Gary North, Ellen Brown. Lawyers. Judges (again). National security state.

I just don’t know about Gary North.  He’s starting to appear like a lunatic.

In his latest round he’s pounding the table, declaring victory over and over, insulting his virtual opponent, Ellen Brown, and finishing with one of those videos from xtranormal.

Let us not rehash their debate in detail, though.  A pox on both houses, says I.

What I find especially obnoxious about North’s approach is his disdain for lawyers.  And not just the disdain itself, but the unstated presumption that his disdain is widely shared, and justified.  If you look at the video in the link the relevant portion is near the end of it, as if this is the crowning proof that he has “defeated” Ellen Brown:  after all, she is a lawyer.

And yet…you can learn things, even from blowhards like Gary North.  He links to another article, this one by Richard Posner of the US Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit.  It’s about how he, Judge Posner, has learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.  I mean, how he’s become a “Keynesian”. Somehow I missed this when it was published in ’09.

I remember Judge Posner from my Federalist Society days, back when he was one of their enfant terribles.

To be fair, that Posner article is very well written and thoughtful.  And while I personally think Keynes and his “economics” has been a still unfolding disaster, it’s a good sign that a federal judge is looking at this stuff in a thoughtful way at all.

Other than that, of course, Judge Posner’s take is really wrong-headed.  For example, he addresses at great length the “paradox of saving”, one of Keynes’ most prominent but ultimately perverse and unintelligible faux insights.  Imagine making thrift – traditionally a virtue – into a vice.  That’s what Keynes does.  Imagine a supposedly wise man like Posner – and I’ll concede that in some ways he is a wise man – neglecting to consider the long recognized possibility that a virtue can be pressed to an extreme where it becomes harmful, yet that does not mean that the virtue itself is to be discarded; rather the bad result is a failure of one or two higher, governing (“Cardinal”) virtues, such as prudence and temperance, the observance of which helps to keep excesses in check.  The deficiency here is not in Judge Posner’s understanding of economics; it is Ethics 101 that seems to be missing.

More glaring in its wayward direction is Judge Poser’s more recent exposition on national security, criticizing a Washington Post article on the same subject.  This is the blind arguing with the blind.  Neither Posner nor the Washington Post authors have any personal experience with the military or with intelligence gathering and analysis.  But whereas the Post article more or less sticks to what  journalists can do, Posner is pretty much unfit to make detailed criticisms of the kind he is attempting.

I have a little experience along those lines, though.  And based on that I can tell you that the biggest problem is that we are drowning in intelligence information.  There’s virtually nothing that can happen anywhere that we don’t have some advance information about; but the vast, vast majority of suspected events never occur.  Collecting more information will accomplish nothing.  The failure is analysis of the information we have, and that problem may not be solvable.  At some point it’s like reading tea leaves.

What happens now is all twisted.  Some big event – 9/11, for instance – occurs.  Now we go back into our intelligence information, and lo and behold, we had tons of information that should have tipped us off.  Conspiracy?  Incompetence?  Maybe, but not necessarily.  It’s easy to figure out what was significant after something happens; it’s close to impossible beforehand.

The truth is sure, we had tons of information that should have tipped us off, but beforehand it looked just like tons upon tons of information that resulted in….nothing, because nothing occurred.

But does the information have no value, then?  Not at all.  After the fact, we can use the information to convict the perpetrators in court.  It has other uses, too.

Not that I’m defending the wholly unwarranted expansion of the national security state.  My point here is that Judge Posner reflexively argues in favor of the government’s position and justifies the government’s budget with very little detailed knowledge of the particular endeavors he is advocating.

It took me a long time to get there, I know.  I’m beginning to think I can be a little long winded.



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