Quote of the Day

Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
--Sir Robert Peel, founder of London's Metropolitan Police Force, generally acknowledged to be the first "modern" police force.

There is no moral distinction, in the abstract, between taking violent action in self-defense or in defense of others, and expecting the police to do so on your behalf. There is considerable moral cowardice in believing that you must not act violently in self-defense or in defense of others, and the police must act violently to keep you and yours safe. And there is great hazard in the unsupportable belief that the police will always keep you safe, and that you have no responsibility for securing your own safety or the safety of those around you.

(Hat tip: Kevin at Smallest Minority.)


Quote of the Day

The reason the American Army does so well in war is that war is chaos, and the Americans practice chaos on a daily basis.
— Unknown West German general

What Message From the Medium?

[Disclaimer: I am not a rabbi, nor do I play one on TV.]

Jewish tradition records that we received at Mount Sinai two interdependent codes of law: the Written Torah (or simply the Torah, i.e. the Five Books of Moses) and the Oral Torah (Torah sh-ba'al peh, the core of what would become the Talmud). On the one hand, we were commanded to transmit the Written Torah according to precise scribal rules which could not be deviated from; on the other hand, we were originally forbidden to transcribe the Oral Torah at all. Scholars were allowed to make their own study notes, but not to pass them on. The Oral Torah could only be passed on by word of mouth. The Talmud was only redacted when there was a danger that the Oral Torah would be lost entirely, thanks to the Romans hunting down and executing the musmakhim (members of the High Court).

When one reads the Torah, one is struck by its subtlety as an educational tool; not only does it describe the process by which the Children of Israel first were taught the law, but simply reading about that process teaches us the law as well, in a multitude of ways. At its heart, the philosophy of the Torah is that by mandating a set of behaviors (many of which are highly symbolic), the human soul is taught virtues and principles that ultimately extend beyond the limits of the law to infuse all of life.

The Torah is the immutable word of God. (Indeed, some mystical traditions believe that the text of the Torah is a representation of God's essence, perhaps in the manner that a two-dimensional pencil sketch can suggest a fully formed being.) That word is meant to permeate our beings and purify our souls. But it is important to realize that in many ways, the medium is the message.

That the Torah is written is a deep lesson all by itself. It is an implicit command that we as a people learn to read, and learn poetry and music (embedded in the text are often subtle poetic forms that escape the reader who is not looking for them). It forces us to check our understanding against an unchanging source, and not to stray from it over time. It is a physical embodiment of the tradition and the Covenant, focusing our attention in ways that an abstract concept cannot.

Yet if that is so, then what is the intrinsic meaning of an oral tradition? And why must we have both a written and oral law? Many cultures have had oral traditions, and more modern cultures rigorously record their histories and legal systems. What is the purpose of mandating both methods of propogation, and why forbid that the Oral Torah ever be written down?

[At this point, I'm more or less taking a shot in the dark. See disclaimer.]

First, the obvious difference. A written work is unchanging, assuming accurate transcribing; but oral traditions are notoriously prone to evolve. To accurately transmit an oral tradition requires tremendous dedication and study on the part of the scholar, and even then there is a constant danger that material will be lost. Several times the Talmud records the lament of rabbis who were unable to learn all that their teachers knew, and were unable to teach all they knew to their students.

This sharpens the question. If you want the material to be propogated, why prohibit written records? And if you already have a body of written material, why entrust additional material to such an unreliable mechanism? What is being accomplished here?

I can only assume that such gradual evolution of the Oral Law is not a bug, but a feature.

The Written Torah is primarily a pedagogic tool, not a self-contained legal system. It contains only the broadest strokes of the civil law, enough to convey the underlying principles that it is built from, and to set specific anchor points that cannot be deviated from, yet not enough to stand on its own as a comprehensive source for legal rulings. The minutia of the law are found in the Oral Torah.

What effect would this have? While the fundamental principles of the Law would remain absolute, the practical aspect of the law would have a relationship with the evolving society which, although certainly not "dynamic" in the usual sense, is at least not rigid. Oral traditions are quite powerful and capable of resisting change when such change is anathema to the whole; yet on minor points, oral traditions are often quite pragmatic. This allows the law as a whole to remain vital.

