Tuesday, October 25, 2022

review of Shrier's "Irreversible Damage"

Irreversible Damage is a must-read for those interested in understanding transgenderism, especially its contemporary manifestations. Abigail Shrier focuses on claims about transgenderism in children and interviews experts, social influencers, parents, counselors, activists, people who are happy with their decision to transition, and those who regret it profoundly. (For a shorter version of ID, check out her Imprimis/Hillsdale essay/speech. For a review in Salvo by Nicole King, click here.) 

The catalyst for Shrier was free speech and defending others' rights to disagree with the establishment on this topic. Since publishing the book, her interest in free speech has become more personal—as her work has been attacked. (For this reason, I expected the book to be less measured, but was pleasantly surprised.) In this, she is in good company: an array of academics and advocates who have been criticized, crushed, and cancelled for holding reasonable, alternative views of the science involved. 

Much of the opposition comes from valuing ideology over science. Shrier discusses the hubbub over Lisa Littman and her famous PLoS One article in chapter 2. And she devotes chapter 7 to a litany of other scientific "dissidents": experts in their respective fields who ended up on the wrong side of the ideology that dominates for now—if not the wrong side of history (or certainly, science). The rabid response against those with dissenting views is more about bad religion and fundamentalism than liberal values or a respect for science. (And of course, this has led to all sorts of sad/funny semantics gymnastics.)  

Devaluing science is evident in other ways. The usual scientific and bureaucratic requirements to permit drug and surgical treatment are overlooked (164-165). The biology of male and female is quite clear but ignored. Shrier discusses the ease with which coroners can pick out adult males and females by skeletons: different size, sex-specific morphology, foreheads, mastoid regions, jaws, pelvis, and leg angles into the pelvis (162). 

The standards for medicine differ as well. Some advocates compare the relevant trans surgeries to breast reduction or enhancement (175). But even there, biological function is not compromised or destroyed (173). Its prevalent use among teens is unusual, when plastic surgery is usually reserved for adults. And the ethics of plastic surgery usually require many more questions to be asked than advocates of transition want for teens. 

All of this has obvious connections to a range of other ideological issues: the prevalence of asexuality (23) and the denigration of motherhood (208) in the culture—and its alignment with anti-human philosophies and policy positions such as anti-population, birth control, abortion, and eugenics. (In terms of Scripture, there are no direct references-- other than some hyperbole that happens to apply in Jeremiah 30:6-- but plenty of indirect references that would align it with any number of other misalignments between perception and reality, sin nature and the ideal.) 

All of this has an impact on lesbians: "Gender ideology puts transgender individuals into direct conflict with radical feminists who believe sex is the defining feature of one's identity." (150-151) More broadly, it's not at all clear how T fits into the gender/sexual alphabetical pile. More famously, it has an effect on all women and young girls, especially athletes who may be forced to compete with biological males (151-152). 

Ideology aside: the greatest value of the book is distinguishing between modern and "traditional" transexualism in five crucial ways. It is now: 

1.) much more prevalent (vs. exceedingly rare); 

2.) predominantly female (vs. male); 

3.) mostly emerging during puberty (vs. apparent from early childhood); 

4.) connected to peer groups (vs. random); and 

5.) often "treated" aggressively (vs. often resolving by adulthood). 


All of these provide at least weak evidence for peer effects as a primary factor. In any case, transexualism is clearly different today—whatever the reasons (xxi, 26, 32). 


On those who might be labeled "old-school" trans adults, Shrier reports: "Their dysphoria never made them popular; more often than not, it was a source of unease and embarrassment...they didn't want or need mentors; they knew how they felt...They do not need to be celebrated for the life they have chosen...That so much trans activism claims to speak in their name is neither their fault nor their intention. They have very little to do with the current trans epidemic plaguing teenage girls." (xix) "For many classic sufferers of gender dysphoria, celebration of their trans identity is anathema." (146) [She also offers some history as well, including an exception to this rule: Christine Jorgenson, the original "Caitlyn Jenner" (147-148). This article talks about DIY transitions for adults, outside even the fringe medical aspects of this.]


