates, and for poor Spartiates to find that they could no longer afford the Spartan lifestyle and so drop out of the citizen body--and of the main line of battle. By 350 Sparta could--this is a guess--put only one-fifth as many professional hoplite soldiers into the line of battle as it could have two centuries before. Each decade that the war was postponed was a decade for Athens, its economy, its trade network, and its empire outside of Achaea and Aetolia to grow. A policy of postponing the showdown--even if one of "apparently limitless forbearance"--was a policy of greatly increasing the relative strength of the Athenian side.

But what is most disappointing to Mendelsohn (and most disappointing to me) is that he finds Kagan's Peloponnesian War to be a very different and much less interesting thing than Thucydides's Peloponnesian War (or, I would argue, than the Peloponnesian War wie es eigentlich gewesen). The lessons from Kagan's Peloponnesian War appear to be that war against Bad Guys calls for Harsh Measures and Total Mobilization.

By contrast, Mendelsohn writes, the lessons from Thucydides's Peloponnesian War:

...are no different from the ones that the tragic playwrights teach: that the arrogant self can become the abject Other; that failure to bend, to negotiate, inevitably results in terrible fracture; that, because we are only human, our knowledge is merely knowingness, our vision partial rather than whole, and we must tread carefully in the world...

But let's give Thucydides himself the last word:

[W]ar... proves a rough master that brings most men's characters to a level with their fortunes... the cunning of their enterprises and the atrocity of their reprisals. Words had to change their ordinary meaning.... Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence.

The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries.... The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions... not with a generous confidence. Revenge also was held of more account than self-preservation. Oaths of reconciliation... only held good so long as no other weapon was at hand; but when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it... thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one, since... success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence....

The leaders in the cities... on the one side with the cry of political equality... on the other of a moderate aristocracy... [recoiled] from no means in their struggles... in their acts of vengeance they went to even greater lengths, not stopping at what justice or the good of the state demanded, but making the party caprice of the moment their only standard.... Thus every form of iniquity took root...

Emmanuel Saez Writes in About American Income Inequality Rising Rapidly in 2005

He says:

The IRS has released yesterday the preliminary stats for year 2005 which I have used to extend my [and Thomas Piketty's] series [on the top income share by tax return unit] to 2005, posted at:

2005 shows a very large increase in income concentration: the top 1% gains 14% in real terms from 2004 while the bottom 99% gains less than 1% (when including capital gains). The [previous] record peak of 2000 is surpassed even though 2005 is less of a high capital gains, high stock option year than 2000. By 2005, it looks like top incomes are showing strongly along all components: wages, business income, dividends, and capital gains.

The striking thing about 2003-2005 is the huge increase at the top with quasi-stagnation below the top 1%. In the late Clinton years, the top gained enormously but at least the bottom was also making progress (something you can see on Fig A2)...

In Praise of Keynes's "Tract on Monetary Reform"

JOHN Maynard Keynes's "Tract on Monetary Reform" may be his best book. It is certainly his best Monetarist book.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Muffin Joke Is So Funny!

Jack Balkin says that the muffin joke is so funny:

Balkinization: Repeat after me: The Muffin Joke is NOT funny: This article [by John Tierney] in the New York Times asserts that the muffin joke is not funny; we only laugh at it because we want to get along with other people in social situations.I disagree. When I first heard the muffin joke, I thought it was very funny. Still do.... The muffin joke is funny because it is self-undermining. The punch line undermines the suspension of disbelief that the joke's narrative presumes. It is kind of like breaching the fourth wall in drama. It's like the line in Dr. Strangelove "You can't fight in here. This is the War Room!" or the Atheist Hymn we came up with in high school: "There is no God, there is no God, He told me so himself"...

I agree: I think the muffin joke is so funny. Why, it is even funny when told by as low-status an individual as John Tierney:

What’s So Funny? Well, Maybe Nothing - New York Times: Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Schopenhauer, Freud and the many theorists who have tried to explain laughter based on the mistaken premise that they’re explaining humor. Occasionally we’re surprised into laughing at something funny, but most laughter has little to do with humor. It’s an instinctual survival tool for social animals, not an intellectual response to wit. It’s not about getting the joke. It’s about getting along....

“Laughter is an honest social signal because it’s hard to fake,” Professor Provine says. “We’re dealing with something powerful, ancient and crude. It’s a kind of behavioral fossil showing the roots that all human beings, maybe all mammals, have in common.”... Professor Panksepp thinks the brain has ancient wiring to produce laughter so that young animals learn to play with one another. The laughter stimulates euphoria circuits in the brain and also reassures the other animals that they’re playing, not fighting. “Primal laughter evolved as a signaling device to highlight readiness for friendly interaction,” Professor Panksepp says. “Sophisticated social animals such as mammals need an emotionally positive mechanism to help create social brains and to weave organisms effectively into the social fabric.”...

