Friday, November 14, 2008

Why the GOP Blew it

Libertarians share much in common with both conservatives and liberals. With liberals they share a disdain for government interference in matters of personal life-style and choice - for example, abortion and gay marriage. With conservatives they share a disdain for big government and regulatory interference in markets. P.J. O'Rourke is a libertarian who lists toward conservatism, and he offers a trenchant and funny post-election analysis of the Republican party at The Weekly Standard.

I don't find everything he says congenial, but he certainly hits the nail on the head often enough to make his essay worth passing on.


Economic Basics

The stock market tumbled sharply in the wake of Obama's election a week and a half ago, and the plunge is being attributed by some to fears that President Obama and the Democratic congress are going to raise the capital gains tax, the income tax, and the minimum wage, all of which would be very hard on businesses that operate on narrow profit margins.

Obama could perhaps reverse the downward economic trend before he even takes office. All he'd have to do is promise that he will not impose any new regulation, tax, or new minimum wage rate on businesses, and will in fact ease existing regulations and taxes on business. If he promised that his administration would fight to extend the Bush tax cuts and reduce regulations, investor confidence in the future of business would likely rise and the market might well recover. As it is investors fear that business is in for some very tough times under a Democratic economic hegemony.

President-elect Obama wants to help the poor. So do most people, but the poor are not helped by handouts and stimulus checks. After they've spent their check they're still poor. The best way to help people struggling to get out of poverty is to free up business to hire the marginal worker, the employee they would not hire if they had to pay high taxes and benefits. If burdens on employers are reduced jobs will become available and those who want to work will be able to find jobs.

But if we do what the Democrats and Obama have promised to do, if we increase the cost of running a business by taxing and regulating, unemployment will continue to rise as businesses retrench and cut back on all but essential expenses. In such an environment the primary employer is going to be government, and we will have become Venezuela.


Please Focus

Adam Rutherford makes a couple of claims in this video that are simply false, one of which is that teachers who accept intelligent design clearly do not understand evolution.

Actually, Rutherford clearly does not understand intelligent design. If he did he wouldn't talk as if evolution and ID were contraries. ID does not oppose evolution (I wish I had a dollar for every time someone, somewhere has had to say this in response to a confused news article or commentator). ID is in conflict with materialism. It denies the materialist claim that the origin of all biological organisms, structures, systems, and processes can, in theory, be fully accounted for in terms of physical processes and mechanisms.

Materialism asserts that mind is not necessary to account for the design of life. ID claims that any examination of the evidence, unfettered by a priori assumptions of the truth of materialism, would conclude that it is. The materialist claim is philosophical, not scientific. There's no empirical evidence for it. Thus, if ID should not be taught in a science classroom because it fails the test of empirical verification, then so, too, should materialism not be taught and any teacher who insists on teaching it should, by Rutherford's lights, be banished from the classroom.

The materialists make this mistake of so often that I suspect there's more afoot here than a simple inability to understand the ID position or to get it right. The materialist knows that if he can confuse the casual observer into thinking that the conflict is between ID and evolution he can discredit ID by producing lots of evidence for evolution. Once ID has been discredited then materialism prevails by default without having to fire a single shot. In other words, evolution is used as a surrogate for materialism to defeat ID which materialism itself could never do. It's an example of "Let's you and him fight."

The problem with this tactic, of course, is that lots of Intelligent Design advocates believe that the designer of life employed an evolutionary process to accomplish the task. Michael Behe is one notable example. There's an increasing fondness among many IDers for the theory of front-loaded evolution, i.e. the idea that the designer packed the genomic potential for all of subsequent diversification into the genome of the first cell or cells (See the excellent book by the pseudonymous Mike Gene titled The Design Matrix).

It may be that this is incorrect. It may be, as other IDers think, that the designer intervened at certain stages of the evolution of life to tinker with the process.

Not all IDers are evolutionists, some are creationists, but the point is that, contrary to what people like Rutherford would have us believe, there's no contradiction between the concept that there's evidence in the natural world that leads to the conclusion that a mind is responsible for it and the concept that life is a result of descent by modification.

Now if we could just get people like Rutherford to focus on this simple truth long enough for it to sink in we will have advanced the dialogue a considerable distance.