A review of Suicide of West… eventually

Published on 4.24.2020: It's not a good idea to begin a review or discussion with an apology for choosing to read the book, but that's where we are. I read Jonah Goldberg's latest book, The Suicide of the West, a year or more ago. I read the book despite my opinion of the author and his mother. Goldberg is the son of Lucianne Goldberg, who was instrumental in bringing Bill Clinton's scandal with Monica Lewinski into the spotlight.

I was an adult during the Clinton years, though I was finishing grad school and starting a family, so my attention to politics was only sporadic. Full disclosure: I voted for Clinton twice, and I also voted for Hillary in 2016— because there's no way I would ever pull the lever for the con man that is Donald Trump. Further disclosure: if Bill Clinton were running today, I would never consider voting for him. I was uncomfortable at the time, but didn't think a consensual sex act was impeachable. Wrong, but certainly not cause to remove a president.
I never did the Gloria Steinem thing (making mortifying excuses from Clinton), and I was uncomfortable with his "bimbo eruptions" at the time (as I was adamant to my democratic friends that Hillary's emails were going to be an Albatross around her neck) but I rationalized that she was better than the alternative, and I stand by that. I should be a republican, except for their "social" policies. I can't claim to be a libertarian, for me, libertarianism falls apart when you get to the details (or have kids). But I won't back a party that argues for small government, but then suggests that government should be in everyone's bedroom. Nope, nope, nopity nope.

I mention all of this above because given the history, I would never expect to read anything Jonah Goldberg wrote, let alone buy one of his books. I also listen to his podcast, The Remnant, not because I always agree with him or his guests, but because it's an interesting conversation. In part because Goldberg has altered some of his positions (as I have altered mine) as he's aged. He's still conservative, and he still has a pathological need to crack wise about the Clintons— though to be fair, the facts in that case are on his side.

I did read the book… albeit a long time ago

The stated purpose of this piece is to review a book, so I suppose I should do it. I purchased the Kindle version of this book (unlike The Moralist, which I borrowed from my local library). The thesis of the book is that human history has changed for the better and very rapidly due to the Scottish enlightenment and capitalism, and humans (in general) are inadequately grateful for the gifts of the (Scottish) enlightenment. The French Enlightenment can go f*ck itself— but, in fairness, the French Revolution was pretty horrific.

Humans are tribal by nature, but in order to advance, humans have to move beyond their tribe. This is only possible with rules in place that make it safe to do so, and the bests set of rules is liberal (with its classical meaning) capitalism. Liberal is one of those terms that Goldberg worked hard to impugn back in the day, but has now decided to try and reclaim it.

Suicide of the West was one of those books that as I read it, I realized that in order to truly assess its arguments, I need to do a lot more reading of classical works. That's not a criticism of the book, it's one of the things that I liked best about it. However, it does make it difficult to write an in depth critique of the arguments included.

I did take notes while I was reading, at least at first. Eventually I quit and just read. Rereading my notes, it seems that I was mostly looking for reasons to nitpick or disprove the book's thesis. At some point then I decided the book was worth simply reading for its message. I don't agree with all of the message, but I agreed with more than I expected than when I chose to buy it.

The last third of the book was charts and documentation of the claims, which I skimmed at best. I tried to re-open the book tonight to look at this section again and I couldn't get my kindle version to load. that could be because our internet service is sh*t right now, or it could be that Amazon changed something and I have lost access to a book I bought. But that veers to close to a cul-de-sac of a diversion. That's a potential rant for another day.
Because my notes are so old and I can't (as I sit here typing) access the book currently, I can't say exactly to what this next bit of prose was responding. That being said, I wrote this:

Could the producerism effect be mitigated by not tax advantaging moving money over building? In other words, tax all income at the same level whether from stocks or building things. That would end Buffet's paradox (Warren Buffet pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary) and lower taxes across the board— though perhaps not those who are currently most advantaged. This has been a hobby horse of mine for awhile, at least since Obama's joint commission on how to address the US debt. Why should making money dealing stocks be tax less than physical labor?

Maybe it's because I'm the daughter of a laborer who never made more than I did as an engineering grad student, but it has long irked me that someone income earned using your hands is taxed more heavily than investment related income. It's just wrong. Income should be income— even if that income is from retirement sources. If it's new money to you, it's income to you. I'm not a "flat-taxer" but I am for a flatter tax system. If all income were taxed the same all income would be taxed at a lower rate. You can still have a progressive tax code, but no income could be excluded for some made up reason.

And here I'll stop I might come back to this one day and clean it up, but the main lesson here (beyond giving a second look to people who evolve as they age) is that if I'm going to review a book I should do so within a few months of reading it!!

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