Biggest News of 2016: Death of the Cholesterol Theory?

Television news the last couple of days has been showing ‘year in review’ montages. These montages seem to focus almost exclusively on three things: the presidential election, terrorism, and celebrity deaths. While the presidential election was pretty remarkable, I want to argue that perhaps the most significant development of 2016 was the mainstreaming of skepticism regarding the lipid hypothesis: the idea that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease.

The lipid hypothesis has been dominant for 60 years, and has profoundly influenced modern medicine and the American diet. It’s really hard to overstate its impact. As a response to the fear of fat, the food industry has developed a ‘low-fat’ or ‘non-fat’ version of seemingly every traditional food product: cookies, ice cream, yogurt–you name it. For a couple of generations now, everybody has been avoiding fat and/or taking statins to reduce cholesterol. After my uncle had by-pass surgery, he spent the last 20 years of his life scrupulously avoiding saturated fat. He even got the chef at his favorite restaurant to remove the chicken skin before cooking (even though every chef in the world knows that chicken is properly cooked in the skin and on the bone). Just before Christmas I found myself in a supermarket in Massachusetts where I overheard two elderly ladies discussing how drinking eggnog must be particularly unhealthy. “I’m OK,” said one of them, “as long as I take my cholesterol pill.” Statins have indeed become the most profitable drug in history.

And yet, the lipid hypothesis never was supported by very much scientific evidence, and the best and most recent evidence refutes it. The Massachusetts lady with the cholesterol pill is operating on multiple levels of delusion. There is in fact little or no connection between diet and serum cholesterol. It’s not like the cholesterol in the eggnog goes straight to your bloodstream; the body itself produces and regulates cholesterol. Second, the best and latest evidence contradicts the idea that high cholesterol causes heart disease. Patients with heart problems admitted to hospitals do not, on average, have cholesterol levels higher than the population as a whole. High cholesterol, in fact, is associated with longer lifespan.

If heart disease has a dietary culprit, it would seem not to be fat, but rather sugar and other refined carbohydrates.

In 2016, the truth about fat and cholesterol was finally reported by major publications, including the Boston Globe, New York Times, and Washington Post. Some of these stories appeared in previous years, but I believe I saw more this year than ever before. The word at last is getting out.

Maybe in another five years or so, your doctor will catch up with the Huffington Post and stop focusing on cholesterol numbers. Anyway, we can hope.

It’s really an amazing thing if you think about it. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women worldwide. And yet the medical establishment has been completely wrong about it for 60 years. Because they cured so many other diseases, everybody believed they must be right about heart disease too. But they were wrong, and they issued dietary advice that was particularly harmful. They told us to substitute toxic transfats for healthy butter.

Over two generations, how many people died prematurely by trying to follow the awful dietary recommendations, or by putting their faith in statins? Millions? The lipid hypothesis might be the second most deadly idea after collectivized agriculture.

PLEASE Abolish a Cabinet-Level Department

Every time the media issues a report that President-elect Trump has chosen someone to serve as Secretary of Such-and-Such federal department, I am overcome with a profound feeling of disappointment. Instead of staffing these departments, they should be abolished. Indeed, the existence of most cabinet-level departments–Energy, Education, Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, HUD, Transportation, etc.–cannot be justified on economic grounds. All these federal departments do more harm than good.

At the Washington Examiner, Peter Z. Grossman, an economics professor at Butler University, makes the case against the Department of Energy in particular. As Grossman correctly notes, DOE was created during the Carter Administration, a time when people wrongly feared that the world was rapidly running out of fossil fuels.

The DOE was conceived in dark and pessimistic beliefs and forecasts that have proven totally wrong. As Obama might say, the DOE is on the wrong side of history. As it stands the department needs to either be rethought or retired.

The original legislation justified a Department of Energy because, 1) we were rapidly running out of fossil fuels, especially oil and natural gas; 2) as a consequence of this we were becoming increasingly dependent on energy imports — dependence that made us vulnerable to embargoes and political blackmail; and 3) so therefore we needed “a strong national [read government-directed] energy program.”

The hysteria that prevailed at that time was reflected in a full-page ad that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 1978. The ad asserted that within 9 years, that is by 1987, the world would completely run out of oil. That’s right; we were supposed to be out of oil thirty years ago! Instead, proven oil reserves currently stand at an all-time high.

