Displaying posts published in

June 2017

Harvard Rescinds Admission Offer to Students Over Offensive Messages Social media has become a minefield for young people who overshare By Melissa Korn

Harvard University rescinded admission offers for at least 10 incoming freshmen after they discovered the students had posted sexually explicit and otherwise offensive messages in a private Facebook chat.

The news was first reported by the Harvard Crimson on Sunday. A Harvard spokeswoman said the school doesn’t comment on individual admission decisions.

According to the Crimson, a handful of admitted students formed a messaging group online in December allowing them to send provocative and offensive memes and images to one another. The messages mocked sexual assault and the Holocaust, among other sensitive subjects. At least one joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while another called the hanging of a Mexican child “piñata time.”

Social media has turned into a minefield for prospective college students and grads looking for jobs, as well as those already gainfully employed. Drunken party photos–especially for those still not of legal drinking age–or inappropriate racial comments can torpedo an otherwise solid candidate, admissions officials and HR experts warn.

Following the lead of career coaches, many high school guidance counselors now recommend students review their Facebook, Twitter , Instagram and other accounts for embarrassing or outright offensive material before submitting applications.

Many colleges create official Facebook groups for newly admitted students, allowing the high schoolers to begin meeting one another before arriving on campus. The “closed” Harvard College Class of 2021 group, managed by Harvard’s office of admissions and financial aid, had 1,518 members as of Monday.

The official group description says the school is “not responsible for any unofficial groups, chats, or the content within,” and reminds participants that the school “reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.”

According to the Crimson, roughly 100 admitted students formed a private messaging group, not moderated by school officials, to share pop-culture memes, and then the more provocative chat was an offshoot of that group. At one point, the paper said, the group was titled “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.”

The Crimson reported that admissions officials asked students to disclose images of the messages sent sometime in April, disinvited them to admitted-students weekend in late April and withdrew the offers of admission for at least 10 shortly thereafter.

Insanity in Norway In Norwegian psychiatric hospitals, the craziest thing isn’t the patients. Bruce Bawer

I am an American who has lived in Norway for almost twenty years. I love Norway. There is much that is wonderful about it. But there are some aspects of it, generally institutional, that, when viewed through the eyes of an outsider, can seem, at best, bizarre and comical and, at worst, menacing and malignant.

This, as it happens, was the thrust of Lilyhammer, a terrific, hilarious TV series (2012-14) about Frank Tagliano, a New York mobster (played by Steven van Zandt), who is relocated by the Witness Protection Program to Lillehammer, Norway. In the series, which I reviewed three years ago, both Frank and the viewer are introduced to a wide range of Norwegian customs and cultural practices – ranging from the absurdly expensive and extensive preparation required to acquire a Norwegian driver’s license to dugnad, the tradition whereby people who rent apartments are expected to maintain the public spaces of the building in which they live (as well as its grounds).

Many of the practices Frank encounters come under the category of naive do-gooderism – such as the volunteer night patrols that are trained to respond to gangster criminality with “dialogue.” In one episode, the manager of a day-care center brainwashes small children with a puppet show about “Muriburiland,” an imaginary Communist utopia rich in solidarity and free of the evils of capitalism. As I wrote in my review, Frank “even spends a few days in a Norwegian prison, which he finds surprisingly cushy (‘I should have been arrested a lot sooner!’) and where he and other inmates – and guards – are taught to play the recorder by a hippie lady.”

One institution Frank doesn’t experience is a Norwegian psychiatric ward – which is a shame, because Norway’s approach to mental illness would have made for one of the series’ more instructive episodes. In other countries, it’s understood that if somebody’s suffering from, say, bipolar disorder, he needs medication to keep from getting depressed (and potentially suicidal) as well as from becoming manic (which entails destructive conduct toward one’s family, friends, and finances, and which can also lead to suicide). It’s further understood in other countries that if a bipolar person goes off his meds and has a severe manic or depressive episode, he needs to be hospitalized, kept under lock and key, and medicated until he ceases to be a danger to himself and others.

In this as in so many other ways, however, Norway is special. Among psychologically healthy people, Norwegian law is very clear about who counts as an individual’s next of kin: for example, a spouse trumps a parent, an adult offspring trumps a sibling. But psychotics who are committed to psych wards are permitted to name their own “next of kin” – which has vital repercussions, because the persons treating a patient are only obliged to share information about his treatment and the current state of his health with the designated next of kin, and are prohibited by privacy laws from sharing such information with anyone else. So it is that a psychotic patient may, for example, name as his next of kin his mailman, his garbageman, some celebrity he’s never met, or the self-styled fortune teller in the hospital room next to his – thereby leaving his real next of kin entirely in the dark about how his treatment and condition.