Another important connection: because gender dysphoria typically emerged in early childhood, parents were aware that their children were different from an early age. These days, parental influence and input are assumed away—in deference to the teenager's self-diagnosis (xxiii). This gets to the strangest and most disturbing aspect of this topic: psychologists and counselors frequently rely on their clients to analyze themselves (ch. 6). As Shrier notes, professionals are required to offer "respectful" and "supportive" care. But advocates want much more than this, including full acceptance of a teenager's self-diagnosis. Shrier asks the reader to imagine treating anorexia, race, or any psychological condition in the same way (99-101). 


The assumptions required for a heavy reliance on self-diagnosis are somewhere between dubious and laughable: 1.) adolescents know who they are; 2.) transition has little or no cost, harm, or risk; 3.) gender identity is immutable; and 4.) suicide becomes more likely without transitional treatments. This approach also ignores that teens often test boundaries with parents and society, take unfortunate risks without a mature ability to weigh benefits and costs well, and face a wide range of negative peer effects (107-120). All that said, Shrier still proceeds cautiously here: None of this is "a reason to proscribe all identity alterations or body modifications for teenagers," but it should be "cause for hesitation." (111)


In all of this, Shrier believes that there are real problems at hand for these teens, particularly for young women. She argues repeatedly, powerfully, and poignantly that it is really tough to be a girl going through puberty (1, 3, 144, 209), especially today with social media (4-5, 18). But she notes the oddity—if not the perversity—of letting struggling people self-diagnose. "Her distress is real. But her self-diagnosis, in each case, is flawed—more the result of encouragement and suggestion than psychological necessity." (xix)  


There are psychological factors (or temptations) at hand: "it satisfies the deepest need for acceptance, the thrill of transgression, the seductive lilt of belonging." (xxiv) Or more broadly, it may rarely be about gender, per se, at all (211). Proponents and practitioners also seem to be body-obsessed in a way that doesn't seem healthy (55b).

Sociology and peer effects are also involved in a way that at least mimics what we see in epidemiology (25). The "epidemic" could be caused by a benevolent form of acceptance that allows the condition to safely emerge. But other more-troubling hypotheses are at least as compelling in explaining "rapid-onset gender dysphoria" or ROGD (26-27).

"Psychologists who study peer influence ask what it is about teenage girls that makes them so susceptible to peer contagion and so good at spreading it. Many believe it has something to do with the ways girls tend to socialize...Girls are much more likely to reply with statements that are validating and supportive than questioning...[This] can be a productive and valuable social skill...But it also leads friends to take on each other's ailments...co-rumination, excessive reassurance seeking; and negative feedback-seeking"—all intensified by social media (35-36). 

Contemporary culture also has an impact. Intersectionality is one angle: "upper-middle-class white families, seeking cover in minority identity...they overwhelmingly come from progressive families..." (31) Notably, ROGD'ers are disproportionately white (90%). As one professor notes, "Of all of these badges of victim status, the only one that you can actually choose is trans." (154)  

There are many other contributing factors. Shrier provides a subset in her preface: "Our cultural frailty; parents are undermined; experts are over-relied upon; dissenters in science and medicine are intimidated; free speech truckles under renewed attack; government health care laws harbor hidden consequences; and an intersectional era...encourages individuals to take cover in victim groups." (xxiii)

But there are others too: In a pharmacological society, pills are an attractive option (19, 150a), including testosterone (discussed throughout the book). Shrier points to a "modern-day obsession with mental health, medicating everyone toward the optimal level of happiness..." (31) Another quick "fix" (that may never satisfy or end): surgery (176). (That said, breast augmentation for teens still dominates the rapidly-growing "top surgeries" for transitions.) Government-subsidized health insurance provides an additional subsidy for drugs and especially surgery (180). Add to this the capitalistic work of "influencers" (ch. 3)—those who attract an audience on social media, gaining popularity and money. Schools often oppose parents (chs. 4-5)—yet another occasion when the government schools' monopoly power is deeply troubling. (Check out this video.) Anti-bullying is the top stated concern—or a preferred cynical strategy—depending on whose wielding it. 