The Talmud was written as a series of freewheeling debates, preserving the opinions of scholars who were later outvoted and organized around the idea that "These and these are the words of the Living God" — in short, that there are many valid forms for the law to take. This gave rabbis in later generations a degree of freedom in applying the law to their own situations; in extremis, one could rely on a minority opinion if necessary. In this way the organic character of the Oral Law was at least partially preserved.

But later works such as the Shulkhan Arukh ("Prepared Table" by R' Yosef Karo) were written as authoritative reference books, laying out the law as a series of definitive statements. When differences of opinion are recorded, it is only so that scholars can seek to satisfy both opinions at once. This made the Oral Law largely static; it became much harder to adapt to the needs of the day without being called a backslider by a horde of lesser figures frenziedly waving legal codes. The vitality of the law became endangered. And that has led to all sorts of problems today.

This is not to say that we must bend whichever way the wind blows. The Written Torah is still supreme, and the Oral Torah is still authoritative. Traditions should evolve, not be forcibly crossbred. Yet today, for many people, the Oral Law is encased in amber — to such a degree that it often eclipses the Torah itself in importance, in reality if not in theory. To let ourselves fall into this trap is to disregard the meaning of an oral tradition.

What is there to do? I don't know. It is incredibly dangerous for individuals to begin passing judgement on the modern Jewish Law, despite its flaws. That way lies the void. But we who love the Torah should at least begin the discussion, on our terms. We have for too long allowed criticism of the Law to be monopolized by those who disdain the Law in the first place, nullifying such criticism's value. Now, we must stand up again.


Worker Shortages in China

This article in BusinessWeek (hat tip: ArrogantAthiest commenting at Samizdata) discusses how a shortage of skilled workers in China is causing wages to grow rapidly. Salaries at multinational firms in China increased 8.4% last year, and job turnover jumped to 14%. At the same time, working conditions are improving dramatically, as employers must compete for skilled employees.

This is having several cascading effects. Internally in China, the multinationals are building infrastructure further inland in search of cheaper labor, helping to extend prosperity to the peasants that have long been the Communist Party's most loyal dependents. I suspect that this will reduce the relative power of the government in the long run, which is good. At the same time, the existing middle class on the coast is becoming stronger, and is beginning the cycle of endlessly-rising expectations that is the first nail in a centrally-planned economy's coffin. All the best state employees are being poached away by multinationals, hastening the demise of state-owned companies.

At the same time, the increase in wages may slow the exodus of manufacturers to China, easing some of the protectionist pressures that have pushed the West into some asinine economic policies. (On the other hand, more companies may move to Vietnam or Cambodia instead. Ah well.) Perhaps this will give the United States more time to transition more completely to an Information Economy.

On the other hand, only China's low prices have saved us from broad inflation over the past few years. Now that the party is coming to a close, we have already begun reaping the fruits of our reckless monetary and fiscal policy. Inflation is creeping up, rates are rising, and yet Congress still spends money like there is no tomorrow. Yet tomorrow will always come, and in this case it is a tomorrow without the safety-valve of low Chinese business costs. We should plan accordingly.


Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land

A few days ago, President Bush gave a speech in Cleveland, Ohio, laying out his fundamental vision of how the war in Iraq is progressing. Much has already been said about this speech, which was apparently one of the President's better ones; but I would like to look at one small point in the Q&A session. When a representative of the Cleveland Hungarian Revolution 50th Anniversary Society [?] asked:
[H]ow can we help you, from the grassroots level, how can we help you promote the cause of freedom and liberty for all peoples throughout the world?
The President responded:
[T]he best way you can help is to support our troops. You find a family who's got a child in the United States military, tell them you appreciate them. Ask them if you can help them. You see somebody wearing a uniform, you walk up and say, thanks for serving the country.
While giving emotional support to the military is certainly valuable, the President completely missed the point of the question. In his conception, apparently, the role of private citizens is to lend their support to the initiatives of government. What the questioner was interested in, which I think is much more important, was the ways in which private citizens can act independently of government in ways that advance freedom and the broad national interest.