Even before fracking proved the dire warnings to be utterly wrong, we had for the most part taken care of our energy dependence. We significantly reduced any possible vulnerability to an embargo by diversifying our suppliers; over sixty countries were supplying us with oil in the 2000s. Our No. 1 supplier? Canada. Mexico also has been in the top five. This information makes “foreign oil,” a bit less scary, no?

So DOE was created to protect us from a threat that did not really exist. And in the meantime, it has racked up a legacy of failure and imposed costly mandates on Americans.

[W]e’ve endured wasteful, panicked policies such as massive subsidies for the wind and solar power, and electric cars. Worst of all, Congress has saddled consumers with ethanol subsidies and mandates. These boondoggles cost us billions of dollars, and none of them are [sic] commercially viable in their own right. In fact, the DOE has produced no dramatic breakthroughs in energy technology despite 40 years of trying (and failing) to pick winners.

Grossman correctly points out (as Milton Friedman did long ago) that DOE’s very few useful functions can easily be taken over by other departments.

Many would argue that the DOE does some good, even essential work. It watches over nuclear waste, for example. And there is some useful research and development going on at many of the DOE laboratories.

But any valuable work done by the DOE could be carved off into independent agencies just as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was created by Congress so that the DOE would not have control over natural gas prices. Nuclear power concerns should be part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the labs could be placed under an independent agency such as the Energy Research and Development Agency (ERDA) that existed from 1974 until it was folded into the DOE three years later.

Grossman notes that Trump’s nominee for Energy Secretary, former Texas governor Rick Perry, actually advocated abolishing DOE when he ran for president in 2012. Let’s hope Perry still believes that, and that he intends to take over DOE so he can dismantle it. I’m not holding my breath, however.

Below, check out the interview from 1999 with the great Milton Friedman, age 86 at the time. Out of 14 cabinet-level departments, Milt argues for abolishing nine and a half of them. At this point I would consider it great progress if the Trump Administration managed to abolish just one of those nine-and-a-half.

Paying for College with Shares: A Dubious Idea

Sheila Bair is the former head of the FDIC and the current president of Washington College. Writing in the New York Times, she proposes that students be able to pay for college using shares, rather than debt. The idea is that students could essentially sell shares in themselves by promising to pay a specific fraction of their future income. A borrower’s future repayments would therefore depend on future income. With debt, in contrast, future payments are fixed.

Student debt now stands at $1.3 trillion. More than half of student borrowers are unable to repay their loans according to the original terms. In a well-intended but poorly executed effort to make college broadly accessible, the government has lent freely to students, with little attention to whether they can repay those loans. The result is millions of young people with debt they cannot afford. …

Mr. Trump should scrap debt financing of higher education and make the transition to true income share arrangements. Borrowers would fulfill their obligations to taxpayers by paying a fixed percentage of their income over an extended period of years. Think of this change as a shift in the government’s role from creditor to equity investor. When you lend to a business, it is obligated to pay you back with interest, but with a stock investment, your returns derive from the success of the company.

Similarly, with a student loan, there is a fixed obligation to repay the loan amount with interest, but with income share, there is only a contractual obligation for the student to return to taxpayers a certain percentage of his or her future income. Higher earners will pay back more than lower earners (up to a limit), though all will have an affordable payment and all will have protection against life events — a health crisis, caring for an elderly parent — that reduce their income.

Replacing the current, unwieldy programs with a single repayment plan based on income would provide immediate relief for millions of young people while guaranteeing a steady source of revenue to taxpayer coffers, particularly if payments were built into the tax withholding system.

Although Bair does not acknowledge it, this idea of paying for college with equity has been around a long time. The great economist Milton Friedman, for instance, wrote about this idea decades ago. But aside from the lack of originality, there are reasons for doubting the wisdom of Bair’s plan.

Bair depicts her plan as win-win; both students and taxpayers would come out ahead. The education shares, however, that taxpayers would end up purchasing would probably not generally be good investments. That’s because experience suggests that education shares do not meet a market test.

Debt and equity are alternative methods for financing borrowers. The reason why both methods exist is because each can sometimes be the best method, depending on the circumstances. In some cases, debt works better, in others, equity.

The fact is that we now have many decades of experience with borrowing to pay for college and the preferred method has always been debt, not equity. The market has never supported the use of equity in any substantial way. This is probably no accident; the market chooses debt because debt works better.

