The 100th Anniversary of the Christmas Truce


British and German troops meet in no man’s land. Boxing Day, 1914. Photographed by 2nd Lt Cyril Drummand, RFA.

This Christmas marks the 100th anniversary of the spontaneous “Christmas Truce” created by trench-warfare soldiers of World War I.

All along the European front, soldiers lay down their arms on Christmas day, and took the chance that those on the other side would join them in observing their common holy day:

A German soldier, Karl Aldag, reports that both sides had been heard singing hymns in the trenches. German troops coming into the lines bring Christmas trees. Some men begin to place them on the parapets of the fire trenches.

In today’s era of torture as the new normal, I suspect we regard with special nostalgia images relayed in letters such as this from a front-line British soldier to his mother, of soldiers coming out of their trenches, shaking hands and wishing one another a happy Christmas, holding a joint burial service for their dead, and otherwise marking the day of Christ’s birth:

I went out myself and shook hands with several of their officers and men. From what I gathered most of them would be glad to get home again as we should.

The soldier’s letter resumes on Dec. 27th, reporting that the truce was continuing.

Such warm fuzzies for “the enemy”, of course, undermined the cause of their rulers, and eventually all along the front officers retook charge of the situation, in some cases ordering their soldiers to take up arms or be shot themselves; in one case, a British officer shot a German soldier walking unarmed in no-man’s land, bringing the truce to a bloody end.

And thus the secret to maintaining war: we must never come to know our declared enemies, must never think of them as humans just as we are, loving their families, hoping for home and a better life. Faceless caricatures are so much better for keeping passions pitched.

And thus the secret every good ruler knows: divide and conquer. Portray “them” as different, sub-human, unworthy of the consideration we hold as our due, and certainly ones to whom Christ never intended the Golden Rule to apply.

“Them-ism” is equally effectively applied to our co-nationalists of a different color, socio-economic status, or religion. Keeping us suspicious of one another well serves our political masters, accruing ever-greater power.

How nice it would be if on this 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce, and the 2,014th anniversary of the birth of Christ*, we would defy those who call us to hate one another, and pay heed to Him who commanded us to Love one another.

Joyeux Noel!

*Yes, yes, I know that Jesus was almost certainly not born on December 25th, and probably not in the year we call 0—but it is indeed the date on which we commemorate His birth.

Putin’s Collapsing Russia

Ruble-PutinVladimir Putin, who worked for the Soviet Union’s KGB from the time he graduated from college through the Soviet Union’s dissolution, obviously is nostalgic for the days in which the Soviet Union was regarded as one of the world’s two superpowers, as it was when Putin joined the KGB in 1975.

When Putin first became Russia’s president in 2000, the country appeared to be moving increasingly toward a western-style democratic government, but now Putin appears to be as permanently ensconced as Russia’s head of state as the Soviet premiers that ran the country from 1917 through 1991. Even during the four years when Dmitry Medvedev held the office of president, Putin was obviously the man in charge. Russia’s democracy has, for practical purposes, evolved into dictatorship.

Russia’s economy, which showed capitalist promise in the 1990s, remains heavily dependent on natural resources, and the recent decline in oil prices shows the degree of dependence. Meanwhile, Putin’s government threatens any economically powerful Russians who dare speak out against him (perhaps justified because the wealth of Russian oligarchs tends to come from cronyism). Strong elements of the old Soviet command economy mingle with Putin’s political dictatorship.

Then there is Russia’s foreign adventurism, from the invasion of Georgia in 2008 (parts of Georgia are still occupied by Russian troops) to the Ukrainian invasion in 2014. Little by little, Putin is trying to reconstruct the old Soviet empire, and one has to wonder which former Soviet Republic might next be targeted.

Putin’s attempt to re-create the old Soviet Union’s glory days is seemingly oblivious to the factors that led to its ultimate collapse. The political system produced cronyism and economic hardship for most Russians, the economic system caused the Soviet Union to fall increasingly behind the capitalist West, and one of the justifications for dissolving the Soviet Union was that it was too costly for Russia to support the other Republics.

From all appearances, Putin is trying to transform the Russia of 2000, with all of its promise to take its place among European democratic market economies, into the old Soviet Union, by implementing all of the characteristics of the old Soviet Union that led to its collapse.

In the short run, there is good reason to be wary of Putin’s collapsing Russia because of the damage it can do to others, but in the long run, Putin appears to be intent on designing a country based on a model that has already been demonstrated to become weaker, and therefore less threatening, over time.

Obamacare Premiums Higher in States with ‘Active Purchaser’ Exchanges

11935359_SSixteen states plus the District of Columbia chose to set up their own Obamacare exchanges, in which insurers offer subsidized health insurance to individuals. States had two ways to set up exchanges. Ten set up exchanges where the exchange itself was the “active purchaser,” meaning that it negotiated premiums, provider networks, and number and benefits of plans sold. Seven set their exchanges up as “clearinghouses”: Any insurer that met the regulatory standard was able to contend on the exchange.

The conceit behind the active purchasers was that the exchange could get a better deal for individuals than could individuals themselves. Well, the results for the first year are in: “Active purchaser” exchanges had premiums 13 percent to 20 percent higher than “clearinghouse” exchanges, according to research just published in Health Affairs.