The Bush Administration has consistently underestimated the importance of engaging the people and harnessing our energies. For all the talk of the dreaded Rove Machine, the White House's PR has been inept at best. And while there have been some moves towards exploiting the strength of distributed systems rather than centralized planning, the trend in all areas of the Federal government is in the opposite direction. (A notable recent exception has been the release of intel documents from Iraq and Afghanistan, for which I am exceedingly grateful.)

But private citizens, when acting together, have tremendous power to spread the ideals of liberty on their own, without using tank battalions or national diplomacy. Given that the President unaccountably missed his chance to rally the people, as it were, I would like to submit my own suggestions:

1. Establish merit-based college scholarships for students from oppressed countries such as Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, China, or anywhere else where freedom is kept in check. Send the best and the brightest of these countries to schools where they will be taught the benefits of liberty, an appreciation for America, and the practical skills to establish open governments and free markets back home.

2. Privately fund radio broadcasts into oppressed countries, a do-it-yourself Voice of America so to speak. Translate the classic texts on liberty (Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, the Declaration of Independence, etc.) into the languages of oppressed countries and distribute them in as many formats as possible. For that matter, translate popular literature as well. Heinlein can be a better exponent of liberty than Madison, if more people read him.

3. Sponsor English teachers. The more people in these countries who can speak English, the better for America.

4. Invest in these countries. Not in the big government-linked crony-capitalist industries like oil or diamonds, but in the growth of middle-class entreprenuers. Instead of allowing oppressive governments to become more powerful with our money, private investors should be strengthening the middle class, the true engine of liberty. Additionally, the more contact we have with private citizens in these countries, the more knowledge we will build up about them and the more opportunities the government will have for effective intelligence-gathering.

5. Individuals should aggressively switch away from oil consumption towards alternatives such as solar power or coal. In every country where oil revenues make up a large portion of the economy, you find government corruption, oppression of the people, and rampant poverty. The oil industry by its very nature depends on cooperation with governments, and massive capital investments. Worse, at a recent event I attended, anti-slavery activist Aaron Cohen digressed from his main presentation to talk about the ways in which slavery and ethnic cleansing are often linked to large oil projects in the Third World. The bloodshed in Darfur? Largely over oil rights. Individuals can help by promoting technologies that are independent of huge, centralized government-run producers.

In brief, there are all sorts of ways in which private citizens can fight tyranny and advance the cause of freedom. If the government won't take advantage of what we can offer, we'll just have to do it on our own.


Gotcha: Saddam was Financing al-Qaida Affiliate

But, but, but surely Saddam had no connection to al-Qaida!

Read it and weep, useful idiots of the Jihad. John Negroponte finally got moving after the President gave him a direct order to release as many documents as he could, from the vast hoard of intelligence captured in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the documents is a fax to Baghdad from the Iraqi ambassador to the Philippines, outlining their previous financial and material support for the deadly Salafist terror group Abu Sayyaf. (Abu Sayyaf has had operational links to al-Qaida in the past.) As if we needed more proof of Saddam's involvement in terrorism, given his public support for Abu Nidal, the Palestine Liberation Front, and his paying stipends to the families of suicide bombers.

As for that absurd pseudo-argument stating that Saddam could never have worked with Islamist terrorists, since he was secular: remember that the saying "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" originated in Arabic. And Saddam showed no compunctions about using Islam to buttress his own authority.

That sound you hear is a million "Bush lied" drones frantically shoving their fingers deeper into their ears.


The Cheapening of Symbols

Tonight, I attended a production of Kiss Me Kate at UC Irvine. The production was in most respects quite good; the singing and acting were both top-notch, and the sets were lavishly done. But there was one sour note that had me fuming for most of the second act, unfortunately. The character of Harrison Howell, a Texas cattle-rancher in the original, had been rewritten for the 1999 revival as an Army general, apparently modeled on Douglas MacArthur. He is domineering, rude, and peremptory, and portrayed as the future running-mate of Republican Thomas Dewey. That I might have swallowed with only a little irritation, but in this production his military escorts were dressed in SS uniforms, and the main character mockingly gives the Sig Heil salute when the General's back is turned.

