Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State by Chris Renwick


September 16, 2017

The Guardian Book Review

Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State by Chris Renwick

State of desperation: a hunger march in 1935 before the creation of the welfare state.
State of desperation: a hunger march in 1935 before the creation of the welfare state. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images
A new account shows how Attlee’s reforms built on foundations laid down decades earlier – and that was the key to their success

Contrary to what some may believe, the welfare state did not come into existence solely as a result of some sort of post-second world war big bang caused by the election of the Attlee government. To be sure it was the Attlee government that supplied the political will, but many of the principles and some of the measures evolved over the preceding half-century. One or two were of even earlier origin.

Chris Renwick, who lectures in modern history at the University of York, has produced an account of the origins of the welfare state, from the Elizabethan poor law to the Beveridge report, which is at once both learned and highly readable. Until the mid-19th century, most politicians and political philosophers were instinctively against the notion that the welfare of its citizens was any business of the state except maybe in the direst circumstances, and perhaps not even then. The late-18th-century philosopher Malthus argued that the poor law was an interference with the natural checks and balances on a growing population.

There were also arguments that will be familiar today about escalating cost, fecklessness and the undermining of the market, with the result that early social reformers sometimes found it easier to focus, not so much on the moral arguments, but on the suggestion that it was simply not efficient to have perhaps one-third of the population unable to make any meaningful contribution to the wealth of the nation if they were laid low by disease, malnutrition and lack of education.

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The first stirrings of ruling-class interest in the welfare of the masses began in the 1830s with the appointment of a royal commission into the workings of the poor law. Remarkably, however, it concluded that the existing patchwork of local provision was too generous and needed to be replaced by a centrally imposed system of workhouses where living conditions were sufficiently unpleasant that no one save the destitute would want to live there.

Gradually, though, the grim realities of working-class life in 19th-century Britain began to impinge on the comfortable world of the Victorian middle classes. A combination of the rise of trade unions, the founding of the Labour party and the extension of the franchise, along with a handful of enlightened employers and social reformers, forced social welfare on to the political agenda. The revelation, during the Boer war, that up to two-thirds of the recruits from industrial cities such as Manchester were physically unfit to fight came as a particular shock to the political classes.

Only with the election of the 1906 Liberal government did the state start to take a serious interest in the welfare of its people. One of the new government’s first measures was to introduce legislation permitting local authorities, should they choose, to introduce free school meals. Predictably, however, many declined to do so with the result that, after five years, only a relative handful of children benefited. The first old age pensions were introduced in 1908 (£13 a year for the over 70s), but once again provision was far from universal. Only those with incomes of less than £31 a year qualified. David Lloyd George’s attempt to introduce a national insurance scheme to cover the sick and unemployed, funded by increased taxes, was famously blocked by the Tories in the House of Lords and needed two further general elections to force through.

It took two world wars and the extension of the franchise to women before the welfare state as we know it today, universal and comprehensive, became politically possible. Although the greatest credit lies with the Attlee government, Labour did not pluck ideas and legislation out of thin air. During the first four decades of the 20th century, governments of all persuasions had begun to turn their attention to improving the education, housing and welfare of all citizens. As the author says, “The fact that there were Labour, Tory and Liberal fingerprints on the welfare state was an important reason why it was not instantly dismantled by the Tories when they regained power in 1951.”

Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State by Chris Renwick is published by Allen Lane (£20).

John McCain’s Act of Defiance


July 30, 2017

John McCain’s Act of Defiance

by Mark Singer

http://www.newyorker.com

Image result for John McCain’s Health-Care Vote Was an Act of Defiance

Republican Senator John McCain from Arizona–An American Legislator, Patriot and Vietnam War Hero

I had agreeable disagreements with two friends yesterday, several hours before the Senate’s 1:30 A.M. vote on the Republicans’ scaled-down motion to repeal the Affordable Care Act. When the final vote was called, three Republican senators—Susan Collins, of Maine; Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska; and John McCain, of Arizona—drove a long knife through the cold heart of Trumpcare/McConnellcare/Ryancare.