The reason why debt probably works better for financing higher education has to do with the particular accountability problems associated with the borrower. In some circumstances, the borrower’s accountability problems favor the use of equity. But when the accountability problem involves ‘shirking’–the borrower not working hard or taking chances to make money for his financiers–the efficient method is debt.

The use of equity will implicitly favor ‘shirkers’–people with poor earning prospects, and tend to encourage shirking. For instance, engineering majors earn considerably more than do psychology majors. Under Bair’s plan, the engineers will have to repay a lot more than will the psychology majors. That may seem fair, but the efficient outcome is for the engineers only to pay more to the extent that their education costs more, not because they earn more. Bair’s plan effectively penalizes the productive majors and subsidizes the unproductive ones.

Bair bemoans the fact that debt currently influences her students’ career choices.

As a college president, I frequently hear from students who are anxious about their ability to repay their loans once they graduate. Many let student debt guide their career choices.

Bair’s plan will indeed alter incentives for students. But those incentives will shift in favor of unproductive choices rather than productive ones. Students will have relatively more incentive to choose unproductive majors. They will also have less incentive after graduation to work hard and to take risks.

As is well-known, equity tends to discourage risk taking because much of the upside of the risk accrues to the shareholders, not the borrower. Students financed with equity therefore have less incentive to take a chance by starting their own business. They also have less reason to push themselves to work hard, because they more they earn, the more they have to repay. As some commenters noted, in the extreme case, a graduate could choose to not work at all and end up paying nothing. These are the probable reasons why the market seems to have preferred debt over equity.

Rather than arbitrarily shifting the financing method from debt to equity, the real solution to the high cost of college it to put an end to government subsidies. Getting the government out of financing higher education will lower tuition costs and also free the market to choose whichever financing method, debt or equity, is more efficient.

Thomas Sowell Remembers

Sad news, as Thomas Sowell, at the age of 86, is retiring from his syndicated column.

Thomas Sowell

Sowell is an economist and one of the most astute social observers of his generation. In his farewell column, Sowell reflects on the changes he has seen during his long life in America.

In material things, there has been almost unbelievable progress. Most Americans did not have refrigerators back in 1930, when I was born. Television was little more than an experiment, and such things as air-conditioning or air travel were only for the very rich.

My own family did not have electricity or hot running water, in my early childhood, which was not unusual for blacks in the South in those days.

My dad was born the year after Sowell, and growing up in a northeastern city, he also did not have hot running water.

It is hard to convey to today’s generation the fear that the paralyzing disease of polio inspired, until vaccines put an abrupt end to its long reign of terror in the 1950s.

Most people living in officially defined poverty in the 21st century have things like cable television, microwave ovens and air-conditioning. Most Americans did not have such things, as late as the 1980s. People whom the intelligentsia continue to call the “have-nots” today have things that the “haves” did not have, just a generation ago.

The word ‘poverty’ has indeed been redefined ever upward. Several years ago, the mom of one of my students was outraged when I said that, in America, we don’t really have poverty anymore. She later sent me an article from Newsweek magazine claiming that poverty in America still existed, but I didn’t find the argument very convincing. The fact is that it has long been the case that the ‘poor’ no longer lack the basic necessities of life.

But while the material life of the people has made tremendous progress, in other ways, life has gotten worse.

With all the advances of blacks over the years, nothing so brought home to me the social degeneration in black ghettoes like a visit to a Harlem high school some years ago.

When I looked out the window at the park across the street, I mentioned that, as a child, I used to walk my dog in that park. Looks of horror came over the students’ faces, at the thought of a kid going into the hell hole which that park had become in their time.

When I have mentioned sleeping out on a fire escape in Harlem during hot summer nights, before most people could afford air-conditioning, young people have looked at me like I was a man from Mars. But blacks and whites alike had been sleeping out on fire escapes in New York since the 19th century. They did not have to contend with gunshots flying around during the night.

The crime rate in 1940 was indeed much lower than today. And at that time, the incarceration rate was barely one-fourth has high as today. To get the incarceration rate down to the 1940 level would require releasing something like 70 percent of today’s prisoners. We could start with the non-violent offenders, of course, but releasing that many criminals would no doubt require releasing many dangerous predators. I frankly shudder to think how high today’s crime rate would reach if we returned to the incarceration rates of the past.

So the long-term trend is material progress, but social regress. Exit question: Are the two phenomena related? Does material progress tend to erode social mores and restraints?