Norway also has something called the “Control Commission” that wields immense power over the lives of mentally ill people and their loved ones. It is the commission, and only the commission, that can order a patient to be held against his will or to be released from commitment (calling “sectioning” in Britain). It also has the authority to determine the specific conditions of such patients’ hospitalization. The commission tends to consist primarily of lawyers and doctors, with a sprinkling of persons in other professions. It is sort of a modern-day Star Chamber whose decisions can only be overruled by a court.

Brookings Institution — The Progressive Jukebox Funded By U.S. Taxpayers Adam Andrzejewski

Washington, D.C. is known for its monuments, but it is also known for its “ivory tower” think tanks. These institutions can serve a valuable role in providing dispassionate and empirical analysis in divided times. One of the pre-eminent D.C. think tanks is the Brookings Institution, which has nearly half-a-billion dollars in assets and deep ties to political leaders on the left.

According to Brookings, its mission is to “conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level.” Brookings says it values the independence of its scholars and prides itself on “open-minded” inquiry.

Yet, public spending records captured by our organization at OpenTheBooks.com tell a somewhat different story. Rather than focusing on “open-minded” inquiry, Brookings seems swayed by “open-wallet” inquiry. In many cases, Brookings doesn’t resemble a think tank, but a jukebox – add a little coin and Brookings will play your tune, if the price is right.

And these aren’t just dollars provided by private donors — these are your tax dollars funding partisan advocacy projects and papers.

Since 2008, Brookings amassed nearly $20 million in contracts and grants from 50 agencies – including the Obama Administration’s Office of the President. Despite assets of $496 million (IRS990, FY2014), our OpenTheBooks.com audit shows it was not enough. Brookings instituted an aggressive strategy to pursue federal business over the past nine-years.

The Federal Money Ball at The Brooking Institute funded by the U.S. Taxpayer


Big Moneyball at The Brooking Institute funded by the U.S. Taxpayer

Under current federal law, none of this is illegal, but the question is whether it’s ethical to secretly coerce taxpayers into supporting partisan causes. Moreover, an organization loses all credibility to hold government accountable when the government becomes a donor. (To see the full list of the 227 federal awards to America’s foremost liberal think-tank, click here.)

An institution originally founded as an independent public policy think-tank, government watchdog, and public charity, Brookings learned how to dial into taxpayer money. A few examples:

Brookings reaped millions of dollars in fees from federal agencies including billing up to $50,000 for two-day training seminars. Additionally, five Brookings positions charged the agencies between $1,375 and $3,440 per day for “custom training” solutions;
Brookings collected $23,000 from Barack Obama’s “Office of the President” for employee training (2015);
Federal agencies – such as Veterans Affairs, Treasury and Energy – paid up to $6,135 to place key employees into Brookings “fellowships.” The Brookings sales pitch to donors touted their “legislative inner circle” and claimed their taxpayer-paid fellows were placed on the staffs of then-Senators Obama and Hillary Clinton and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid;
Brookings charged federal agencies $2,575 per head for a seminar called “Inside the White House.”

Review just one Brookings federal contract here – running through 2018.

Nunes on Unmasking Subpoenas: ‘Oh, This Is Only the Beginning’ By Debra Heine

In a recent broadcast of the John Batchelor Show, Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) of the House Select Intelligence Committee, confirmed that all three subpoenas his committee sent to senior Obama administration officials seek details about the unmaskings of American citizens. He also said that it was “very unusual” for an ambassador like Samantha Power to unmask names of American citizens “under any circumstances.” The chairman made clear that he and his colleagues would not be requesting the information if they didn’t have “probable cause that there was an abuse of power” and that his investigation into possible illegalities was just beginning.

“Oh, this is only the beginning,” Nunes said. “There are many more officials that we have concerns about abusing the intelligence programs.”

Nunes joined Batchelor and Mary Kissel of The Wall Street Journal editorial board last Thursday to discuss the subpoenas sent to former CIA director John Brennan, former national security adviser Susan Rice, and former UN ambassador Samantha Power.

Via John Batchelor at The Daily Beast:

“The subpoenas,” Nunes explained, “actually went to the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI, requesting specifically, of those three individuals that were named, the unmaskings they have done, that they did, from the time period of 2016, the entire year, leading up to Jan. 20 of this year.”

