May 22 2009

What’s wrong with the electorate? Nothing, this time.

Category: Congress,economy,freedom,governmentharmonicminer @ 9:35 am

In the 2008 elections, a bit over 13 million people voted in California.  Obama won about 8 million votes, while McCain won about 5 million.

On May 19, 2009, California held a special election to decide if taxes were to be raised to the tune of about $15 billion dollars (to try to close an enormous financial deficit for the state government), or if the state politicians would have to do the hard work of cutting spending.  About 4 million people voted, with 2 to 1 margins _against_ the tax increases.

Therein lies a tale.  Given that Obama was well known to have favored enormous government spending programs, and tax increases that would be needed to support them, how is it that so many people voted for him, but against the same policies for the state?  It’s actually pretty simple.  A very large number of people who voted for Obama didn’t know much about his policies or stances on important issues, nor about his history as a politician and activist.  The media put forward an attractive image, acting as his unpaid campaign staff, and the public bought it, but professional polling has demonstrated that Obama voters were disproportionately ignorant of fundamental facts about Democrats, Republicans, Obama, McCain, Palin and Biden.

So why didn’t it work this time, too?  Why was the turnout in California less than a third of the presidential election’s turnout?  Why did those who did turn out vote 2 to 1 not to raise taxes in California?

Simply, the only people who voted this time were people who were reasonably aware of the issues, enough to have an opinion about them.  Given that public employees in California, whose jobs and pay are imperiled by cuts in the state budget, probably voted 4 to 1 FOR the tax increases, and given that there was probably a higher percentage turnout OF those employees than the general electorate, the result is even more decisive.  If you aren’t a public employee (including teachers, bureaucrats and staffers, etc.), the odds are overwhelming that you voted NO on the tax increases, if you voted at all.

There are a number of reasonable observations:

1)  People who are aware of what’s actually happening in government, who care enough to vote their opinion about it, and who don’t have a personal agenda (i.e., they work for the government), are overwhelmingly likely to vote more conservatively in fiscal matters.

2)  It is likely that the large majority who voted NO on tax increases also voted for McCain.  Of course, there will be a few examples to the contrary….  but not many.

3)  California’s fiscal future is being shaped, at least to some degree, by McCain voters, not Obama voters.

4)  It is likely, given the size of this sample, and the generally leftward tilt of California as a state, that if a national election were held today to raise taxes in order to “balance the budget,” but no other issue was on the ballot, the result would be similar.  With no _face_ on the ballot, many of those new, Obama-smitten voters would be hard pressed to make an appearance at the polls.  And the generally better informed conservative electorate would be more likely to vote.

5)  The media, and Democrats, will do their very best to keep anyone from noticing the implications of the California rejection of higher taxes.

6)  The job of the Republicans is to continue to tie the Democrat party, justly, to high taxes and high spending, in the public mind.  This will require some courage and resolve, and a refusal to succumb to the minor guilt that remains over excesses of spending by Republicans during the Bush years.  At this point, they are like someone who merely stole a car being afraid to point out the people who are robbing Fort Knox.  Obama and the Democrats are preparing to spend us into deficits FOUR TIMES the size of anything Bush every dreamed about, and that will have to be paid for, sooner or later, with higher taxes.

7)  Expect the media to have very little to say about California’s rejection of higher taxes, with national Democrats saying even less.  (On the other hand, if the high tax initiatives had passed, you can imagine the result being trumpeted far and wide as representing “the public will,” can’t you?)

The simplest way to explain all this:  the people who have jobs in the private sector (and who know something about what’s going on in state government) voted overwhelmingly against higher taxes.  Public employees voted for them, mostly.  People who fit in neither category couldn’t be troubled to turn off Oprah and get to the polls….  which is likely why they were watching Oprah in the first place.

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May 08 2009

The Spiritual Poverty of Socialism? Part I

Category: capitalism,economy,government,religion,socialismharmonicminer @ 9:46 am

In a brilliant challenge to social theorist Charles Murray, Greg Forster points to the incompleteness of Murray’s argument that socialism is spiritually negative on moral grounds.