The Bullying of Business

The ‘socialists of all parties,’ to borrow a phrase of F.A. Hayek’s, have often pursued their political objectives by vilifying and intimidating the business community. This has been the practice of socialists throughout history, and it is worth considering just a few of the innumerable historical examples.

When the U.S. economy entered a double-dip recession in 1937, Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded by scapegoating and bullying the capitalists.

Roosevelt went on in later weeks to speculate that the slowdown in investment was not economically explicable but was, rather, part of a political conspiracy against him, a “capital strike” designed to dislodge him from office and destroy the New Deal…In a reprise of his tactics in the “wealth tax” battle of 1935 and the electoral campaign of 1936, Roosevelt loosed Assistant Attorney General Robert Jackson, along with Ickes, to give a series of blistering speeches in December 1937. Ickes inveighed against Henry Ford, Tom Girdler and the “Sixty Families,”…Left unchecked, Ickes thundered, they would create “big-business Fascist America – an enslaved America.” For his part, Jackson decried the slump in private investment as “a general strike – the first general strike in America – a strike against the government – a strike to coerce political action.” Roosevelt even ordered an FBI investigation of possible criminal conspiracy in the alleged capitalist strike, but it revealed nothing of substance.

More recently, Democrats have been conducting an extended campaign to demonize the entire fossil fuel industry, blaming the industry for nothing less than ‘destroying the planet.’ In 2009, President Obama and other Democrats blamed rising health insurance costs on the profits and ‘greed’ of the insurance industry.

In Venezuela, a country with abundant natural resources, the population has been plunged into economic misery and deprivation as the culmination of a 17-year campaign of vilification of the business community.

Writing at the Claremont Review of Books, Fred Smith wonders why capitalists don’t do more to defend themselves from socialist attacks and smears.

Is it possible to persuade capitalists to advance their case confidently rather than apologetically? Perhaps, but often the business community cedes the moral high ground to leftist critics. Business does well at communicating its contributions in the economic sphere, but has failed to develop a moral and intellectual defense of its role in modern life.
[…]
Economist Deirdre McCloskey has pointed out that business spends a vast proportion of its resources on “persuasion”—marketing, advertising, deal-making, negotiating with suppliers and distributors, bargaining with unions, and interactions with regulatory officials. Devoting a small fraction of those persuasive talents to demonstrating the moral legitimacy of economic activity might greatly reduce firms’ political vulnerability. As Strassel makes clear, the “intimidation game” is not only a political struggle but a culture war, one the intimidators have dominated.
[…]
The American Liberty League, a well-funded, business-led campaign against the New Deal, enlisted prominent business and political leaders and published significant intellectual arguments. That effort was soundly defeated, however. Progressives demonized League members—pro-market business leaders, academics, and politicians—as “special interests” intent on thwarting the “public interest.”

America is still in many ways a capitalist economy, but the Progressives succeeded in introducing an anti-capitalist element into its culture. The growing number and stridency of business critics in the media and academy, popular culture, the regulatory agencies, the judiciary, and Congress illustrate this reality, as do attacks by Democrats and even some Republicans in the recent political campaign.

Unsurprisingly, businesses’ regulatory burden has grown steadily from the Sherman Antitrust Act to the Dodd-Frank and Obamacare rules of today. Compliance and accommodation does nothing to mute criticism of the private sector. Rather, from the Muckrakers to Naomi Klein, businessmen have been caricatured as greedy, shortsighted villains. Even the most honorable business leaders have become reluctant to defend their social role. Intimidating a group that doubts its own moral legitimacy is not difficult.

Fred references an idea of Joseph Schumpeter’s which states that capitalism is a victim of its own success. Ironically, it is the vast surplus generated by the success of capitalism that enables the existence of a parasitic class of academics, activists, and bureaucrats that resents capitalists and supports itself by attacking capitalism.

In his essay, “Can Capitalism Survive?” the economist Joseph Schumpeter noted that by the late 19th century capitalism’s vast economic growth had created the world’s first broad middle class. This development, in turn, led to an increasingly influential intellectual class comprising people who would come to envy and resent entrepreneurs’ material success. The knowledge that a more politicized economy would create great numbers of prestigious advisory roles they could fill, Schumpeter argued, guaranteed intellectuals’ hostility to capitalism.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, American Progressives were inspired by the welfare/regulatory state Bismarck established, especially by the way it provided intellectuals respect, power, and rewards. Inspired by their travels to or studies in Germany, Progressives sought to replace America’s “chaotic” laissez faire capitalism with a technocracy. They captured key cultural institutions, including the universities and the media. Entrepreneurs continued to create wealth, but America’s culture became more critical of business. As antipathy to commerce grew, so did government intervention in the economy.