Quickly Nunes focused on the politics of the unmaskings.

“I can’t get into why we chose those individuals, but clearly this is just further escalation in the concern we have of the unmaskings of Americans by the senior leaders of the Obama administration. Americans that didn’t know about it, and, of course, potentially Trump transition officials.”

Nunes clarified his concerns.

“Every American is masked. The intelligence agencies are bound by law to mask all American citizens that get picked up in foreign collection. What has to happen, if you want to find out who the American is—there’s a process and procedure in place for that. It’s actually very uncommon in most cases, and seldom happens. But the concern I have had, that I expressed publicly, quite publicly, actually, a couple months ago, was that it became excessive. That Obama administration officials were unmasking people in the Trump transition, and it made me quite uncomfortable.”

The chairman explained that the subpoenas were necessary because the committee has been waiting since March 15 for answers. “The intelligence agencies have been slow-rolling us, which is what led to these three subpoenas being issued,” he said.

Nunes also told Batchelor that his colleagues have a “particular interest” in Brennan, Rice, and Power, “but I can say that those are not the only ones we have an interest in.”

Nunes expanded on the possibility of an “abuse of power” in the data. “The big problem here is that the people that run these programs are protecting the United States, protecting U.S. citizens from terrorist attacks, from other adversaries that we have around the globe, and we have to protect American citizens from being picked up in these types of foreign intelligence collections. However, what clearly has happened here—at a minimum—I don’t know if it’s illegal, but it’s clearly an abuse of power, that senior Obama administration officials would unmask someone.” CONTINUE AT SITE

Why I Refuse to Lie About Islam By Bruce Bawer

“Who cares whether it’s a perversion of Islam or not?” The subject was terrorism, specifically the attack at London Bridge, and after the politicians had made their usual statements to the effect that this atrocity had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, or was (at most) a terrible betrayal or perversion or hijacking thereof, several of us expressed the usual outrage over this barefaced lie. But one friend of mine, quoted above, wasn’t having it. “Who,” he asked, “cares?”

It’s a common question, posed routinely by millions of people who sincerely think that focusing on Islam in the wake of terrorist acts only makes things worse. Yes, the politicians may be lying through their teeth when they accuse terrorists of hijacking Islam, but these lies, we’re told, are benign lies, which help to avoid giving unnecessary insult, to prevent increased radicalization, and to preserve social cohesion. Why, then, not just go along with the pretense that the terrorists’ ideology is a perversion of Islam?

Quick answer: It’s a matter of living with the truth. For some of us, that’s important. People who have lived under totalitarian regimes but who now enjoy freedom understand this in a way that suburban American twenty-somethings may not. No, none of us can ever know the whole truth about any subject. But if we live in a free country, we are free to inquire, to study, to struggle for knowledge of the truth, and that is a freedom to be cherished.

Equally precious is our right to articulate the truth and act responsibly upon it. There are whole lives based on lies, whole marriages based on lies, and whole societies based on lies. To study Communist history is to see what kind of society takes shape when people feel compelled to assent to the truth of a proposition that they know to be false. I’ve just begun reading Orlando Figes’s 2007 book The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, described on its back cover as “the story of ordinary people in Stalin’s Russia, a world where everyone was afraid to talk and a society spoke in whispers.” A society, in short, of necessary lies and forbidden truths.

I know that that is not the kind of society my friend and most of those who share his views would like to live in. Presumably they believe that universal voluntary assent to a single lie about the subject of Islam would be, on balance, a positive pragmatic act, not a major sacrifice. I could not disagree more. Even if universal assent to a lie begins as voluntary, the assent soon ends up being mandatory and speaking the truth becomes a crime. And freedom, just like that, is lost.

We’ve already seen this grim reality start to take hold in the West, with people like Lars Hedegaard in Denmark, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and Ezra Levant in Canada being prosecuted merely for speaking the truth about Islam. I wrote a whole book, Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom (2009), about self-censorship and state censorship in the West on the subject of Islam. This brand of censorship is a phenomenon that emerged, and has spread, with unsettling rapidity. CONTINUE AT SITE

The Roots of Left-Wing Violence A vague and dangerous ideology By Ian Tuttle

There is currently, on the streets, smashing storefronts and setting things on fire, a group called “Antifa,” for “anti-fascist.” Antifa are not a new phenomenon; they surfaced during the Occupy movement, and during the anti-globalization protests of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Antifa movements began in early-20th-century Europe, when fascism was a concrete and urgent concern, and they remain active on the Continent. Lately, Antifa have emerged as the militant fringe of #TheResistance against Donald Trump — who, they maintain, is a fascist, ushering into power a fascist regime. In Washington, D.C., Antifa spent the morning of Inauguration Day lighting trash cans on fire, throwing rocks and bottles at police officers, setting ablaze a limousine, and tossing chunks of pavement through the windows of several businesses. On February 1, Antifa set fires and stormed buildings at the University of California–Berkeley to prevent an appearance by Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. (They succeeded.) In April, they threatened violence if Ann Coulter spoke on the campus; when the university and local law enforcement refused to find a secure location for her to speak, she withdrew, saying the situation was too dangerous.