Parents, counselors, and doctors are in a rough spot here. In particular, what's the cause/effect with suicide? Suicide rates are high among trans youth, but that could be cause and/or effect (51). And Shrier documents how kids, sympathetic authorities, and influencers  often use suicide as a weapon—a brutal and cynical strategy against caregivers and especially parents (52, 55, 103). 

Unfortunately, suicide as a strategy undermines those who are actually struggling with suicide—one of many ways to know that this topic cannot be primarily about mental health (theirs or others). Another indication: the hypocrisy in heavily weighing subjective feelings that are consistent with trans ideology and utterly denigrating those whose subjective feelings change. If the top priority were mental or physical well-being, both would be celebrated. 


Detransitioners are the strongest manifestation of this phenomenon. Shrier documents some of the nascent blooms here, including groups like the Pique Resilience Project. (See also: a new movie.) In each case among those she interviewed, "they were definitely trans—until, suddenly, they weren't. Nearly all of them blame the adults in their lives, especially the medical professionals, for encouraging and facilitating their transitions." (201-202) 

Shrier ultimately compares the contemporary trend in transsexualism to other damaging fads that have plagued young women over the years: the Salem witch trials, nervous disorders in the 18th century; the "neurasthenia epidemic" in the 19th century—as well as anorexia nervosa, repressed memory, bulimia, and cutting in our times (xix). She also compares the trans movement to a cult (xxi)—with its highly subjective claims (many of them metaphysical or at least transphysical); non-falsifiable propositions (192); claims of salvation and the only path to happiness; "love-bombing" for potential adherents (185-186); shunning those who disagree; and ostracizing those who leave (191).

Irreversible Damage is a passionate but balanced critique of the latest social problem faced by young women. If you're interested in understanding the moment or ministering to the movement's members in the short-run—or in the long-run as the trend fades and the regrets increase dramatically—Shrier's book is a great resource. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

pejoratives vs. powerful econ concepts: "trickle down" and "supply-side tax cuts"

 A great title in an essay by James Petrokoukis related to the pejorative ("trickle-down") used to describe a powerful Econ concept ("supply-side" tax cuts). The idea is simple and inarguable: cutting tax rates encourages more of the behavior being taxed. In the case of income taxes, it promotes productivity, entrepreneurship, innovation, honesty in tax returns, etc.

Aside from the ethics of (high) taxation, "by how much" is the important follow-up empirical question. Clear net benefits when JFK cut the top rate from 91% to 70%. Clear net benefits when Reagan and the Dems cut it to 28%. Since then, it's mostly dinking around with rates between 28% and 39.6%.

What do proponents of higher tax rates want?
-The top 1% pay 40% of federal income taxes; the top 50% pay almost all of it. Who would want these proportions to be even higher?
-The bigger deal in federal taxes on income is FICA, but the Dems love that terrible tax on the working poor and middle class, demagoguing any efforts to talk about changing it.
-The real answer: an op for pols and partisan enablers-- for Dems to pose against the wealthy/productive; and for GOPers to pretend they're fiscally conservative.

Monday, September 19, 2022

key excerpts from Chesterton's chapter on Paradoxes and Christianity in "Orthodoxy"

Here's the link I'm using for an electronic copy to make the comments below...

P #3 on pg. 1 is the chapter's thesis.

Pg. 3-4 describes the various and often contradictory attacks on C-- and how by reading skeptics, he was driven to embrace C as a far-better logical alternative
End of pg. 5 into pg. 6 describes attacks on C which seem to have other agendas
2nd P on p. 6 is the irony that C is either correct or terribly wrong-- from Heaven or Hell, if you will. This is similar to Lewis' on Christ's claims to deity-- as either Lord, Liar, or Lunatic.
And then with the last P on p. 8, he works through a bunch of examples.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

my response to a question about the Trinitarian nature of the Christian God

 Good AM...I love you and hope you are doing well!

All of those are intuitively appealing and have support from the Scriptures. But there are many verses which go further-- indicating something more than simple monotheism (e.g., the plural of Gen 1's "let us man in our image") and claiming that Jesus and Holy Spirit are deity (most notably, Jesus Himself claims deity, leading to the famous Lord/Liar/Lunatic/Legend dilemma).

More broadly-- and this doesn't prove anything, but is still important to consider-- there is always a tendency to deal with our inability to understand an infinite God, by reducing Him in some way to something simpler that we can fully understand. Unfortunately, when we simplify too much, in error, the result is not simple, but simplistic (and heretical). It doesn't have to be the case on this doctrine-- although I'm hard-pressed to imagine a better example (perhaps free will / predestination?)-- but in what areas is one's theology unable to fully comprehend an infinite God? If the answer is none or rarely so, then the odds increase that one has drifted into heresy.

One more thought-- on the practical implications of the Trinity as doctrine. If God is Himself "in community", it underlines the importance of community for our well-being. Again, this is not a proof, but the doctrine lines up with the emphasis on community throughout the Scriptures-- and encourages us to embrace the sort of community which is pressed as crucial throughout the NT.

Finally, have you read Chesterton's paragraph on the paradoxes of the faith?

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

our trip to SoCAL

Tonia, Joseph, Daniel, and I went to LA and SD, July 4-11. We flew Spirit Airlines both ways and had a very good experience. Spirit is less expensive, as long as you can take it easy on luggage. (We brought two large bags for the four of us.) We were even able to buy our fourth ticket with a few days to go (Joseph decided to go at the last minute)-- for a bit less than the three tickets we'd bought earlier. 

We rented a car from Kyte; that was weird, but inexpensive and excellent. It was $220 for a new Toyota Corolla all week. The odd part was that they had no footprint in terms of buildings. They used a shuttle from the airport to meet us in a rental car parking lot, where they met us with the car and computers to check us in.

Everything except groceries was considerably more expensive. Gas was $1-1.50 more; fast food was pricier in most cases. That said, we did get amazing donuts and an inexpensive, delicious torta at Winchells' Donuts!

The weather was lovely in LA and SD, but super hot once you got off the coast. Temps were 70s in SD and low-80's in LA-- although the sun's intensity made it feel much warmer. Ranging inland, we were well into the 100's. Cars were much nicer: not as many super-nice cars as expected, but I'd say 20% were BMW's and few beaters. People were in much better shape: few people overweight and very few who were obese. This may sound odd, but traffic did not have as much stand-still as I expected, but was also generally heavier than I expected. More broadly, you're not on the interstates as much as you'd expect and it's slow-going with traffic lights, etc. 

Lodging was difficult to find for reasonable prices. In LA, we stayed all four nights at Deano's-- an old-style motel. (We were scheduled to stay elsewhere for two nights, but they reneged on my paid reservation. I'm still trying to get Hotels.com to make that right. My first bad experience with them, but this has been terrible.) The other lodging of note: my first BNB of some sort: staying in a room at a really nice Jamaican's house and sharing a bathroom with another tenant.

Overall, I'd say this was a good trip but not nearly our best-- compared to our top trip: SF to Glacier in 2016 (hard to beat that!) or other top-tier trips to New York State in 2011SD and eastern CO in 2012, and Arizona in 2020(We've taken many other smaller trips that were roughly equivalent: ChicagoNC/SC twice, Atlanta/Florida, Michigan twice [mostly southern and northern], and St. Louis/Memphis.) 

The highlights in LA the first few days: The Petersen Auto Museum was the best of many auto museums we've ever seen. No surprise: this was a Top 3 trip moment for Daniel and Joseph! The Getty Museum had amazing architecture and tons of art in a beautiful setting. But the art didn't have enough variance-- and was not exactly in our wheelhouse in terms of tastes. It's a must-see, but it wasn't all I hoped it would be. The LaBrea Tar Pits are interesting and a quick stop. It's free unless you go in the museum, which didn't look to be worth the price. We also drove around a lot: Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Dr., Sunset Blvd; Santa Monica Pier, some of the canyons, and the park at the Griffith Observatory.

Heading out of town to the east on Wednesday, we visited Huntington Gardens. The art there was solid, but the gardens were huge, varied, and amazing. That's a must-see. Continuing east, we visited the NHRA Museum where they were having a car show. Both were solid, but not as exciting as I had expected for Daniel and Joseph. We finished up in Palm Springs, with its oppressive heat and high-end stores. We walked around and had Ben/Jerry's for the first time. 