Which brings us back to the muffin joke. It was inflicted by social psychologists at Florida State University on undergraduate women.... The women put in the underling position were a lot more likely to laugh at the muffin joke (and others almost as lame) than were women in the control group.... In some cases the woman watching was designated the boss; in other cases she was the underling or a co-worker of the person on the videotape. When the woman watching was the boss, she didn’t laugh much at the muffin joke. But when she was the underling or a co-worker, she laughed much more, even though the joke-teller wasn’t in the room to see her. When you’re low in the status hierarchy, you need all the allies you can find, so apparently you’re primed to chuckle at anything even if it doesn’t do you any immediate good...

Is 1.5 Million Home Foreclosures This Year a Big Number or a Small Number?

Bob Ivry on the housing bust:

Bob Ivry: Foreclosures May Hit 1.5 Million in U.S. Housing Bust: March 12 (Bloomberg) -- Hold on to your assets. The deepest housing decline in 16 years is about to get worse. As many as 1.5 million more Americans may lose their homes, another 100,000 people in housing-related industries could be fired, and an estimated 100 additional subprime mortgage companies that lend money to people with bad or limited credit may go under, according to realtors, economists, analysts and a Federal Reserve governor....

The spring buying season, when more than half of all U.S. home sales are made, has been so disappointing.... ``The correction will last another year,'' said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's in West Chester, Pennsylvania. ``Fewer people qualifying for mortgages means there will be less borrowers, and that will weigh on demand.''.... [N]ew-home sales have declined 28 percent since September 2005....

The subprime crisis ``has taken the fuel out of the real estate market,'' said Edward Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast in Los Angeles. ``The market needs new money in order to appreciate, and all of that money is gone for a very long time. The regulators are not going to allow it to happen again.''

Henry Gonzales lies to Congress:

Think Progress: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales assured the Senate Judiciary Committee....

GONZALES: And so let me publicly sort of preempt perhaps a question you're going to ask me, and that is: I am fully committed, as the administration's fully committed, to ensure that, with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney. I think a United States attorney who I view as the leader, law enforcement leader, my representative in the community -- I think he has greater imprimatur of authority, if in fact that person's been confirmed by the Senate.

But in mid-December, an e-mail by Gonzales's chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson (who resigned yesterday), showed that the Justice Department clearly intended to... appoint U.S. attorneys that would serve until the end of Bush's term [without confirmation]:

There is some risk that we'll lose the authority, but if we don't ever exercise it then what's the point of having it?

Gonzales also told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department was "working with home state senators."... But... e-mails show... Justice officials "discussed bypassing the two Democratic senators in Arkansas, who normally would have had input into the appointment."

Kash writes:

The Street Light: February Jobs Report: [J]ob creation for February. .. was about as expected: "Nonfarm payroll employment continued to trend up (+97,000), and the unemployment rate (4.5 percent) was essentially unchanged in February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. Employment grew in some service-providing industries but declined sharply in construction. Manufacturing employment continued to trend downward. Average hourly earnings rose by 6 cents, or 0.4 percent, over the month."

The job market has been gradually cooling over the past several months (not that it was ever really hot), and this report is consistent with that trend.... And what parts of the economy are cooling down the most, you wonder?... [T]he construction industry has led the way toward a weaker job market, but nearly all sectors of the economy have seen some slowdown in job creation, with the exception of the government and leisure & hospitality sectors.

Hand-in-hand with weaker job growth comes weak earnings growth by workers, of course. To the $10 per week increase in take-home pay that the average production worker has received since the year 2000, in February they were able to add another $0.30. Unfortunately, that only made up for about half of the fall in average weekly pay that they took home in January.

Found at Eschaton:

Eschaton: Andrea Mitchell, Hardball just now: "They're going to try to really tamp this down and appeal to the polling which indicates that most people think, in fact, that he should be pardoned. Scooter Libby should be pardoned." CNN poll says 18% support pardon. Ah, modern journalism.