Senators Collins and Murkowski had stuck their necks out much further than any other Republican politicians in the country. For this they had been trolled, slandered, subjected to sexist insults, and bullied—most prominently by the President of the United States, a career scam artist who ages ago lost his marketing mojo. They weren’t buying it. For at least a few hours this week, Ryan Zinke, the never-not-an-Eagle Scout Secretary of the Interior and, until January 20th, a Republican member of Congress, was running strong in the competition for the most despicable thug in Washington, after he reportedly called Murkowski to indicate that her state would suffer as a result of her no vote. (Beautiful, Zinke! Beautiful!) Senators Collins and Murkowski weren’t buying that, either. Nor was Senator McCain.

One of my friends had read my piece about the dilemma McCain confronted, and told me candidly that he wasn’t really buying my argument, either. “An action that merely avoids indecency,” he said, “has only the palest claim to decency.” My friend has worked for many years in many ways on behalf of social and—especially—economic justice. Though he respected Barack Obama, and had voted for him, he took a dim view of many of Obama’s more centrist or conservative policies.

For McCain my friend had no regard (though he forgives him); his sins of commission and omission were many. Sarah Palin, in his view, was the most egregious transgression (hardly a minority viewpoint), but there were others, largely sins by association. In general, my friend loathes what he perceives as the rapacious capitalist cynicism of all the money-grubbing liars who run the banks and grease politicians of both parties and shuffle in and out of corporate boardrooms and Presidential Cabinets and talk out of every side of their mouths as the nation’s and the planet’s wealth and resources and social-justice gaps grow beyond their already criminally negligent dimensions. He detested Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. As for Trump, why bother? For months last year, the Republican nominee, anticipating electoral defeat and extreme humiliation, whined and screamed about a “rigged” election, all the while sliming his way to the White House.

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My friend is certainly not alone in seeing that we are in a Hobbesian present. The United States as a nation of laws, as he sees it, is over. Certainly for the time being, and likely forever. The U.S. as a governable nation, also over. The U.S. as a world power bringing (mostly) democracy and goodness to others—over. And so on. My friend is a wholly decent, patriotic citizen of a country he no longer recognizes, even as the view from his window remains a rural New England pasture.

My other friend shared an equally jaundiced view: she had always thought of McCain as a conventional company man. “His sincere fidelity is to the institution,” she said. “It’s not an issue of humanity, or even a lack of humanity.” So, as an Annapolis graduate and a Navy pilot, and, likewise, as a prisoner of war, he behaved as he thought he should. McCain had been equally a creature, especially in recent years, of a Republican Party that moved further and further to the right, and further away from the bipartisan comity that he had for decades claimed to revere. “Let’s agree that a part of his biography is a tale of heroism and selflessness,” she said. “But if we’re talking about motivation, that’s far more banal.”

I agree with some of my friends’ sentiments. But, in my understanding, as the hour of the vote approached, John McCain elected not to be a company man. The institution that he had belonged to and loved for thirty years, the U.S. Senate, had become intolerable. Dishonorable.

For weeks and months, a burgeoning-until-overwhelming majority of Americans told their senators and congressmen that they did not want Obamacare declared null and void, its knotty flaws notwithstanding. Many of the forty-nine Republicans who cast votes in favor of this repeal knew that those votes bore the stench of unforgivable betrayal of the once-American ideal: equal treatment under the law, due process, and the unwritten imperative for a common purpose. Or perhaps they recognized that in their heads but were blind in their hearts—to their everlasting shame.

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John McCain, bearing scars ancient and new, acutely aware of his mortality, humble but standing a very tall five feet nine, approached the hour when he had to choose. He chose to vote with his soul—in defiance of the bottomless soullessness that, when the ultimate moment arrived, he rejected.

Mark Singer, a longtime contributor to the magazine, is the author of several books, including Character Studies.

On Bullshit by Moral Philosopher Harry Frankfurt


July 24, 2017

On Bullshit by Moral Philosopher Harry Frankfurt

Petter Naessan examines Harry Frankfurt’s famous little book On Bullshit

Harry Frankfurt, a moral philosopher, starts this little book with the following observation: “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.” He then proceeds to develop a theoretical understanding of bullshit – what it is, and what it is not.