We stayed the night in Palm Springs to be in position to take the San Jacinto Peak tram on Thursday AM. It's a 10-minute beautiful ride with a tremendous temperature change and the opportunity to walk/hike at the top. (We had other things to do, so we weren't up top very long.) Then, we went to Joshua Tree NP-- solid but redundant and ultimately disappointing (perhaps because we had been to Arizona so recently). If we'd driven through Joshua Tree, we would have ended up near the Patton Museum. (Interestingly, I read O'Reilly's Killing Patton on the trip.) It was beautiful and varied landscape the rest of the day, as we hit Julian’s Apple Pie (wow!) just before a four-mile hike to the top of Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca SP. (It was one of the most satisfying hikes I've ever had: steady climb that reached the actual peak of a mountain. And I had just broken my ankle less than four months earlier!) 

We finished the day by driving to San Diego. On Friday, we spent a big chunk of the day in Balboa Park (amazing, but apparently had wise counsel to avoid the museums). We also drove through Gaslamp Quarter and Old Town (seemed ok, but touristy) on our way to the beach at LaJolla (boys weren't as interested as we expected and snorkeling was limited/ineffective). The boys did paragliding at Torrey Pines (another Top 3 moment for both of the boys). With limited time at the beach, we had time to head back to SD for more time on scooters. 

Saturday was a mixed bag: a brief stop at San Onofre Beach. (We hoped to see surfers, but the weather did not cooperate.) We visited San Juan Capistrano mission which was solid and comparable to similar stops. And then we spent the rest of the day walking (and scootering) around Long Beach. On Sunday, I spent the day at the Reagan Library (amazing), while Tonia and the boys walked and scootered in Beverly Hills and Hollywood. 

The Reagan Library had a strong WWII exhibit, along with its coverage of Reagan's life. His background and how it prepared him to be effective as a politician. His impressive style. (Check out this quote: "Whatever else history may say about me...I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts." So different from the last two decades!) And his many policy achievements. (I can name a half-dozen important things he accomplished-- in immensely challenging times. In contrast, I can't name more than one for any of the presidents since him.) By any consistent metrics, he's easily the greatest president since at least Coolidge. What a way to finish our trip!

brief review of P.D. James' "The Children of Men"

I like to read fiction and believe that it helps to keep me healthy mentally and spiritually (since I read so much non-fiction). Among types of fiction, I enjoy dystopian literature-- perhaps because it edges into non-fiction so easily. I had heard of P.D. James, but I had never thought about reading her, until reading a review of The Children of Men by John Miller in National Review.

James was a prolific mystery writer, so Children of Men was a departure for her. According to Miller, it was the only book when she did not earn an advance. But it generated more correspondence and controversy than any of her other books—and led to a 2006 movie version starring Clive Owen.

CoM is a really good book—if not a classic alongside Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's 1984, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Zamyatin's WeKoestler's Darkness at Noon, Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron", and works by Ayn Rand (e.g., Atlas Shrugged and Anthem).

The premise is that nobody can have children anymore. (The opening sentence is arresting—and at least for me, confusing for a minute: "Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl.") Worldwide infertility has occurred for reasons unknown to them or at least to us—and how this would change people and society. Imagine a world where playgrounds are completely obsolete. Imagine the changes in demographics and finances that would result from a dramatically-aging population. Imagine the hopelessness that would often emerge. 

CoM is 30 years old now, but surprisingly prescient—in addition to sobering—as a reflection on many aspects of our current moment. (The book takes place in early and then late in 2021, 25 years after the world's final birth in late 1995. This explains the attention given to it last year!) 

CoM has parallels with a wide array of anti-human public policies, social trends, and pseudo-religions: declining fertility, abortion, euthanasia, population control, eugenics, birth control, treating animals as children, environmentalism, efforts to muddy gender, and cultural and political pressures to diminish traditional family structure. While the book goes much further, this is what good art often does—extending the point to make a point. 