These and similar episodes call to mind Woody Allen’s character’s observation in the 1979 film Manhattan: “A satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point of it.”

All politics is, at some level, a vocabulary contest, and it happens that American politics is currently engaged in a fierce fight over, and about, words. The central word at issue is “fascist,” but there are others: “racist,” “sexist,” and the like. A great many people are currently involved in a turf war, aiming to stake out conceptual territory for these charged words: What is fascism? What isn’t it?

An illustration: In April, Heather Mac Donald was physically blocked from an auditorium at Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, Calif., where she was scheduled to speak. Mac Donald is a scholar at the Manhattan Institute, a prominent right-of-center think tank. She is a noted expert on law enforcement, especially the complex relationship between law enforcement and minority communities. She was among the first to theorize that anti-police protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and elsewhere have facilitated an increase in urban crime; the so-called Ferguson Effect is now a matter of consensus among experts on both the left and the right. National Review readers will be well acquainted with Mac Donald; she publishes in these pages regularly.

A group of students from Pomona College, part of the consortium of Claremont schools, penned a letter to Pomona president David Oxtoby, affirming the protest at their sister institution. Mac Donald, they wrote, should not be permitted to speak; she is “a fascist, a white supremacist, a warhawk, a transphobe, a queerphobe, a classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.” Mac Donald was not offering any material for substantive intellectual discussion; she was, they claimed, challenging “the right of Black people to exist.”

Don’t Apologize for Being Honest about Climate Change A response to Ross Douthat’s lukewarm lukewarmism By Oren Cass —

Writing about climate change in the New York Times, Ross Douthat describes “lukewarmers” as those who:

accept that the earth is warming and that our civilization’s ample CO2 emissions are a major cause. They doubt, however, that climate change represents a crisis unique among the varied challenges we face, or that the global regulatory schemes advanced to deal with it will work as advertised. And they raise an eyebrow at the contrast between the apocalyptic, absolutist rhetoric with which these schemes are regularly defended and their actual details, which seem mostly designed to enable the globe’s statesmen to greenwash the pursuit of economic and political self-interest.

Douthat placed himself among the lukewarmers and very graciously referred his readers to some of my recent work for a longer discussion of those themes. But his column was also quite gracious in conceding two problems with lukewarmism, which instead deserve rebuttal.

Douthat’s Problem #1: “No less than alarmism, lukewarmism can be vulnerable to cherry-picking and selection bias, reaching for any piece of evidence — and when you’re dealing with long-term trends, there’s a lot of evidence to choose from — that supports its non-catastrophic assumptions, even if the bulk of the data starts to point the other way.”

This is a generic critique that might apply to any position on any issue. School-choice advocacy is vulnerable to cherry-picking and selection bias, as is support for universal pre-K. So are the claims that Scandinavian-style welfare states are good or bad for innovation and economic growth. And the claims that an interventionist U.S. foreign policy promotes or harms our national interest. Highlighting such a complaint about lukewarmism would make sense only if the position were uniquely reliant on such bad behavior.

To the contrary, the key hypothesis (of my work, anyway) is that even working from the mainstream scientific and economic studies advanced by alarmists, the data do not support a conclusion of catastrophe. That is, the effects identified by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are serious but manageable. The economic costs identified by the Obama administration’s Social Cost of Carbon analysis are no larger than those associated with a variety of other policy issues.

Of course, plenty of people cherry-pick this or that study in an effort to undermine the mainstream conclusions of climate science. But such analysis is unnecessary to a moderate view of climate change and, I would argue, often counterproductive. Lukewarmism is, or should be, about describing accurately the mainstream of climate research and then assessing how well human society’s resilience and capacity for adaptation will allow it to cope with the challenges we might face.

No, the Problem in London Is Not ‘Islamist Extremism’ Islamists want to impose sharia law on the West — which means all Islamists are ‘extremists.’ By Andrew C. McCarthy

The Western schizophrenia about radical Islam is on full display in Britain, in the aftermath of the latest jihadist atrocity, the third in just the past three months.

Three terrorists rammed a van into a crowd on London Bridge and then went on a stabbing rampage, brutally assaulting pedestrians while braying that each blow was struck “for Allah.” A duly outraged Theresa May donned her prime-minister hat to announce that her government is “leading international efforts to take on and defeat the ideology of Islamist extremism around the world.” She also slipped on her amateur-imam cap, adjusted her rose-tinted glasses, and proclaimed that “Islamist extremism” is an ideology

that preaches hatred, sows division and promotes sectarianism. It is an ideology that claims our Western values of freedom, democracy, and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam.

And what right-thinking Western politico’s post-mass-murder speech would be complete without May’s insistence that this ideology is — all together now! — “a perversion of Islam and a perversion of the truth.”


What does Theresa May know about Islam such that she can decide what is a perversion of it? Precious little, I’d wager. Otherwise, she’d not babble on about “Islamist extremism,” a term right out of the Department of Redundancy Department.

If you are an Islamist in the West, you are, by definition, an extremist. An Islamist is a Muslim who believes Islam requires the imposition of sharia, Islam’s ancient, totalitarian societal system and legal code.

“Islamist” is a term we in the West use in the hope that, because there are Muslims who are tolerant, pro-Western people, it must not be inevitable that Islam itself — or at least some interpretations of Islam — will breed the fundamentalist, literalist, supremacist construction of Islam.

It may be a grave error to adopt this hope, especially since it has been elevated into seemingly incorrigible policy. Does the incontestable existence of moderate Muslim individuals necessarily translate into a coherent, viable doctrine of moderate Islam? Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to take just one very influential Muslim leader, says no: The West’s invocation of “moderate Islam” is “ugly,” he counters, because “Islam is Islam, and that’s it.” Erdogan is a close ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s most influential Islamist organization. If he’s right that there’s just one true Islam, rest assured that it’s not friendly to the West. Erdogan describes the Western call for Muslim migrants to assimilate in their new European societies as “a crime against humanity.”


Some call it reframing; others put a coat of paint on it and call it a new car. Basically, it is the process by which a deception is perpetrated simply by saying thus is so and pointing to the shiny surface as proof.

This is once again happening with the egregious David Horowitz. Several years ago, I had the unexpected misfortune of having to experience the true nature of David Horowitz due to his spearheading a disinformation campaign against me and my 2013 book American Betrayal. This campaign of lies would end up including nearly two dozen pieces by a cabal of writers, the first of which I rebutted, perhaps ironically, at Breitbart News. (Other rebuttals, too, for that matter, ran at Breitbart when other websites refused me space.) For new readers, American Betrayal, in part, is about how Moscow-directed and -loyal communists and their accomplices were secretly able to infiltrate and influence the US and other great powers into cataclysmic acts that entrenched, enriched and expanded the Soviet empire abroad; at home, they rotted out the Republic long before “the Sixties” ever began — all, according to “court history” ever since, under the banner of “victory” in World War II and the Cold War. It seems fair to say this is not a subject that a normal anti-Communist, especially ex-Communist, would lose his mind over.

In the several years since (and during) this shockingly sustained attack-campaign, I also began to learn how Horowitz has shaded his own biography to obscure the proximity of his early life to the KGB in America — an alarming choice for one self-billed and trusted as a guide to domestic Communist affairs.

There. Disclaimer done. Where was I?

The latest Horowitz-reframing appears in a paint-job-superficial Washington Post piece headlined: “How a ‘shadow’ universe of charities joined with political warriors to fuel Trump’s rise.”

The Post’s premise — the centrality of Horowitz in that “shadow” universe supposedly fueling the rise of Donald Trump — could not be more wrong, or more absurd. For one thing, Trump’s lift-off was in 2015, sans charities or shadow-universe thereof. Where was Horowitz? “This column is not an endorsement of Donald Trump or any candidate,” Horowitz wrote on December 22, 2015. (Full disclosure: My own endorsement of Trump ran at Breitbart News on December 26, 2015; then again, I am not a tax-exempt charity.) Soon thereafter, as Trump swept toward the nomination, Horowitz would start piggybacking onto Breitbart News with a series of look-at-me-Trump op-eds. At the time, it struck me as a naked effort to catch up with the Trump Train before it pulled into Washington without him.