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Aspects of the bullshit problem are discussed partly with reference to the Oxford English Dictionary, Wittgenstein and Saint Augustine. Three points seem especially important – the distinction between lying and bullshitting, the question of why there is so much bullshit in the current day and age, and a critique of sincerity qua bullshit.

Frankfurt makes an important distinction between lying and bullshitting. Both the liar and the bullshitter try to get away with something. But ‘lying’ is perceived to be a conscious act of deception, whereas ‘bullshitting’ is unconnected to a concern for truth. Frankfurt regards this ‘indifference to how things really are’, as the essence of bullshit. Furthermore, a lie is necessarily false, but bullshit is not – bullshit may happen to be correct or incorrect. The crux of the matter is that bullshitters hide their lack of commitment to truth. Since bullshitters ignore truth instead of acknowledging and subverting it, bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies.

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Having established the grave danger of bullshit, Frankfurt’s next step is to ask why there is so much bullshit around. The main answer to this is that bullshit is unavoidable when people are convinced that they must have opinions about “events and conditions in all parts of the world”, about more or less anything and everything – so they speak quite extensively about things they know virtually nothing about. Frankfurt is non-committal as to whether there is more bullshit around now than before, but he maintains that there is currently a great deal.

There is an interesting problem sketched at the end of the book, wherein sincerity is described as an ideal for those who do not believe that there is any (objective) truth, thus departing from the ideal of correctness. Now, Frankfurt does not mention the word ‘postmodern’ at all in his book (which is a good thing, I think), but to some extent the last pages may be understood to be a critical punch on a postmodern rejection of the ideal of the truth. Be this as it may, when a person rejects the notion of being true to the facts and turns instead to an ideal of being true to their own substantial and determinate nature, then according to Frankfurt this sincerity is bullshit.

Bullshit seems to be defined largely negatively, that is, as not lying. Frankfurt’s discussion – which he admits is not likely to be decisive – reveals that there is nothing really distinctive about bullshit when it comes to either the form or meaning of utterances. It is predominantly about the intention and disregard for truth of the bullshitter. How then do we discern bullshit from other types of speech behaviour? Is it really possible to accurately know the values (or lack thereof) involved when a person speaks?

Probably not. One may have some intuition that certain utterances constitute bullshit. Frankfurt does not provide any answers here, but one could perhaps suggest that the ‘cooperative principle’ of H.P. Grice (1913-1988) might provide some further food for thought within the emerging field of bullshitology (as I would like to call the scientific study of bullshit). Grice, in his 1975 book Logic and Conversation, outlined a number of underlying principles (‘maxims’) that are assumed by people engaged in conversation. Speakers and listeners assume that the others abide by certain, predominantly unstated, speech norms. The cooperative principle can be divided more specifically into the maxims of quantity, quality, relevance, and manner. For bullshitological purposes, the violation of the maxims would appear to be relevant. So if utterances convey not enough or too much information (quantity), are intentionally false or lack evidence (quality), are irrelevant to any current topic or issue (relevance), and are obscure, ambiguous, unnecessarily wordy or disorderly (manner), they would seem to qualify, although not necessarily, as bullshit (minus the intentionally false utterance, of course). These elements may be added to the condition of the bullshitter’s indifference to the ideal of truth. Then again, can we be certain that to identify utterances as bullshit in any given situation necessarily is connected to an understanding of the bullshitter’s indifference to the truth?

Needless to say, there are numerous problems which may be expanded, looked into and analysed concerning bullshit. And I dare say that Frankfurt’s little book is a nice starting point.

© Petter A. Naessan 2005

Petter Naessan is a PhD student in linguistics at the University of Adelaide.

On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt, Princeton University Press (2005). £6.50/$9.95 pp.67.ISBN: 0691122946.

