The Long View 2008-12-16: Boxing Day

John J. Reilly links to a 2009 article by Rev. Richard John Neuhaus that has this tidbit in it:

“some 45 percent of respondents in the Citizens Participation Survey who reported participating in a national protest did so because of abortion..."

As best I can tell, the study that Fr. Neuhaus is referring to is this one. You can download the data, but I don’t have any spiffy graphs to show right now. I’ll see if I can find something, but for now I’ll leave you with this:

“…What is more, nearly three quarters of all abortion-issue protesters are pro-life, an unsurprising fact given that the pro-life movement is challenging rather than defending the current policy regime. Meanwhile, all other social issues, including pornography, gay rights, school prayer, and sex education, account for only 3 percent of all national protest activity.”

Boxing Day

People who ought to have known better, it is widely said, should have seen the Bernard Madoff affair coming. According to Laura Goldman, some of them actually did. She tells this tale about her encounter with him ten years ago:

At the meeting, Bernie, known as the Jewish T-bill, was very charming and low key. Bernard, the former chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange, did not want to answer questions about his investment business and strategy. He only grudgingly admitted that he employed a split conversion strategy that used both put and call options. I did not know what to make of his opacity. I was discomfited by his saying how lucky that I was that he allowed me to invest with him...When I called [people I know who had known Madoff], all of them said that they knew Bernie but did not trade with him. Even though he said that he traded his options over the counter, [it] still seemed strange to me that none of the giants in the tight-knit options world traded with him. After 45 minutes of detective work, I passed on the investment.

Back then, of course, 45 minutes of research was worth 45 minutes: you actually had to make phone calls. The couple of serious frauds I have encountered more recently have been disposed of even more quickly. My good deed as a fiduciary for the year was alerting a small nonprofit that a media company that promised a publicity package that was too good to be true was indeed offering something that was too good to be true, as many people were complaining online, I found. Strangely, there usually has to be a tipoff to evoke even minimal due-diligence research. In the Goldman piece, she notes that Madoff said, in effect, he made almost nothing on each deal, but made it up in volume. For my nonprofit, the tell was that the media company insisted on having a board resolution and a contract by next Tuesday.

* * *

More perilous to the common good than Fraud is Folly. Though I generally give the incoming Obama Administration high marks for competence and good will, I cannot help but repeat that the policy (not peculiar to Obama's advisors) of dealing with the economic crisis by restarting the securitization bubble-machine just is not going to work. That Spengler at Asia Times, fresh from docking his malingering subordinate Bob Cratchet's pay for arriving at work 10 minutes late this morning, has given a good explanation for this impossibility. The key is that financial devices that are ruinous today made perfect sense 25 years ago:

America was younger then. The Baby Boomers were in their 20s and 30s when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, and they needed all the capital they would borrow. All the instruments of monetary destruction that rained ruin on American markets in 2008 came into the world as good things. They arrived at a moment when America need[ed] more debt....Youth needs leverage. The Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, which launched the quarter-century expansion of 1983-2007, rested on three kinds of leverage: home mortgages, junk bonds and leveraged buyouts. Turning mortgages into mortgage-backed securities made it easy for young families to buy homes and easy for entrepreneurs to draw working capital from the value of their homes. Junk bonds allowed emerging companies without the balance-sheet strength of their big competitors to enter the market and take on entrenched interests. And leveraged buyouts allowed clever upstarts to evict stodgy managers and make capital more efficient. The financiers who created these markets were giants.

Today things are different, so much so that, at least it seems to me, the economy in recovery will be substantially different from the pre-2008 economy:

Aging workers, who soon will predominate in the American workforce, missed their chance to accumulate savings for retirement and education during the boom years of 2002-2008. Instead, they borrowed cheap money from foreigners and gambled on real estate. Many analysts have drawn attention to the link between America's zero-percent personal savings rate and the current account deficit...Americans' home equity probably is worth half of what it was three years ago, and [will] fall a great deal further. If they had a retirement savings plan, it is probably down by 40% or so. If they still have a job, they need to save as much as they can and make up for lost time. All the stimulus in the world won't persuade them to spend now that they know that they can't retire on the price of their houses...

Of course, there is an upside, of a sort:

Some analysts worry that inflation is lurking behind the Fed's exploding balance sheet. I am less concerned. Aging people buy future goods (securities) for their retirement rather than current goods. Demographic decline is deflationary, as Japan should have taught the world by now.

It was a good bet in July of this year that oil prices were about to fall; it's also a good bet that the demographic trends to which Spengler refers will not continue indefinitely. When the turnaround happens, other things will be different, too.

* * *

Meanwhile, at First Things, Fr. Neuhaus disturbs the Christmas peace by pointing to the most embarrassing fact of American political culture of the last generation:

Whatever else it is, the pro-life movement of the last thirty-plus years is one of the most massive and sustained expressions of citizen participation in the history of the United States. Since the 1960s, citizen participation and the remoralizing of politics have been central goals of the left. Is it not odd, then, that the pro-life movement is viewed as a right-wing cause? ...[So says] The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, by Jon Shields, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College... The Port Huron Statement issued by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1962 called for a participatory democracy in which, through protest and agitation, the “power structure” of the society would be transformed by bringing moral rather than merely procedural questions to the center of political life. Almost fifty years later, Shields notes, “some 45 percent of respondents in the Citizens Participation Survey who reported participating in a national protest did so because of abortion..."

Similarly, the great political act of thinking outside the box in the 1960s was not the McGovern or Gene McCarthy political campaigns, which were continuous with earlier movements, but the Goldwater campaign of 1964. Movement Conservatism was new in a way that the New Left never was. In any case:

Shields puts the matter nicely: “One might suppose that present-day conservatives would have declared war on a political system that was largely engineered by 1960s liberals. Yet it is liberals who are mounting a counterattack against this liberal revolution. What is more, their arguments often have a surprisingly conservative ring to them. For example, those who hope to enlist centrist voters against divisive moralists sound much more like Richard Nixon than Tom Hayden. In a strange political turn, they have embraced what Nixon called ‘the silent majority’ as the source of their salvation from 1960s liberalism.”

Just a thought about Electus Obama:

It is often pointed out that he has the most consistently pro-abortion record in the US Senate. One might reasonably infer that he finds abortion unproblematical. However, the interesting thing about Obama remains his lack of a paper trail, and not least on this issue. We have legislative votes as evidence, and not much else. If anyone knows of a ringing defense by Obama in a law journal of Casey, do let me know. It is not inconceivable that a president in his position might decide to deconstitutionize the issue. That would make the Democratic Party a plausible home for the pro-lifers, while leaving the positive law in the hands of a proabortion Congress.

Too clever by half, surely.

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