This is somewhat interesting on different levels. One would think, as a universe-creator and all that, Horowitz’s own Frontpagemag.com was the center of that supposed Trumpian firmament; at least, if Horowitz really was, as the Post claims, the “intellectual godfather to the far right.”

For some time in 2016, however, Horowitz was just another Breitbart by-line (average age 25?), apparently seeking some new credentials, if not “cred,” of his own. In May 2016, which was really just in the nick of time to make any kind of a pre-nomination fuss, Horowitz finally scored by dropping the perfect stinkbomb of a headline at Breitbart News: “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew.”

Antique echoes of Daily Worker jargon aside (who but old-time Bolshis say “renegade” anything?): In the ensuing media clamor over Horowitz’s “Renegade Jew” headline (he *confessed* to writing it himself), Breitbart had to fend off charges of anti-Semitism, which would dog the site throughout the presidential campaign — but now with the help of Horowitz, who is Jewish. Mission accomplished! Having mixed it up with Breitbart boys under siege, Horowitz was now, basically, one of them. Plus, in so gratuitously slamming neocon Kristol, ex-Communist and, now, surely, ex-neocon Horowitz was also able to run up the Jolly Roger of the alt-right. “Renegade Jew,” indeed. Good political positioning is more like it. Meanwhile, the issue that lit him up so much — Obama’s Iran deal — is still on Trump’s table, not that Horowitz cares so much now.

So, why wouldn’t Horowitz just take care of all of this personal reframing exclusively at his own website?

A quick look at the latest Alexa website rankings explains all.

Today, Frontpage.mag is No. 12,639 in the US — which, of course, means there are 12,638 more popular websites than David Horowitz’s website out there today; it ranks 41,338 globally.

Breitbart News, on the other hand, is No. 61 in the US today, and No. 292 in the world.

To be fair, yours truly’s site ranking is barely measurable at No. 140,911 in the US — but perhaps dianawest.net would do a bit better if it raked in some fraction of the $5.4 million David Horowitz’s Freedom Center received as charitable largesse in 2015 alone, as the Post reports. Horowitz, not by the way, skimmed $583,000 of the top in salary that same year. Running a “shadow universe” is so terribly taxing, especially when your fancy web$ite isn’t so widely read.

“Buy American” May Not Be American By Herbert London


President Trump asserts with patriotic fervor that his administration stands for America First, a commendable but somewhat ambiguous concept. What gives it meaning is the idea that Americans “buy American.” Presumably when facing consumer choices Americans should look for a label that keeps them at home.

The problem with the concept is that it defies an American commitment to the free market – an argument at least as patriotic as America First. Comparative advantage has been a hallmark of trade, notwithstanding many abuses and currency manipulation. Trade is never entirely fair since each of the trading partners seeks an advantage. Yet the market has a mechanism for addressing excesses, such as “dumping.”

If there is confusion in the market, it is over production provenance. The Ford, manufactured (or should I say assembled) in the United States has parts from at least 14 nations. Globalization, for better or worse, has changed the nature of trade and the method of manufacturing. We may choose to call a Ford an American car but it is no more American than a Volkswagen assembled in Mississippi. Even when one says I want to buy American because it is good for the country I love, you cannot be sure the product in question doesn’t have parts from abroad.

“Buy American” invariably requires an undesirable economic choice. Americans may be willing to pay a premium for a product manufactured here, but that is a choice rarely considered as Walmart’s gross sales suggests. Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, accounts for eleven percent of the unfavorable trade balance with a reliance on electronic products manufactured elsewhere. Unless a tariff is imposed on these products, it is unlikely U.S. counterparts can compete on economic terms. That is a reality the Trump position seemingly overlooks.

Ultimately what is good for the nation is not easy to determine. Job loss is a real problem when U.S. companies are unable to compete. Free market economics often overlook the plight of a steel worker – to cite one example – whose company cannot compete against foreign rivals. This individual may be less interested in efficiency than job protection. On the other hand, an unfavorable balance of trade may have a salutary effect on the economy. The allocation of resources based on products from abroad allows the U.S. economy to concentrate on sectors likely to be most productive. Were it not for this internal market allocation, most Americans would be farmers today.

Clearly the free market is imperfect. Many are left behind in the process of rewards and penalties or what Schumpeter described as creative destruction. As I see it, mature economies must put an emphasis on retraining. The idea that an employee will hold the same position throughout his working life is anachronistic. In fact, while trade has resulted in some job loss, the real culprit in this matter is technological advancement. Yet most Americans are not Luddites and any referendum on the matter would favor advancement.