I'm sorry I missed this: >The Jefferson Memorial Lectures Committee, on behalf of the Graduate Council of the Academic Senate, cordially invites you to a public lecture by: >Elizabeth Warren, Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law, Harvard University: "The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class: Higher Risks, Lower Rewards, and a Shrinking Safety Net" Thursday, March 8, 2007 – 4:10 p.m. International House Auditorium, 2299 Piedmont Avenue, Berkeley >The lectures are free and open to the public. No tickets are required. For information, please visit our web site at , or contact us by phone at 510.643.7413, or by e-mail at

Time to get more systematic about multimedia, and set up my video and audio RSS feeds:

Morning Coffee Video Podcasts:

Coffee and Tea Audio Podcasts:

Morning Coffee Videocast: Cuba--The Dictatorship of the Castro Brothers: MANY praise Cuba for having such a high level of social development for a country whose economy is in such sad shape. But back in 1957 Cuba was a developed, not an underdeveloped country--it ought today to look like Italy, Spain, Portugal, or Puerto Rico, and it doesn't. Thanks to the dictatorship of the Castro brothers.

Monday, March 12, 2007

J. Bradford DeLong (2007), "Right from the Start? What Milton Friedman Can Teach Progressives," Democracy: A Journal of Ideas 4 (Spring). (A review of Lanny Ebenstein (2007) Milton Friedman: A Biography (Palgrave Macmillan • 272 pages • $27.95

Morning Coffee Videocast: My Allergic Reaction to Noam Chomsky: HERE at Berkeley, I'm often asked why I have such an allergic reaction to Noam Chomsky. Here's one of many reasons, but I think it alone is sufficient...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A high of 80F today in Berkeley. Strada at College and Bancroft didn't turn on its heat lamps until after dark. The first sunbathers of the year appeared.

I remember the... second time I ever went to London. It was the last weekend in May. We got there, and it was 65F or so at the high, with scattered clouds, and people were sunbathing in Russell Square. "Why are they doing this?" I wondered. "Don't they know the weather will be much better for sunbathing in a month?"

I was wrong. It wasn't. That was the best weekend of the summer.

I can think of seven wedges between the national net savings-investment rate as estimated by the National Income and Product Accounts and statistical estimates of the change in total measured household net worth:

  1. There is a gap between the rate of return on the average investment made in a year and the cost of capital, which means that $1 of savings on average produces more than $1 of value.
  2. The NIPA may well understate corporate savings and investment by counting a bunch of investments in organizational form as corporate operating expenses.
  3. All of us free-ride on technological research and development, reaping where we do not sow and profiting where we do not save and invest.
  4. Shifts in the distribution of income away from labor and toward capital increase measured household net worth--which includes the increased expected future profits from capital--but not true household net worth--which also includes the decreased expected future wages of labor.
  5. Declines in interest rates make the future more valuable relative to the present and so raise measured household net worth today--which is measured in today's dollars--without any outward shift in the true consumption-possibilities frontier.
  6. Government deficits that raise the debt lower national savings but not measured household net worth.
  7. Good news about the future produces windfall gains and bad news windfall losses which alter this year's household net worth without telling us much about over-all long-run accumulation trends.

I was sitting on the right end of an nine-person panel at the New School Friday morning Bob Solow was sitting on the left end--Solow, Shapiro, Schwartz, Rohatyn, Kudlow, Kerrey, Kosterlitz, Hormats, DeLong. Bob Solow expressed concern and worry over the declines in the U.S. savings rate over the past generation. Larry Kudlow, in the middle of the panel, aggressively launched into a rant--about how the NIPA savings rate was wrong, about how the right savings rate was the change in household net worth, about how there was no potential problem with America saving too little, that the economy was strong, and that that day's employment report had been wonderful, and that Paul Krugman had predicted nine out of the last zero recessions, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

What is one to do? You watch a guy--Bob Solow--one of the smartest and most thoughtful people I know, having his intellectual impact neutralized by a guy--Kudlow--who really isn't in the intellectual inquiry business anymore. Kudlow clearly has not thought through the biases and gaps in the household net worth number: if he had, there is no way he could say what he is saying.

On paper, in print, on the screen, one can point out that the employment report was anemic--it was not a bloodletting by any means, but it was a bit disappointing. On paper, in print, on the screen, one can say that there is reason to worry about the decline in housing demand and the possibility that it might trigger a recession. On paper, in print, on the screen one can say that reasons (4), (5), and (6) pushing up measured household net worth are reasons to discount that statistic as misleading because they do not reflect any true increase in appropriately-defined wealth, that any increase in household net worth caused by (7) is a transitory phenomenon that tells us little about permanent saving and accumulation patterns, that (1) and (2) affect the level but not the trends of saving, and do not speak to Solow's worry about the savings-investment rate's decline, and thus that only reason (3)--the effects of the now decade-long computer-and-communications real investment boom on our total wealth--provides a reason to even begin to think about whether Bob Solow's worries about declining savings as measured by the NIPA are at all overblown.