Photo Explaining Obamacare’s Perverse Incentives Is Worth a Thousand Words

CAM001091-2Health insurers in Obamacare’s exchange plans have perverse incentives to attract healthy patients and deter sick ones from enrolling. This is because the law forbids insurers from charging premiums that reflect applicants’ likelihood of incurring high medical costs. Although there are risk-mitigation mechanisms to overcome this, they appear to be inadequate.

If this photo does not tell us that insurers want healthy people to apply, I don’t know what will.

A little context: I took this photo in a train on the Metro in Washington, DC, just a few days ago. CareFirst, which holds the Blue Cross Blue Shield license in Maryland, is the dominant insurer in the metropolitan area. It has major market share in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP). Open enrollment for the FEHBP ran from November 10 through December 8. The Metro is the perfect place to attract public servants’ attention, so CareFirst buys lots of advertising space during FEHBP open enrollment. Those ads usually feature middle-aged actors, who project a staid bureaucratic image as they peruse their choices for the upcoming year.


I Can’t Believe There’s No Butter! Bad Trade Policy Burns Christmas Bakers

16949272_SI love to cook. From my great grandmother’s recipe for fried chicken (fried in lard, of course) to my mom’s recipe for Kentucky burgoo (think stew), there are a few kitchen staples this cook can’t do without. The star of many southern recipes is butter. Perhaps famous southern cook Paula Deen put it best:

“I’d rather die with a stick of butter in my hand than a celery stalk.”

Truer words were never spoken.

In my local grocery store I have my choice of a LOT of butter. Salted butter, unsalted butter, organic butter, sticks of butter, tubs of butter, and butter made with olive oil are all available for a few dollars (so is that thing next to it called margarine...but we don’t have to talk about that stuff).


Obesity Can Be a Disability, Says European Court of Justice

Obesity-DisabilityThe European Court of Justice has just issued an opinion holding that obesity can be a disability requiring employers to “take appropriate measures . . . to enable a person with a disability to have access to, participate in, or advance in employment, or to undergo training, unless such measures would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer.” The Court further held that a disability determination “does not depend on the extent to which a person may or may not have contributed to the onset of his disability.”


If You Like Rights, Liberty, and Economic Opportunity, Celebrate Christmas

Star of BethlehemThose of us enjoying the multiple benefits of societies built upon respect for our human and economic rights ought especially to pause to give thanks for God’s incarnation as Christ, celebrated this week.

There is thankfully now a rich literature from which we can learn how the many principles and laws we take for granted today would have remained undiscovered had Christ not lived.

Joseph Schumpeter, Murray Rothbard, Alex Chafuen, and others have well documented the earliest roots of modern-day Austrian economics in medieval Christian scholarship—including the development of just price theory, the subjective theory of value, support for capitalism and free trade, and sophisticated thinking on money and banking (including fierce criticism of fractional-reserve banking).

[The Spanish Scholastics] taught morals and theology at the University of Salamanca, a medieval city located 150 miles to the northwest of Madrid, close to the border with Portugal. They were mainly Dominicans or Jesuits, and their view on economics closely parallels that stressed by Carl Menger more than 300 years later.


High Taxes, Lack of Federal Bailout Make Vermont Cancel Single-Payer Plan

ShumlinVermont Governor Peter Shumlin has cancelled his longstanding plan to impose government-monopoly health care in the Canadian border state:

Tax hikes required to pay for the system would include a 11.5 percent payroll tax as well as an additional income tax ranging all the way up to 9.5 percent. Shumlin admitted that in the current climate, such a precipitous hike would be disastrous for Vermont’s economy.

“Pushing for single payer health care when the time isn’t right and it might hurt our economy would not be good for Vermont and it would not be good for true health care reform,” Shumlin said. “It could set back for years all of our hard work toward the important goal of universal, publicly-financed health care for all.”

The state had been anticipating $267 million in federal funding to revamp its system, courtesy of a 2013 Obamacare waiver—but the current estimate has fallen to $106 million. Vermont also overestimated by $150 million in federal Medicaid funding. (Daily Caller)


Oil and Dictators

Low-prices-of-OilWill the collapse of oil prices benefit or erode petrodictators in the Middle East, Eurasia, Africa, and Latin America?

At first glance, the answer would seem obvious. Venezuela, Nigeria, and Iran need crude prices as high as $110 per barrel to fund their states in their present condition. Russia, half of whose government budget depends on black gold, is not far behind. Saudi Arabia, which did much to reverse the “Arab Spring”, announced in recent years new oil-funded projects costing about $500 billion and aimed at pre-empting adversaries who could use the discontent with the regime in Riyadh to agitate the mind of the masses.

But things are more complicated than they seem.


CROmnibus and Cronyism for Blue Health Plans?

Reid-Boehner-ObamaDespite the end of Obamacare’s “bailout” for health insurers, some of our friends who seek to repeal and replace Obamacare insist on finding a crony capitalist under every bed and in every closet.

Yuval Levin, at National Review Online, appears to have been the first to identify an adjustment to an insurance regulation, buried in the CROmnibus, as “cronysism” for non-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans. This has been picked up by Louise Radnofsky at the Wall Street Journal and Timothy P. Carney at the Washington Examiner.

Mr. Carney notes that there is “no clear right or wrong in this matter,” but he criticizes the adjustment for “providing Obamacare relief for exactly one corporation.” However, the relief does not apply to “exactly one corporation.” It applies to all Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans.