Review of ‘Why Redistribution Fails’ by James Piereson

Why-Redistribution-FailsJames Piereson, Why Redistribution Fails, Encounter Broadside No. 45 (New York: Encounter Books, 2015).

According to American progressives, economic inequality is a social-justice problem for which income redistribution is a necessary political solution. In this Encounter Broadside, James Piereson sets the moral question about income redistribution to one side and focuses on a more practical question, whether government can do it well. He answers that it cannot.

“[T]he progressive case is based upon a significant fallacy,” he writes; “it assumes that the U.S. government is actually capable of redistributing income from the wealthy to the poor. For reasons of policy, tradition, and institutional design, this is not the case. Whatever one may think of inequality, redistributive fiscal policies are unlikely to do much to reduce it, a point that the voters seem instinctively to understand.” Politicians, on the other hand—and unfortunately—seem not to understand this.

As a broadside, Piereson’s argument is short and suggestive, rather than long and definitive. Nonetheless, it outlines the case for believing that even were redistribution moral—which it isn’t—it would fail to achieve its aims. Thus, it should be rejected as public policy.

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Review of ‘The Case Against Trump’ by Kevin D. Williamson

The-Case-Against-TrumpKevin D. Williamson, The Case Against Trump, Encounter Broadside No. 46 (New York: Encounter Books, 2015). Paperback | Kindle

“It is impossible to say how and when the Trump phenomenon will end,” Kevin D. Williamson writes in the latest Encounter Broadside. “It should end; rather, it never should have begun.” To which I can only add my hearty agreement.

I am a white male, an evangelical Christian, and a conservative Republican. According to mainstream media, I should therefore be a supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. I am not, I never was, and to be frank, I never will be.

Trump has neither my vote in the GOP primary nor will he get my vote in the general election. He is a man and he may be a Christian (of some sort), but he has never been a conservative, and he has only recently become a Republican. Why he garners support among Republicans is a great mystery to me. The vast majority of Republicans don’t support him.

Williamson attributes Trump’s success so far to his willingness “to address the question [of immigration] from an American-interest point of view,” and to do it “belligerently”; to his “celebrity”; and to the “anti-trade hysteria” that results from “a crisis in American manhood.” Williamson makes the case that Trump’s celebrity is overrated because the candidate isn’t that good a businessman. (His father’s success is the foundation of his fortune, his brand is declining, and his company has sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections a record four times.) Williamson further argues that Trump’s positions on immigration and trade are both simplistic and unrealistic, not to mention wrong.

But Williamson’s reference to America’s manhood crisis introduces the strangest section in his pamphlet. He writes of “American men born in the ’70s, or ’80s hark[ing] back to an imaginary blue-collar economy in which a man could earn a secure place in society (and hence in the sexual hierarchy) through simple dedicated labor at a factory.” The last three decades have not been kind to that imagined economy, but Trump’s supporters seem to be drawn from its imaginers.

Take out the parenthetical remark and Williamson’s point makes sense. Trump draws support from disappointed, white, blue-collar workers who are frustrated with the direction the economy and the country has taken. It’s hard not to be sympathetic to their plight, even if you disagree with their policy choices. Sexualizing their disappointment, as Williamson does, is weird and underhanded.

Nevertheless, on the whole, Williamson has a point. Trump is a crude man—personally, rhetorically, and policy-wise—and the fact that he is nonetheless popular is worrisome. “Donald J. Trump’s admirers gleefully consider the possibility that he could be the end of the Republican Party,” Williamson concludes. “He could be the end of a lot more than that.”


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Review of ‘Freedom from Speech’ by Greg Lukianoff

Freedom-from-speechGreg Lukianoff, Freedom from Speech, Encounter Broadside No. 39 (New York: Encounter Books, 2014). Paperback | Kindle

Freedom of speech is a bedrock American principle. It is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but it cannot be reduced to that amendment. Instead, as Greg Lukianoff points out in this Encounter Broadside, it reflects “cultural values” and “intellectual habits,” such as

giving the other side a fair hearing, reserving judgment, tolerating opinions that offend or anger us, believing that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, and recognizing that even people whose points of view we find repugnant might be (at least partially) right. At the heart of these values is epistemic humility—a fancy way of saying that we must always keep in mind that we could be wrong or, at least, that we can always learn something from listening to the other side.

Lukianoff contends that these values and habits are under assault in America today, and he points to numerous examples to establish the point.

The assault on freedom of speech cannot be dismissed simply as “academia’s fault,” the result of “liberal groupthink” and “political correctness.” (Academia does play a leading role, however, as Lukianoff’s Unlearning Liberty details at length. So does the political Left.) Instead, the assault reflects a social trend that can be seen worldwide:

people all over the globe are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right. This is precisely what you would expect when you train a generation to believe that they have a right not to be offended. Eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.

The problem with expecting comfort as a right is that…well, the real world doesn’t work that way. Even assuming that everyone is acting on their best behavior, diversity ensures that there will be disagreement in society about what is true, good, and beautiful. Far from helping resolve those disagreements, social rules and cultural norms that promote “freedom from speech” hinder reasonable resolutions of those conflicts—and even the agreement to disagree. Instead, freedom from speech requires power—university administrators, government regulators, etc.—to impose a version of truth, goodness, and beauty on a diverse society that literally does not have a say about it.

Far from promoting a tolerant, comfortable society, then, the right to comfort ironically creates victims and transmogrifies conflicts about fundamental principles into zero-sum conflicts about who wields power. In such a situation, reason loses and force wins. That’s not a good situation for democratic societies to find themselves in. Far better to allow Socratic gadflies to ask uncomfortable, even embarrassing, questions and to dialogue the way to reasonable answers! Unfortunately, that’s not the path contemporary American society is taking.


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