But there are ninety minutes for a panel with nine people on it. To the audience it looks like two cocksure economists who disagree for incomprehensible reasons. And my ten minute share will come too late to try to referee Solow-Kudlow in any fair, balanced, and effective way.

It's an un-discourse situation: Kudlow doesn't acknowledge--may not know--the flaws in his chosen statistic. And I can't help wonder what Kudlow would be saying if a Democrat were president.

It's an intellectual Gresham's Law in action...

What can I do? I can blog about it.

IF they had any shame, they would have long since fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization and taken up lives of anonymous service to others.

JEFF Faux and I are talking past each other because we disagree on what the world we live in is like...

He takes on Alan Wolfe:

Open University: [Wolfe's essay] is, as as I wrote at the time, "friend-enemy politics posing as an opposition to it. It is Wolfe who sees [the 2004] election as an apocalyptic contest between liberal democracy and its opponents rather than a competition between two legitimately opposed parties in an ongoing contestatory system."... The essay compares unlikes to unlikes in the service of equating liberalism to nice intellectual approaches and conservatism to thuggishness: "Schmitt had an explanation for why conservative talk-show hosts like Bill O'Reilly fight for their ideas with much more aggressive self-certainty than, say, a hopeless liberal like Alan Wolfe." (I have an explanation, too: it rests on the distinction between talk-show hosts and thoughtful academics.)...

It's popular in the blogosphere to trot out the other side's most obnoxious and venomous and extreme spokespeople (Pat Robertson! Noam Chomsky! Ward Churchill! R.J. Rushdoony! Ann Coulter! Al Sharpton!) as a substitute for debate.... But a one-sided list of bad actors can't be used as evidence in an evaluation of which side has worse actors....

Here at OU Alan has been busy warning people against what he takes to be the censorious impulse involved in suggestions of anti-Semitism (regardless of underlying merit). [Karl] Schmitt was a Nazi. Throwing around claims like "conservatives have absorbed Schmitt's conception of politics much more thoroughly than liberals" seems to me at least as... uninviting of further discussion... as some of the claims that he's suggested illegitimately manifest a desire to censor....

I'm no conservative, but I found the claim that liberals do, and conservatives do not, care about process over outcomes, about precedent, about the boundedness of state power and the autonomy of society, and about engaging with their opponents as legitimate participants in debate very offputting. Linking that claim up with Schmitt made it all the worse.

My problem is that in America today I don't see many conservatives. I see plenty of Bush-apologists. But I don't see very many people who think that the traditions we have inherited deserve respect because they are our traditions. People who advance such arguments--that "women should be discriminated against" and "homosexuals should be beaten up" and "abortion should be banned" and "couples in movies should always have three feet on the floor" because that is the way things have been--always seem to stop short when the traditions that we have inherited are things like "workers should be unionized" or "taxes should be progressive" or "people should be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" or that those "quaint Geneva conventions" are the law of the land.

As Max Weber said, the materialist interpretation of history is not a streetcar that you can get on and off where you wish. Similarly, one would think that a conservative philosophical orientation is not something to be applied to support those past institutions and practices you like and to be ignored when past institutions and practices are things you don't like. But it is.

In fact, in practice, it always has. A conservative philosophical orientation has always been a streetcar to get you to where you already knew you wanted to go.

When Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France makes the argument that Britons should respect the organic political tradition of English liberty that has been inherited from the past, he whispers under his breath that the only reason we should respect the Wisdom of the Ancestors is that in this particular case Burke thinks that the Ancestors--not his personal ancestors, note--were wise.

Whenever Burke thought that the inherited political traditions were not wise, the fact that they were the inherited Wisdom of the Ancestors cut no ice with him at all. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that they would conquer, torture, and rob wogs whenever and wherever they were strong enough to do so. That tradition cut no ice with Edmund Burke when he was trying to prosecute Warren Hastings. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that all power flowed to Westminster. That tradition cut no ice with Burke when he was arguing for conciliation with and a devolution of power to the American colonists. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that Ireland was to be plundered and looted for the benefit of upwardly-mobile English peers-to-be. That tradition, too, cut no ice with Burke.