By the way, Fred Smith is the founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Three years ago we hosted Fred as a guest speaker at UD, and we enjoyed chatting with him while consuming an after-dinner cigar.

Read Fred’s whole piece here.

The War on Drugs is a War on America

If a foreign power killed ten thousand Americans, it would rightly be considered an act of war several times worse than 9-11, Pearl Harbor, Lusitania, or Maine. And yet, that’s the number of Americans killed every year by their own government in the War on Drugs. As the New York Post reports, since the government’s crackdown on prescription opiods, overdose deaths from opiods have increased by 10,000 per year.

Consider OxyContin — a major drug of choice for addicts that in 2010 was reformulated to make it far harder to abuse.

Illegal OxyContin use did indeed plummet immediately — but abusers then switched in droves to heroin, which is far more dangerous, and deaths from heroin overdose soared from 3,000 in 2009 to 13,000 in 2015.

Worse still, black-marketeers are now blending fentanyl — a highly potent, synthetic version of heroin — with heroin itself, or substituting it outright for the “natural” drug. That’s responsible for much of the soaring ODs.

The Department of Health in Ohio — which has the highest number of opioid deaths in the nation — reported in 2015 that more than 80 percent of opioid deaths arose from heroin or fentanyl, up from 20 percent in 2010. Health agencies in Florida and Massachusetts report similar trends. It’s now indisputable that most recent opioid deaths result from heroin/fentanyl, not pain pills.

If the choice is between people taking OxyContin pills or deadly junk like fentanyl, let them have the OxyContin.

Furthermore, the federal crackdown is inhibiting the use of opiods for people who legitimately need them for pain relief.

Another side of the equation is the cruel and needless suffering inflicted on blameless Americans who can no longer easily get pain medications. Just as addicts will do almost anything to feed their addiction, people in severe pain will do what is needed to escape it — even suicide.

Indeed, escaping pain is becoming increasingly difficult. People who have been treated appropriately and responsibly for years are now finding it difficult to obtain the relief they need, even from the same doctors. And you can’t blame the doctors.

Physicians rightly view the CDC “advice” as anything but voluntary. With the DEA looking over their shoulders, they fear losing their licenses for overprescribing. This creates just another wall between doctors and patients, many of whom are now forced to cope with their pain by using non-opioid, over-the-counter drugs such as Advil and Tylenol. These drugs are less effective and also carry their own risks, chiefly liver, kidney, stomach and heart toxicity.

Stop the madness. End the drug war now.

Plumbers 1, Harvard Law Profs 0

The national media spent several days hyping a story about a brewing revolt in the electoral college, in which many electors were supposedly considering not carrying out their pledge to vote for Donald Trump. The media deliberately conveyed the impression that this meeting of the electoral college was shaping up differently from the usual formality, and that there was a real chance the electors would vote to overturn the election and deny Trump the presidency.

Now that the electoral college has voted, it seems clear that the outcome was never really in doubt. As nearly any sane and informed person would have predicted, the vast majority of electors voted for the candidate to whom they were pledged. There was no revolt among the electors. Donald Trump lost only two of his 306 pledged electors; Hillary Clinton actually had more faithless electors (six or so) than Trump did.

Where did this story about an electoral college revolt come from? I just saw Brent Bozell of the Media Research Institute on TV arguing that the story was FAKE NEWS, made up by the media during an otherwise slow week for news. But the really interesting thing is that this fake news was not exclusively the product of the media, but was actively abetted by representatives of Harvard Law School.

At least two prominent Harvard Law professors–Laurence Tribe and Larry Lessig–were actively and publicly promoting the idea of a revolt in the electoral college. They argued that such a revolt was not only legal, but desirable, and furthermore, that the revolt was actually happening.

Electors get selected for the electoral college by pledging themselves to a candidate whom they support. Donald Trump’s electors were therefore essentially all Trump supporters. Why would anyone rational, especially a Harvard Law professor, expect Trump supporters to do anything other than vote for Trump?