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Mahathir Mohamad’s return shows the sorry state of Malaysian politics


July 3, 2017

Banyan

Mahathir Mohamad’s return shows the sorry state of Malaysian politics

https://www.economist.com/news/asia/21724432-former-prime-minister-reinventing-himself-leader-opposition-mahathir-mohamads

The former Prime Minister is reinventing himself as a leader of the Opposition

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The Doctor seeks a Return to the House

WHEN Mahathir Mohamad spent a week in hospital last year, at the age of 91, talk naturally turned to his legacy as Malaysia’s longest-serving former Prime Minister. How naive. Dr Mahathir may have stepped down in 2003 after 22 years in office, but he has hardly been retiring in retirement. His constant sniping helped topple his immediate successor, Abdullah Badawi, who lasted until 2009.

Now the old warhorse is picking a fight with Najib Razak, the Prime Minister since then and now leader of Dr Mahathir’s former party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has run Malaysia for the past 60 years. Dr Mahathir has registered a new political party and persuaded Pakatan Harapan, the fractious coalition that forms Malaysia’s main opposition, to admit it as a member. Now Pakatan is debating whether to make Dr Mahathir the chairman of their coalition—and, perhaps, their candidate for Prime Minister at elections which must be held within 13 months. Having long said that he would not be returning to Parliament, Dr Mahathir has lately been hinting that he would consider another stint in the top job.

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In Politics there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests

It is difficult to imagine a more unlikely turn of events. The original incarnation of the coalition Dr Mahathir might soon be running was formed in the late 1990s to oppose his own interminable rule. Its founder, Anwar Ibrahim, was Dr Mahathir’s deputy until the latter sacked him during a power struggle; he was later jailed on sham charges of corruption and sodomy. The current government’s methods are copied directly from Dr Mahathir’s playbook. Since 2015 Mr Anwar has been back in prison following a second sodomy conviction, this one just as dubious as the first. The reversal of the authoritarian turn Malaysia took under Dr Mahathir is one of Pakatan’s main objectives.

What makes all this even tougher to stomach is that Dr Mahathir’s conversion to the Opposition’s cause looks disturbingly incomplete. Though he is hobnobbing with former enemies, the old codger still finds it difficult to apologise for the excesses of his tenure. Many of his views remain wacky: in May he told the Financial Times that he still thinks the American or Israeli governments might have arranged the attacks of September 11th 2001. Can Malaysia’s opposition really find no more palatable leader?

These are desperate times, retort Dr Mahathir’s supporters. Since 2015 news about the looting of 1MDB, a government-owned investment firm from which at least $4.5bn has disappeared, has dragged Malaysia’s reputation through the muck. American government investigators say that 1MDB’s money was spent on jewellery, mansions, precious artworks and a yacht, and that nearly $700m of it went to the prime minister. Mr Najib says he has not received any money from 1MDB, and that $681m deposited into his personal accounts was a gift from a Saudi Royal (now returned). He has kept his job, but only after replacing the Deputy Prime Minister and the Attorney-General.

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The Prognosis is that Najib Razak is likely to win GE-14

One might expect this scandal to propel Pakatan into power at the coming election, but instead the opposition looks likely to lose ground, perhaps even handing back to UMNO and its allies the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution. This bizarre reversal has much to do with Malaysia’s regrettable racial politics: the Malay-Muslim majority largely favours the government and the big ethnic-Chinese and -Indian minorities tend to vote against it. Mr Najib has baited an Islamist party into renewing calls for more flogging for moral lapses, forcing them to leave Pakatan. The split in the opposition will lead to lots of three-candidate races, in which UMNO will romp home.

Put in this context, Dr Mahathir’s reappearance is a godsend. It stands to transform Pakatan’s chances by granting access to a broad swathe of rural constituencies that they had previously thought unwinnable. Many Malays have fond memories of the booming economy of Dr Mahathir’s era (they overlook its crony capitalism and his intolerance for dissent); in their eyes, he put Malaysia on the map. As coalition chairman, Dr Mahathir might also bring some order to Pakatan’s noisy council meetings. His backing could be invaluable after a narrow victory or in a hung parliament, when UMNO’s creatures in the bureaucracy might be expected to put up a fight.