Perhaps it is to be expected from a theater department at UC Irvine. Surely they must think it highly amusing to take such a dig at the military today, given their presumed opposition to the war. Yet that they should do so by using Nazi imagery, in the same way that some today are fond of equating Bush with Hitler, suggests to me that such people no longer appreciate just how evil the Nazis were — or they understand it in some abstract sense that doesn't really penetrate.

For Jews, however, Nazi imagery can be incredibly powerful and inspires visceral reactions of loathing and hatred among some, and terrible fear and anger among those who actually went through the Holocaust. I remember going to see The Producers on Broadway last year; when the actors came out in SS uniforms for a dance number, I felt a sudden instinctive need to find a gun and shoot them. That was how strongly the very sight of those uniforms affected me.

Yet the very fact that the Nazis represented the pinnacle of evil, which should make people hesitant to use them as a point of comparison, instead had the reverse effect. It is too easy for sloppy thinkers to use the Nazis as a cheap shortcut for conveying just how strongly they feel about something, whether or not the use is justified. This phenomenon has become so widespread that Godwin's Law was formulated to try to discourage such hyperbole, at least on the Internet. Sadly, it has had limited effect, and now invoking the Nazis or Adolph Hitler has become a debating tactic with almost zero semantic content.

Now, people are so used to such sloppiness, such ahistoricism, that they often don't even consider the effect of such usage on listeners who might fully appreciate who the Nazis were, or the Communist Party, or the Ku Klux Klan, or any such incarnation of evil who has been appropriated by the ranting classes. When we hear such unthinking appeals to reflexive emotion, we only feel disgust for the one who is so willing to mangle history for the sake of the transitory political problem of the day.

Similarly, while Americans may be used to speaking of "crusades" as a general term, the Muslim world (and the Jewish world, for that matter) has much stronger memories of what the Crusades actually were. Hence the semantic confusion after one of President Bush's early speeches.

Perhaps such cheapening of symbols is endemic to democracies, which by their nature are forward-looking and have a poor appreciation of history. Associations to past events quickly fade; democracies constantly change, with few attachments to what came before. And those of us who are still stongly attached to our heritage are doomed to a constant, low-level dismay at the thoughtlessness of those who surround us.

After all, it's just a show, right?


Interesting… Flawed, But Interesting…

I happened to run across an editorial from last month by Ted Halstead, boss of the New America Foundation, in which he proposes a "new Homestead Act" to promote greater access to financial assets. His thesis:
The most promising way to revitalize America’s middle class is to update old traditions. In the nineteenth century, the U.S. sought to broaden the ownership of land; in the twentieth, the ownership of homes. In this new century, the target should be the ownership of financial assets. The logic for such a course follows from the economic dynamics that are widening the gap between today’s haves and have-nots.
This presupposes that financial assets are as fundamental a part of individual prosperity as are land holdings and home ownership. This assumption is off-base for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the small stockholder doesn't actually control anything to speak of, as a landowner controls his land or a homeowner controls his home; nor does stock directly contribute to physical security in the same way that a home does. But regardless. Setting aside the flawed comparison to the Homestead Act and the G.I. Bill, let us proceed to the meat of the proposal:
Imagine if every newborn in America were to receive $6,000 at birth as a down payment on a productive life. With the magic of compound interest [ed: uh oh…], that sum could grow to $20,000 or more by the time the child reaches 18. This young adult could then apply his or her nest egg toward various investments, such as college tuition, a down payment on a first home, seed money for a legitimate business, or retirement savings. Given the number of children born in America each year, the annual cost of such a program would be about $24 billion—roughly what the government squanders on farm subsidies. The benefits, however, would be immeasurable.