In retrospect it seems astonishing that prominent public intellectuals like Tribe and Lessig would associate their names and reputations with such a ridiculous notion. All I can think of is that they despise Trump so much that they just wanted it to happen–it was the triumph of hope over reason. One would expect, however, prominent law professors to comport themselves more in accordance with reason than emotion. After all, the job of a law professor distinctly requires proficiency in the use of reason.

Furthermore, did the professors fully think through the consequences of what they were advocating? Overturning the election in the electoral college would have brought on the worst political crisis in America since the Civil War. The reaction to overturning a presidential election would involve violence in the streets. And the people in this country who have guns and know how to use them are not primarily the lawyers, rent seekers, and cat ladies who voted for Hillary. Lessig and Tribe are fools if they believe that the half the country that voted for Trump would take such a coup lying down. Again, did they think this through?

Laurence Tribe is no less than the leading ‘liberal constitutional scholar’ of his generation. But his Twitter feed is currently promoting some cockamamie theory that Trump is constitutionally disqualified from assuming the presidency because his business investments contravene the Emoluments Clause. Tribe’s whole Twitter feed has become nothing more than an extended primal scream of anti-Trump derangement.

In a more perfect world, top law professors would serve as thought leaders for the rest of society, and ordinary people should be able to attach particular significance to their views. Our scholars should serve as the enlightened guardians of the Republic that Plato envisioned. But in today’s America, the scholars who should be natural opinion leaders make less sense than the average person. It’s really a sorry state of affairs.

A colleague of mine recently had a plumber out to his house, and my colleague reports that he really enjoyed chatting with the plumber about politics. My guess is that the plumber made more sense than Tribe or Lessig. That a plumber makes more sense than a Harvard Law professor is indeed one of the remarkable lessons of life. William F. Buckley Jr. was surely wise to observe, several decades ago, that he would rather be ruled by the first 500 names in the Cambridge telephone directory than by the Harvard faculty.

Populism for the win.

Politics Matters Too Much–Because of Too Much Government

The year 2016 has not only brought us one of the most memorable American elections, it has also brought a remarkable post-election period. In the wake of Trump’s victory, American leftists have experienced a very public and embarrassing emotional meltdown. Instead of engaging in reasoned and dispassionate self-reflection, Democrats are attempting to ascribe their failure to a somewhat fanciful theory involving interference by the Russian government. To a considerable degree, the left’s hysteria reflects the unstable mental state of the typical person who is attracted to the political left. After all, if the Democrats had won, it is hard to imagine the right would have displayed the same hysterical reaction, since indeed they did not following the two election victories by the career leftist, Barack Obama.

The left’s emotionalism, however, is not completely unjustified; their despair is rooted in a correct assessment of how much this election has cost them. In this election, the left stood at the threshold of securing power–not just for four years–but for a generation or more. As president, Hillary would have been able to make at the very least two, and quite possibly as many as four, appointments to the Supreme Court, thus guaranteeing leftist control for decades. Hillary also had the opportunity to import millions more Democrat voters from the Third World, thus nearly extinguishing Republican chances of winning elections at the national level. In short, the left anticipated a final and total victory over their despised adversaries, only to have the dream turn to ashes in their mouths. No wonder they are so distraught.

Of course, none of this would matter much if the federal government weren’t so involved in our lives. But we have gotten to this point because leftists have spent the last one hundred years expanding the power of government. That worked out great for the left as long as they were the ones in control. Now, however, they face the agony of turning over all that power to someone they view as anathema. The left never learns the lesson that every time you empower the government to give you something, you also empower it to take away.

In a more perfect world, elections wouldn’t matter so much because the government wouldn’t be so big. That’s how things were back in the late 19th century, when the federal government didn’t do a whole lot. It’s hard to imagine, for instance, that the course of history would have been altered very much if the Cleveland-Blaine election of 1884 had been reversed.

Critics of the two major parties have often claimed that ‘there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them.’ But in truth, there’s a world of difference between the views and agendas of the people Hillary would have appointed and those that Donald Trump is already appointing. If Trump manages to appoint two or more strict constructionists to the Court, and also manages to significantly reduce immigration, his presidency could end up being the most consequential since FDR’s. And that’s not entirely a comforting thought, because elections should not matter this much.

The problem was summarized succinctly a number of years ago by Jerry Pournelle.