All these benefits could probably be obtained without offering to make Dr Mahathir the Prime Minister. But he may be the only front man upon whom most of the coalition can agree. That role had previously fallen to Mr Anwar, but it has become clear to all but a few holdouts that he cannot continue to manage the quarrelsome coalition from his cell. Voters are not sure whether to believe Pakatan when it says that, should it win, it will find some way to catapult Mr Anwar out of his chains and into the country’s top job. Nor are they much inspired by the notion of accepting a seat-warmer to run the country while this tricky manoeuvre takes place.

It could be worse

This is a depressing mess, even by Malaysia’s dismal standards. The opposition bears no blame for the dirty tricks which, over several shameful decades, the government has used to hobble Mr Anwar and many others. But by failing to nurture—or even to agree upon—the next generation of leaders, they have played straight into UMNO’s hands.

It is possible that the thought of hoisting Dr Mahathir into the top job will at last force the coalition to thrust a younger leader to the fore (some suspect that this is the outcome that Dr Mahathir, a shrewd strategist, has always had in mind). But it is also possible that, facing only uncomfortable options, they will end up making no decision at all. Some in Pakatan seem happy to barrel into the next election without telling voters who will lead Malaysia should they win. That might seem like pragmatism, but it is really just defeatism.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Doctor on call”

Malaysia Practises KorekEconomics


June 12, 2017

Malaysia Practises KorekEconomics (Dig-Economics)

by Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for najib razak

Finance Minister Najib Razak–The Proponent of KorekEconomics

COMMENT | The history of taxation is synonymous with the rise of the state. When kings and warlords could not go on plundering and pillaging the people, they switched to taxation to prevent the farmers and settlers from avoiding the punitive measures.

By soft pedalling on the extraction, the state was born. Mancur Olson, an economist, referred to the state as the evolution from the “stationary bandit”. Paul Collier, at Oxford University, spoke of the logic of using the state to collect rents systematically, rather than to steal sporadically and in a spurious manner too.

In Malaysia, under the current administration, the two concepts that separate stealing from collecting taxes have been collapsed into one. Both are two sides of the same coin.

By introducing the tourism tax, for example, it seems to be aimed at foreign tourists. Yet, does anyone remember “Cuti-Cuti Malaysia?” This is an ongoing campaign that encourages Malaysians of all ages to travel within the country.

Yet, the moment you do, any five-, four- or three-star hotels you stay in means you would incur an additional cost that will go to the current administration. This ranges from RM 20 per night in a five-star hotel to RM 5 per night in a three-star hotel.

Thus, it doesn’t matter if you are a high-end traveller or a low-end traveller. The administration of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is there to extract a portion of your hard earned income that you have set aside for a family holiday.

Digging deep for ‘korek economics’

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In other words, in addition to the goods and services tax (GST), your income tax and potentially the service tax too, the government wants to put its hands into your pockets. And they will dig deep to get what they want, in what can only be known as “korek economics”.

“Korek economics” is not based on collection. It is driven by the degree to which the Malaysian economy has become ruined, or “koyak” in Malay, the lingua franca of Malaysia.

In 1MDB, Malaysians are now saddled with, allegedly, a debt in excess of RM44 billion. When the debt of other government-owned companies are taken into account, the debt is easily more than 80 percent of the GDP.

Not forgetting the on-budget and off-budget debts. Off budget debts are debts created through bond issuance by an entity wholly owned by the government, with guarantees by the government.

Debts like the astronomical ECRL project, which is priced at an inflated price of RM55 billion and funded through debts from China. With an estimated three percent interest rate, seven years deferred payment and 240 months of repayment instalment, it will cost the government or the taxpayers a whopping sum of RM99.6 billion!

If we use the East Coast passenger load to find the breakeven ticket price one way from KL to Kota Bahru, it will cost a whopping RM3,586 one way, the same price for a return economy class air ticket to Siberia, Russia. Get the point?

Not happy with the revenue drawn from GST, the Malaysian government has offered a mere 15 percent discount to more than half a million graduates who remain unable to pay back their PTPTN loan. This harms the ability of the graduates to live an ordinary life. Given the youth unemployment is three times the national average, they seem to resign to the fact that they are in hopeless zone.

Thus, the process to “korek” Malaysia has not merely happened in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, where a hole is dug deep, without any structures on it, but it is proliferating across the whole country. Welcome to Curi-curi Malaysia.


