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Society and State Charles Murray on Education

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It's Common Sense: The Experts are to Blame

by Christopher Chantrill
October 08, 2008 at 10:19 am


IT’S pretty obvious by now, at least to conservatives, that the current financial maelstrom is a product of liberal government programs. The best analysis so far has to be Dennis Sewell’s “Clinton Democrats Are To Blame For The Credit Crunch” in the British Spectator followed by the Fox News Special “Saving Our Economy: What’$ Next.”

There were two parents of the current mess, according to Sewell. One was Roberta Achtenberg, a feminist activist in the Saul Alinsky tradition. As Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in the first Clinton Administration she brought several highly publicized suits against the mortgage industry claiming racial “disparate impact” in the granting of mortgages. And then there were the administrative changes to the Community Reinvestment Act issued in 1995.

Changes were made to the Community Reinvestment Act to establish a system by which banks were rated according to how much lending they did in low-income neighbourhoods. A good CRA rating was necessary if a bank wanted to get regulators to sign off on mergers, expansions, even new branch openings.

The banks knew what was good for them. It all ended up as a textbook demonstration of the folly of expert-led activist politics.

It’s an old story. Back in the 19th century the educated young men and women of the upper-middle class wanted to make a difference. They were impatient with the slow minds of ordinary people and the slow pace of change in a tradition-bound society. They wanted to cast off the dead weight of tradition and reform society now with the tools of reason and justice.

So they advocated for and legislated the world we now live in, the world that would make them important, the world of expert-designed and bureaucrat-implemented government programs.

Educated women like lawyer Roberta Achtenberg passionately believed that the nation needed more affordable housing. So they designed and implemented programs to channel mortgage credit to the poor.

Enter the law of unintended consequences. You can expertly sluice money around the economy with your plans and your subsidies, but money is fungible. The long-term effect is to expertly over-build, over-size and over-price America’s housing in a massive boom that one day comes crashing down most particularly upon the unsophisticated people that you were determined to help.

Blogger John Hawkins last week complained about “The Death of Common Sense in America,” the extinction of truisms that, fifty years ago, everyone believed in. But of course. There is no place for common sense in a nation led by women like Roberta Achtenberg. In a welfare-state society ruled by an educated elite the authority of common sense and the wisdom of ordinary people must be brought into question and decisively marginalized. Perhaps it was possible for ordinary people to run their lives in former, simpler times. But today things are different. The modern world is too complex, too fast-moving to be comprehended by the simple—and often racist, sexist, homophobic—common sense of ordinary people. Experts are needed.

They are indeed. Ordinary people save for a rainy day. It takes Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his expert “brains trust” to create a deluge like the Great Depression. Common sense says: Beware of debt. It takes experts and their leveraged financial models to deliver a disaster in mortgage securities.

Today’s poster-girl for the culture of common sense is Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK). After her debate performance last week my liberal friends have decided she is not stupid but dangerous. She represents the opposite pole to the progressive expert adtivist. She represents the common sense of the neighborhood mothers. If you want to know how the economy is doing, Palin suggests, go measure the fear quotient among the parents at the kids’ soccer game.

A few months ago I wrote an article calling for conservatives to reach out to women and create a “mommy” conservatism, one that provided woman-friendly answers to the “mommy fascism” of the welfare state and its liberal experts. I now understand that I got the whole thing wrong. We do not need wise conservatives reaching out to women to convince them of our wisdom. We just need more common-sense women like Gov. Palin to take over the conservative movement and make it their own.

This new common-sense movement may not achieve political power in November 2008. It may not achieve it by 2018. But it will come to power, and for a simple reason, a highly sophisticated reason that may only be understandable to experts.

It was only a century ago that women emerged into the public square. They adopted, as they were bound to do, the male-developed public culture that they found already in existence. And they were seduced, as they were bound to be, by honeyed words about a beneficent Oz that cared about women and children and health care and education.

But expert-led hierarchical bureaucracy built on high-falutin’ theories is not the way of women. It is the way of men.

The culture of women is the culture of common sense.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


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Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

Civil Society

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Danny Kruger, On Fraternity

Conservatism's Holy Grail

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Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
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Drang nach Osten

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E. G. West, Education and the State

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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