CoM is not explicitly Christian, but emanates from and echoes a Christian worldview. The religious references are interesting: The title comes from the sobering Psalm 90. The characters display a wide range of religious faiths—from the modernist "skeptic" to the pious. And finally, what requires a spoiler alert before I give you the last few (amazing) sentences which includes an explicit religious reference: "From some far childhood memory he recalled the rite...It was with a thumb wet with his own tears and stained with her blood that he made on the child's forehead the sign of the cross."

on the economic/financial implications of Indiana's abortion restrictions

Michael Hicks recently wrote an op-ed, expressing concern about the economic impact of Indiana’s new restrictions on abortion—particularly on colleges and businesses. He predicts “far fewer” students from a “substantial decline” in out-of-state students and a reduction of in-state students—as well as “fraught disadvantages” for businesses.

People make decisions based on the perceived benefits and costs of those choices. When the benefits or costs change, then behaviors become more or less likely. Hicks is correct to note that reduced benefits or increased costs will tend to deter behavior. But by how much—and what other economic concepts are in play?

One key question is “elasticity”: how much will behavior change when benefits and costs shift? Choosing a college—and even more so, choosing a location for a business—are complicated decisions. To what extent will a change in this one factor move the needle for decisions in either realm?

Will Indiana high school graduates be willing to pay out-of-state tuition rates—even those who might want to seek an (in-state) abortion? Will grad students from across the world avoid strong, reputable programs in Indiana and risk damage to their career prospects? Will small or large businesses routinely leave or avoid Indiana because of this? Most important: If we had abortion regulations that were slightly more permissive, would it make any significant difference? (It’s a Molechian fantasy to think we’d have few if any restrictions.) It’s difficult to imagine.

Another consideration: short-run vs. long-run responses. I’m not sure about Hicks’ claim that we now have the strictest laws in the country. But even if so, how long will this be true? Within a year or two, Indiana will be one of many states with restrictive laws. (Other states will choose a much more permissive route, even subsidizing consumers in other states.) Perhaps there will be an impact in 2023, but it will be reduced as other states pass their own restrictions.

This reminds me of a debate in Indiana a decade ago: those who thought liberalized labor laws would be a panacea for Indiana’s economic development. Sure, it helped, but only “at the margin”. The fact is that people and businesses make their decisions based on many factors—and in-state abortion access and labor laws are just two of those many factors.

And there are potentially positive effects: Perhaps we’ll attract more pro-life people who tend to raise more children in two-parent households, helping an array of social outcomes and long-term demographics. Perhaps we’ll attract small and large businesses whose owners value Indiana’s stand for life and the vulnerable. Perhaps our large universities will become (or be considered) less “woke”, making socially conservative and moderate parents more comfortable sending their kids to those schools.

All this said, my biggest problem with Hicks’ essay is that it displays a tin ear toward the morality and justice issues inherent in this policy debate. (It also ignores the impact of Roe and Casey as poorly-decided court cases and the cost of avoiding democracy by relying on federal courts instead of state legislatures.) I can understand the reluctance to discuss this: as economists, we try to avoid mixing positive analysis (what is) with normative opinions (what should be). But it seems unavoidable here.

Imagine the public response if I penned an op-ed about the end of slavery in a state as a drag on that state’s economy: The cost of labor will be higher, increasing production costs. This will increase prices for consumers and tend to drive businesses from the state, reducing our economic well-being. And so on. At the end of the day, the potential financial implications of ending slavery and legal abortions are interesting and perhaps noteworthy. But they pale next to the morality and justice concerns.

Many reach the pro-life position through science and/or religious beliefs, aiming to defend the most vulnerable in our society. Others say they are uncertain about when life begins, so we should allow people to err on the side of choice for one party, while ending the life of another. At least for those who rely heavily on science: even if this ends up costing Hoosiers some students and some businesses, this sacrifice would seem to be worth the financial loss.

on Shlaes' "The Great Society"

I got to meet Amity Shlaes when she spoke at a U of L Center for Free Enterprise event last September. I had really enjoyed her book on the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man. (See: my review of it and a blog post on other resources connected to the book's content.) She gave me a signed copy of her book on The Great Society and I've been looking forward to reading it too. 