We have always known that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. It’s worse now, because capture of government is so much more important than it once was. There was a time when there was enough freedom that it hardly mattered which brand of crooks ran government. That has not been true for a long time — not during most of your lifetimes, and for much of mine — and it will probably never be true again.

Indeed, the fact that elections are so consequential is a reflection of our political system’s dysfunction. The government is far too big, and too involved in our lives.

Libs: All Culture War, All the Time

The political left is currently embracing conspiracy theories about Russians in order to avoid having to engage with the truth about why they lost the election. The real reason the left lost has less to do with Russians and more to do with the fact that, over the last couple of years, the left has spent more time talking about tranny bathrooms than they have about, well, jobs. Or healthcare. And they wonder how they lost the white working class.

The problem the Democrats face right now is that they have become a profoundly ideological party, as opposed to a practical one, and most of the country is, and always has been, non-ideological. People are looking for practical solutions to real problems. The political left, however, offers little in the way of practical solutions, just an endless culture war that enthuses only a narrow constituency of freaks and Cultural Marxists.

There was a time when Democrats and the political left at least appeared to care about the plight of workers and ordinary people. Everyone on the left from Communists to New Deal Democrats championed the working man. I happen to disagree with most of the policies of the New Deal, but at least those policies were directed at real problems–employment, housing, retirement, disability–faced by ordinary people. By contrast, the left’s ideological agenda has become remarkably detached from most of the concerns of ordinary people.

As an edifying example, consider an op-ed that appeared last summer in the Dayton Daily News (no link–I have only the dead-tree clipping). The author, John M. Crisp, “is a columnist for Tribune News Service who teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi.” Crisp declares, of course, that “Trump’s rise is bad news for the country.” But not everything in the country is going bad, says Crisp, there are many good things happening “that imply a healthy national trajectory.” And what would that good news be?

All across the country statues of Confederate heroes are being removed from public places. Schools and parks are being renamed, and the Confederate battle flag has been removed from capitol grounds…More good news: Sea-World has decided to stop breeding killer whales in captivity. Ringling Brothers has retired its traveling performing elephants to a refuge in Florida. Wal-Mart has decided to sell only cage-free eggs.

Now comes the obligatory reference to tranny bathrooms.

And a number of corporations and other organizations are doing the right thing in North Carolina, as well, in response to its legislature’s passage of a law that blocks local jurisdictions from implementing measures against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification. A number of events scheduled in North Carolina have been canceled, and the Center for American Progress predicts an economic impact of a half-billion dollars.

That’s a lot of commerce lost by citizens in North Carolina, many of whom might not even have supported the North Carolina law. But John M. Crisp has happily volunteered them to suffer for his noble cause.

I’m willing to concede that many of the items on Crisp’s list are good and not bad developments, but the remarkable thing about them is how irrelevant they are to the daily concerns of ordinary people.

What consolation to a 45-year-old worker who’s job has been outsourced that his Wal-Mart eggs are cage free? The Marie Antoinettes of the 21st century declare, “Let them eat cage-free!”

How does renaming parks do anything to stop the heroin epidemic that’s claiming tens of thousands of lives every year?

Forty percent of 35-year-old women are unmarried, and more than 30 percent of middle-aged white women are taking antidepressants. But hey, at least now they get to share the ladies’ room with biological males.

It’s all so detached from real issues, as if Franking Delano Roosevelt had responded to the crisis of the Great Depression not by creating the SEC, the FDIC, and Social Security, but merely by renaming the Hoover Dam.

What’s Crisp’s plan for closing the federal government’s $200 trillion fiscal gap? Renaming the Washington Redskins?

For liberals like Crisp, it’s just all culture war all the time. I really wonder, in fact, why they’re so obsessed with it. Part of me thinks they’re engaging in quasi-religious thinking, believing that these symbolic changes will magically bring blessings to the nation. Like the ancient Greeks appeasing the gods by sacrificing a sheep, maybe Crisp believes that pulling down a Confederate statue will cause the Diversity Gods to smile upon America.

Or less charitably, maybe Crisp just wants to rename parks because it annoys certain people that he hates. You know, patriotic Americans.

Either way, these leftist ideologues have no practical solutions and can safely be ignored by those of us who remain based in reality.

One final quote from Crisp:

Our better instincts will prevail, and the collective will of the people will express its wisdom: Trump will never be president.

This gig as a “columnist for Tribune News Service”–how much does it pay?