Endowing the next generation with resources to invest in its own human capital and financial future would create not only a much broader middle class but also a more self-sufficient, skilled, and entrepreneurial workforce. Gradually, the U.S. would witness the birth of a mass investor class, with ever more citizens deriving their income from returns on financial holdings as well as from wages. There would be less need for a generous welfare state, and the interests of workers and business would be better aligned.

A Homestead Act for the twenty-first century could also offer inner-city kids a new social contract:if they play by the rules and graduate from high school, then a pot of money will allow them to invest in their own futures. Paired with financial-literacy education in schools, such a policy could help turn a culture of poverty and dependency into one of hope and opportunity.
First, the obvious issues. Going from $6,000 to $20,000 in 18 years assumes a rate of return of about 7%. Assuming that Halstead is interested in real returns (i.e. adjusted for inflation), this would require a rather aggressive investment strategy, certainly more so than can be done with bonds. So either the "down payment" would have to be actively managed (with the corresponding risk of catastrophic losses), or else we should settle for smaller hypothetical gains — perhaps a $6000 stake could double (in real terms) in 18 years, reflecting a real rate of return of 4%, which is still being generous.

Second, this is a universal welfare program. The starting stake must come from tax revenue, and it further reinforces the notion that it is the government's job to take care of everyone by confiscating wealth from those who are most successful (cue Ayn Rand rant here).

That said, it has a few interesting features which can be examined. Assuming that such a program were instituted exactly as described (ha ha), everyone would grow up knowing that there is a lump sum of money waiting, which is not large enough to finance consumption for any length of time, yet is easily large enough for a down payment on a house, or the starting capital of a small business or an investment portfolio. Combined with a prudent upbringing (ha ha), the child would have a great incentive to learn the fundamentals of budgeting and money management, or even entrepreneurialism. That this would be of tremendous benefit should go without saying, especially compared to the status quo of widespread financial illiteracy.

Additionally, as noted above, this would constitute a financial incentive for students to graduate from high school (or the equivalent — homeschoolers should benefit as well). At present, many students see no benefit to sticking it out when they could go directly into the workforce, legal or illegal. Given the abysmal content of many high schools, I sympathize; but in any event, this would cause students to reassess their interests.

Moreover, if social welfare programs were indeed scaled back (har har), they would be replaced by a market system that allows the new adults to do whatever they wish with their stake, and reap the benefits or consequenses of their choices. Government spending could thus be employed more efficiently (hee hee), reducing the total cost to taxpayers (giggle).

Of course, in the real world such a program would most likely cause a boost in sales of luxury SUVs to recent high-school grads. Government spending would continue to skyrocket, nary a program would be cut back, and young people would develop an even worse mentality of entitlement. And there would be a proliferation of credit cards targeted to middle-schoolers, secured with the assets in this "Homestead" account.

So, not really useful. But an interesting idea nonetheless. It would be fun to compare this with Heinlein's idea of "legacies" that he put forth in For Us, the Living.


Brought to You by NASA

Some days it's really easy to believe that most of our problems will be solved by advancing technology:
Robert Downs: Well, on the 2009 [Mars Science Laboratory] mission nuclear powered machine that they’re going to put up there, lots of power, and they are going to put this little device that’s going to be in the order of 200 cubic centimetres in size and it’s going to sit out as an arm on the rover and it’s going to come up close to the rocks and it’s going to shoot a laser at the rocks. And the laser’s going to excite the atoms, make them vibrate and they’re going to send a signal back - it’s in the order of a million times weaker than the laser and we’ll see these tiny little spots of light that the rock emits and we can use them as fingerprints and we can identify minerals that the rock is made out of.
In other words, a small, portable device that can perform laser spectroscopy. And the manufacturer is hoping to commercialize it, since it can do far more than identify minerals:
[Downs:] You can shoot the Raman and the laser goes through that white plastic, it identifies the three parts of Tylenol the aspirin and it tells you what the plastic is made out of. It works on leaves – I can identify the species of trees by shooting their leaves. I don’t think the biologists are aware of this yet. I have a friend who collects snakeskins, I shot the snakeskins and I can identify the species of snake. Last month researchers in Switzerland showed that with the Raman instrument they could detect breast cancer. So we don’t know where this is going, it’s a brand new technology basically made because NASA funded it to make it cheaper, created the new optics and so on. And then we have people like Mike Scott [of Apple Computer, see more in the original article], who’s willing to put their own pocket money out to actually create the databases required to identify things.
Hat tip to Samizdata, where Dale Amon calls the device "a real tricorder."