The work is thorough, but I don't think the time period, the subjects, or the writing are as compelling as  The Forgotten Man. I can certainly recommend the book for those interested in public policy in general-- or poverty and welfare in particular. It would also appeal to people who are interested in the era running from the mid-1960s into the 1970s. But I don't think the book's coverage will appeal to most laypeople. 

For similar reasons, I don't intend to "review" the book, but will provide a list of nuggets for interested readers and for my own uses later. 


-Nixon dramatically increased War on Poverty spending. (In many ways, Nixon was more "liberal" and more "LBJ" than LBJ.) I learned this from Charles Murray's Losing Ground decades ago. But from Shlaes, I learned that the extent was enough to worry Dems that he was stealing the issue from them! 

-LBJ's claim that this did not represent "a handout or a dole...We know-- we learned long ago-- that answer is no answer." (124)

-A nice passing remark (6) about how govt typically works: measuring (and valuing) inputs over outputs. Why? Well, they're easier to measure and provide a far-more-flattering picture.

-Moynihan was deeply concerned that govt welfare monies went mostly to bureaucrats-- and that a patchwork of fed/state programs and taxes led to disincentive problems (317) and "notches" (325). He promoted UBI as an alternative and universal Medicaid (318). He made progress on this goal (along with Friedman), but ended up proposing an add-on instead of a replacement (342) and the legislative effort failed anyway.

-A detail I didn't know: Mollie Orshansky's poverty line estimate for a family of four in 1963 was $3128. The poverty line was drawn a few years later at $3000 (108).

-Shales throws hammers at "urban renewal". Twice, she quotes James Baldwin's famous line that it equated to "Negro removal" (72, 237). The Santa Monica Freeway cut through "the most prosperous, best kept and most beautiful Negro owned property in the country" in West Adams (138). Eminent domain ended up trashing Black Bottom (236). She's particularly rough on the projects in St. Louis at Pruitt-Igoe: it was for mothers only (fathers had to leave); it had means-tested rent disincentives; and provided terrible economic and social results (239-245).

-Shlaes revisits the academic debate over the economic and sociological woes of African-Americans. The somewhat-competing / somewhat-overlapping theses were jobs and families. Both can easily be laid at the feet of welfare policies (163).


-A key story in American Macro history: the domination and optimism of Keynesianism and faith in big-govt solutions. Shales describes this and adds more meat to the bones: the economy seemed unstoppable (with so much growth). They believed that regulation and taxes were largely independent from economic outcomes (26). The same optimism extended to efforts to battle poverty, along with perceived abundance (we could afford it; 97) and progress in many other areas, esp. science (180).

-Another key story in American Macro history is the emergence of Supply-Side Econ. I always tell the story about Ronald Reagan and 91% marginal tax rates in Hollywood. Shlaes tells another Reagan story: he received a 25% pay raise from GE that made little difference to his standard of living, given inflation and taxes (37).

-The Dow flirted with 1000 for a long time, but did not pass it until 1982-- the end of the Reagan / post-inflation recession (10). Broadly, there was significant pessimism about America and the American economy-- from the mid-60s until Reagan. In this period, it manifested as steady outflow of gold and even runs on gold (9-10)

-LBJ wanted to fight international trade deficits through a two-year moratorium on tourism outside the western hemisphere (264).


-The federal govt was allowed to unionize (but not collectively bargain) in the 1960s. This led to pressure allowing the same (and more) at the state/local level (48-49). 

-She cites tough LA cops-- as did Balko (139).

-Mayors initially saw federal efforts as a "power grab" (153), but were successfully bribed by Federal monies (155) before the efforts were eventually federalized (231).

-I did not know about Sen. Everett Dirksen's pivotal role as a thorn in the side to LBJ's legislative agenda, especially in trying to reverse Right-to-Work (197-198).

-Johnson referred to liberals/Lefties as "beards"! (287)

-Shlaes reflects on the limits of history in general and the history of the War on Poverty in particular. Texts and history books have focused on Civil Rights and Vietnam, rather than economics. The result: coverage in "non-narrative, non-economic kaleidoscope fashion (15-16). Pursuing "the great man" approach to history, they have tended to beatify JFK, celebrate LBJ as a man of action despite consequences; and vilify Nixon as he ironically extended LBJ's failures.