Even in Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke doesn't argue that Frenchmen should build on their own political traditions--the traditions of Richelieu and Louis XIV, that is. He argues--well, let's let him talk:

Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France: We [in Britain] procure reverence to our civil institutions on the principle upon which nature teaches us to revere individual men; on account of their age; and on account of those from whom they are descended.... You [in France] might, if you pleased, have profited of our example, and have given to your recovered freedom a correspondent dignity. Your privileges, though discontinued, were not lost to memory. Your constitution... suffered waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls, and in all the foundations, of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old foundations. ... In your old [E]states [General] you possessed that variety of parts corresponding with the various descriptions of which your community was happily composed; you had all that combination, and all that opposition of interests, you had that action and counteraction which, in the natural and in the political world, from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers, draws out the harmony of the universe.... Through that diversity of members and interests, general liberty had as many securities as there were separate views.... [B]y pressing down the whole by the weight of a real monarchy, the separate parts would have been prevented from warping and starting from their allotted places.

You had all these advantages in your antient [E]states [General].... If the last generations of your country appeared without much lustre in your eyes, you might have passed them by, and derived your claims from a more early race of ancestors. Under a pious predilection for those ancestors, your imaginations would have realized in them a standard of virtue and wisdom.... Respecting your forefathers, you would have been taught to respect yourselves. You would not have chosen to consider the French as... a nation of low-born servile wretches until the emancipating year of 1789.... [Y]ou would not have been content to be represented as a gang of Maroon slaves, suddenly broke loose from the house of bondage....

Would it not... have been wiser to have you thought... a generous and gallant nation, long misled... by... fidelity, honour, and loyalty... that you were not enslaved through any illiberal or servile disposition... [but] by a principle of public spirit, and that it was your country you worshipped, in the person of your king? Had you made it to be understood... that you were resolved to resume your ancient [liberties,] privileges[, and immunities]... you would have given new examples of wisdom to the world. You would have rendered the cause of liberty venerable in the eyes of every worthy mind in every nation. You would have shamed despotism from the earth...

Burke's argument is not that France in 1789 should have followed its ancestral traditions. Burke's argument is, instead, that France in 1789 should have dug into its past until it found a moment when institutions were better than in 1788, and drawn upon that usable past in order to buttress the present revolutionary moment. This isn't an intellectual argument about how to decide what institutions are good. It is a practical-political argument about how to create good institutions and then buttress and secure them by making them facts on the ground.

What are good institutions? Burke sounds like Madison: checks-and-balances, separation of powers, rights of the subject, limitations on the state. Burke's views on what good institutions are are Enlightenment views--that branch of the Enlightenment that took people as they are and politics as a science, that is, rather than the branch that took people as Rousseau hoped they might someday be and politics as the striking of an oppositional pose. Because he finds that the English past is usable as a support for his Enlightenment-driven views, Burke makes conservative arguments in Reflections. But whenever conservative arguments lead where Burke doesn't want to go--to Richelieu or Louis XIV or the plunder of Ireland or the Star Chamber or Warren Hastings or imperial centralization--Burke doesn't make them. England's inheritance of institutions and practices is to be respected wherever it supports Burke's conception of properly-ordered liberty, and ignored wherever it does not.

You see, for all that Alan Wolfe is an intolerant wolf in tolerant sheep's clothing in his attack on conservatives for being intolerant, Alan Wolfe is right. Conservativism is at its base a form of intellectual thuggishness: a hitting-one's-adversary-on-the-head with the blackjack of tradition when doing so seems likely to gain one a momentary rhetorical advantage. That warped it at its origin, and warps it today.

From "Open Mind": Milton Friedman makes the case for limited government.

Morning Coffee Videocast: The Five Factions of the Republican Party: AND why no honest policy can keep all five of them on board and win elections in America today...

I hope there's space for it to sustain itself:

Democracy Journal Mission Page: The mission of Democracy is to build a vibrant and vital progressivism for the twenty-first century that builds on the movement's proud history, is true to its central values, and is relevant to present times. Democracy will publish on a quarterly basis and serve as a place where ideas can be developed and important debates can be spurred.... [W]e seek breakthrough thinking on the concepts and approaches that respond to the central transformations of our time: the breakdown of the ladder of upward mobility; the promise and problems of an information-based, globalized economy; new national security threats which cross old boundaries and defy old assumptions from jihadist terrorism and nuclear proliferation to climate change, pandemics, and poverty; and a society where people work and live in new and different ways.

Progressives have been at their best when we are both rigorous in looking at the world as it is and vigorous in introducing creative approaches to remake the world as we believe it should be. Democracy is not interested in either reiterating the conventional wisdom or maintaining unity around outdated orthodoxies. We see our role as upsetting tired assumptions, moving past outdated and obsolete divisions, and stretching the envelope of what is accepted by and of progressives.