Thoughts on Imperial Grunts

In his fantastic book Imperial Grunts, Robert Kaplan returns again and again to the way in which our military is constrained by a top-heavy bureaucracy, in which soldiers on the ground often cannot act without confirmation from multiple levels of high-command officers. In his section on Afghanistan, Kaplan notes that Special Forces teams receiving "actionable intel" on insurgents cannot strike against them until they secure authorization from the higher ups, which typically takes three days; in that time, the intel often goes stale.

Similarly, our deployments in Columbia and the Phillipines are subject to incredibly restrictive rules of engagement, such that our forces there can clearly point to factors that will undermine their mission yet be unable to do anything about it. The ROE's are usually laid down by the highest levels of the Pentagon, and while the leadership is most sensitive to the political environment in Washington they are least connected to the situation on the ground. Often, American troops can lose goodwill when civilians see that they have the power to act against narco-gangs or terrorists, yet refuse to do so for reasons that the civilians discount.

In general, the problem seems to be that soldiers on the front lines are not given the command authority they need, or access to the logistical support they require. There are good reasons for this, from a certain point of view; the Pentagon wants its troops to operate according to a unified strategy, which can be set according to the dictates of grand strategy and politics. Individual units, operating to complete their own missions, can conceivably act in ways that harm a larger effort. Similarly, there are only so many logistical resources to go around. Unless an authority can allocate these resources, units in combat will consume resources out of proportion to their utility.

But this merely changes the institutional bias from too much action to too much inaction. Worse, it removes control from officers on the ground, who can most deftly apply their strengths. Furthermore, while the Pentagon is acutely sensitive to large-scale politics, it is inherently ignorant of local politics in each of the hundreds of deployments around the world. Orders that seem appropriate from a high level can become hamfisted at the micro.

There is another problem with removing control from the front lines, one that is prevalent in all branches of government: the "just following orders" syndrome. If low-level agents have no discretion, they can blame all of their actions on those higher than they, who gave the orders. This enables them to act without caring whether the policy is actually helpful, or whether it is counterproductive. Meanwhile, those who give the original orders are often too powerful to discipline directly. This leads to what Hans Sherrer calls "bureaucratic inhumanity." It is true that soldiers are taught that "just following orders" is no excuse; but this just means that soldiers bear all the responsibility with relatively little of the power.

Meanwhile, in war as in everything else, the key is to respond to changing conditions more quickly than your adversary can. (See John Boyd for more.) The present structure of our military is slow and lumbering, an Industrial-Age organization in an Information-Age world. Something must be done.

Releasing control to the front line is not the hard part, and happens more often than I have implied, but only when it is relatively uncomplicated. The hard part is how to allocate logistical resources. And here, Kaplan is at his best. He repeatedly criticizes the military's bloated logistical tail, which consumes far too many resources just supporting itself to be able to nimbly support the troops on the front line. Kaplan argues convincingly that our troops would be more effective if there were fewer of them who were capable of more autonomous action. His harshest scorn is reserved for Camp Victory, the Army deployment in Iraq that is overrun with REMF's.

Robert Kaplan is an incredible observer of conditions on the ground, and the nobility and sacrifice of our soldiers. Everyone who is at all interested in the military or the future of American imperialism should read Imperial Grunts.


Quote of the Day

An "intellectual" is a man who takes more words than he needs to say more than he knows.
--President Dwight D. Eisenhower


Quote of the Day

The mind is not a storehouse to be filled
but an instrument to be used.
John Gardner

(Though to be precise, your mental instrument can be best used when it is guided by knowledge; but still, knowledge is nothing without application.)