RAIS HUSSIN MOHAMED ARIFF is a supreme council member of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). He also chairs the Bersatu Policy and Strategy Bureau.

 

Making Ignorance Great Again


June 6, 2017

Donald Trump just took us out of the Paris climate accord for no good reason. I don’t mean that his decision was wrong. I mean, literally, that he didn’t offer any substantive justification for that decision. Oh, he threw around a few numbers about supposed job losses, but nobody believes that he knows or cares where those numbers came from. It was just what he felt like doing.

And here’s the thing: What just happened on climate isn’t an unusual case — and Trump isn’t especially unusual for a modern Republican. For today’s G.O.P. doesn’t do substance; it doesn’t assemble evidence, or do analysis to formulate or even to justify its policy positions. Facts and hard thinking aren’t wanted, and anyone who tries to bring such things into the discussion is the enemy.

Consider another huge policy area, health care. How was Trumpcare put together? Did the administration and its allies consult with experts, study previous experience with health reform, and try to devise a plan that made sense? Of course not. In fact, House leaders made a point of ramming a bill through before the Congressional Budget Office, or for that matter anyone else, could assess its likely impact.

When the budget office did weigh in, its conclusions were what you might expect: If you make huge cuts in Medicaid and reduce subsidies for private insurance — all so you can cut taxes on the wealthy — a lot of people are going to lose coverage. Is 23 million a good estimate of those losses? Yes — it might be 18 million, or it might be 28 million, but surely it would be in that range.

So how did the administration respond? By trying to shoot the messenger. Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, attacked the C.B.O., declaring that it did a “miserable” job of forecasting the effects of Obamacare. (It got some things wrong, but overall did pretty well.) He also accused the office — headed by a former Bush administration economist chosen by Republicans — of political bias, and smeared its top health expert in particular.

So, Mr. Mulvaney, where’s your assessment of Trumpcare? You had plenty of resources to do your own study before trying to pass a bill. What did you find? (Actually, the White House did do an internal analysis of an earlier version of Trumpcare, which was leaked to Politico. Its predictions were even more dire than those from the C.B.O.)

But Mulvaney and his party don’t study issues, they just decide, and attack the motives of anyone who questions their decisions.

Which brings us back to climate policy. On climate change, influential conservatives have for years clung to what is basically a crazy conspiracy theory — that the overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is warming due to greenhouse-gas emissions is a hoax, somehow coordinated by thousands of researchers around the world. And at this point this is effectively the mainstream Republican position.

Do G.O.P. leaders really think this conspiracy theory is true? The answer, surely, is that they don’t care. Truth, as something that exists apart from and in possible opposition to political convenience, is no longer part of their philosophical universe.

The same goes for claims that trying to rein in emissions will do terrible economic damage and destroy millions of jobs. Such claims are, if you think about it, completely inconsistent with everything Republicans supposedly believe about economics.

After all, they insist that the private sector is infinitely flexible and innovative; the magic of the marketplace can solve all problems. But then they claim that these magical markets would roll over and die if we put a modest price on carbon emissions, which is basically what climate policy would do. This doesn’t make any sense — but it’s not supposed to. Republicans want to keep burning coal, and they’ll say whatever helps produce that outcome.

And as health care and climate go, so goes everything else. Can you think of any major policy area where the G.O.P. hasn’t gone post-truth? Take budgeting, where leaders like Paul Ryan have always justified tax cuts for the rich by claiming the ability to conjure up trillions in extra revenue and savings in some unspecified way. The Trump-Mulvaney budget, which not only pulls $2 trillion out of thin air but counts it twice, takes the game to a new level, but it’s not that much of a departure.

But does any of it matter? The president, backed by his party, is talking nonsense, destroying American credibility day by day. But hey, stocks are up, so what’s the problem?

Well, bear in mind that so far Trump hasn’t faced a single crisis not of his own making. As George Orwell noted many years ago in his essay “In Front of Your Nose,” people can indeed talk nonsense for a very long time, without paying an obvious price. But “sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” Now there’s a happy thought.

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on June 5, 2017, on Page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Making Ignorance Great Again.