Children and Childlessness

Shannon Love over at Chicago Boyz has written a piece on the economic consequenses of the growing numbers of childless adults. She argues that such adults are economic free-riders, since they benefit from society while doing nothing to perpetuate that society. This is not a moral judgement per se, as it does not consider whether such adults are childless by choice; not only are marriages occurring later and later in the West, but fertility seems to be lower in industrialized societies. But there can be no doubt that growing numbers of people have decided to remain childless, for reasons of personal convenience, rational economic calculation, or ideology.

The economic issue is perhaps the least difficult to address. Love writes:
In the pre-industrial era, children almost always contributed to the economic success of the family directly. Agriculture depended heavily on the labor of children, and children brought further benefits by extending support networks via marriages. In the industrial era, however, children began to contribute less and less while consuming more and more. Nowadays, children usually return very little if any economic benefit to the parents.

Being a parent costs one economically. Although we socialize some cost, such as education, parents pay most of the cost of raising a child. Parents also lose out in non-monetary ways such as in a loss of flexibility in when and where they work. If an individual sets out to maximize his lifetime income, avoiding having children would be step one.
A large part of this situation, I think, is due to child-labor laws, and the associated attitude that children are entitled not to work, and furthermore must not work for a living for fear that it would impact their (often pointless) schooling. My own observations seem to indicate the opposite. A struggling family I know in New York has seven children; at least one of them chose to work "under the table" (i.e. illegally) for businesses in the area starting from when he was twelve. Some of the other sons had their own catering business. Not only did their wages and earnings help pay for essentials, but the work experience has made them all more disciplined and dependable; the eldest son recently graduated college with a degree in business management.

Conversely, those of us who are unused to employment have a terrible work ethic and tend to spend money all the more freely for its being unearned. Additionally, people are waiting longer and longer after reaching legal age to go out and look for empoyment, simply because they can.

We must take steps to correct the present situation, in which children are incredibly expensive leeches for the first twenty years or more. One first step is to dramatically revise the child-labor laws, and to reprogram public attitudes towards honest work. As Thomas Sowell writes:
At one time, child labor laws were used to stop youngsters whose ages had not yet reached double digits from working in exhausting and dangerous factories and mines. Today, they are used to keep big healthy teenagers from handling pieces of paper in air-conditioned offices.
But this only begins to address one point leading to childlessness, the economic cost. Many people have chosen not to have children either because they don't want the hardship, or because they actually oppose childbirth in general. This is a more serious problem, having to do with societal attitudes and principles more than economic concerns. And here, Ms. Love's piece falls short; she does not point out that often, birth rates correlate strongly with the level of religious practice. This is certainly true in the Jewish community:
[The Orthodox] fertility rate is far above the Jewish norm. As against the overall average of 1.86 children per Jewish woman, an informed estimate gives figures ranging upward from 3.3 children in “modern Orthodox” families to 6.6 in Haredi or “ultra-Orthodox” families to a whopping 7.9 in families of Hasidim. These numbers are, of course, difficult to pin down definitively, but anecdotal evidence is compelling. In a single year, according to a nurse at one hospital in the Lakewood, New Jersey area serving a right-wing Orthodox population, 1,700 babies were born to 5,500 local families, yielding a rate of 358 births per thousand women. (The overall American rate is 65 births per thousand women.)
Religious Jews see childbirth as a Divine imperative, and a crucial obligation to the community. We are not alone in that regard:
The more Islamic a country, the higher the birthrate: Iran, Jordan, Lybia, Kuwait and Eritrea double their populations in 20 years or less, up to twice as fast as India.
I have thought for a long time that strong religions are a Darwinian survival trait for societies. Secularism offers few reasons why the perpetuation of a society is worth striving for. Is it any surprise that the "blue" states in the United States are steadily losing congressional seats to the "red" states?


God Bless Congressman Lantos

Be sure to watch this interview by Pajamas Media of Congressman Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), the only Holocaust survivor in Congress and a consistent champion of liberty. He recently chaired a subcommittee hearing to nail down Yahoo and Google for cooperating with China's political repression. The video linked above shows clips from that hearing, which demonstrate just how easily the companies have rationalized their complicity. We need about twenty more Lantoses, fast.