Faced with Charles Murray’s argument that the welfare state makes everything too easy, a socialist could ask: Should everything therefore be made more difficult? How can Murray say the welfare state is bad for making life easier while praising other state functions that make life easier, like the police? Only a moral perspective can oppose socialism while affirming legitimate state functions.At the American Enterprise Institute’s annual black-tie shindig on March 11, Charles Murray gave an outstanding lecture on the spiritual (as distinct from economic) dangers of the European-style social welfare state. But Murray’s analysis, though otherwise excellent, is missing a crucial element: an appreciation that these spiritual dangers ultimately arise from disregarding the moral law. And just as a small curve in a funhouse mirror changes the whole image, the single missing piece in Murray’s logic bends his whole argument ever so slightly, but crucially, out of shape.

The topic of Murray’s talk was well chosen. Whatever one thinks of its virtues, socialism on a scale that would have been unthinkable just two years ago is already the law of the land. We see government asserting de facto rights of ownership over our largest financial firms. We have seen a sizeable portion of the economy being brought under direct government control, financed by trillion-dollar borrowing. We have made steps to undermine the Fed’s independence that could bring about inflation that would make the 1970s look tame. Some are beginning to raise tentative but credible questions about the security of America’s sovereign debt. And the top two items on the legislative agenda this year will be near-irreversible first steps toward socialized medicine and a giant new energy tax disguised as environmental regulation.

Murray argues that, even aside from its demographic and economic flaws, the European welfare state undermines the aspects of civilization that make for “a life well-lived.” By a life well-lived, he means a life characterized by a lasting and justified satisfaction that one’s life was worth living. He identifies himself with the Aristotelian preference for seeing human beings fully “flourish,” and argues that this, as opposed to mere hedonism, is what Madison had in mind when he wrote that “the object of government” is “the happiness of the people.”

Only a limited number of human activities can serve as sources for this kind of deep satisfaction. Murray identifies three characteristics that all such activities must have: they must be important, they must be difficult, and they must involve individual responsibility for consequences. Activities that are trivial, effortless, or disconnected from consequences can be fun, but cannot make for a life well-lived.

Murray asserts that there are only four areas of life where such activities take place: family, community, vocation, and faith. The assertion is plausible, if only because Murray is careful to define these concepts broadly—a “community” need not be a neighborhood but can be geographically expansive, and “vocation” can include avocations or, more nebulously, “causes.”

The crux of Murray’s case is that the European-style welfare state undermines all four of these areas of life—and on a deeper level than even most conservatives now appreciate. The welfare state doesn’t just eat away at the material preconditions of these activities, but also detracts from their ability to provide a life well-lived.

—-In the lecture’s most powerful passage, Murray discusses how this deeper dynamic has been at work destroying the family in America’s poor urban communities—where something approaching a European-style welfare state already exists. Welfare makes it much harder for the family to be a source of deep satisfaction for men in these communities:

A man who is holding down a menial job and thereby supporting a wife and children is doing something authentically important with his life. He should take deep satisfaction from that, and be praised by his community for doing so. Think of all the phrases we used to have for it: “He is a man who pulls his own weight.” “He is a good provider.”

If that same man lives under a system that says that the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then that status goes away. I am not describing some theoretical outcome. I am describing American neighborhoods where, once, working at a menial job to provide for his family made a man proud and gave him status in his community, and where now it doesn’t.

Welfare removes the difficulty from providing for the family, and therefore the importance of the husband and father.

And notice how, once family is undermined, two other areas of deep satisfaction—vocation and community—are undermined as well. The menial job loses its significance, and the now-superfluous father is no longer an important part of his community.

Murray is not saying that the welfare state removes absolutely all deep satisfaction from these areas of life. But the empirical evidence before our eyes, both in Europe and in our own poor urban neighborhoods, ought to convince us that the negative impact of the welfare state is extremely damaging.

—-…. faced with Murray’s argument that the welfare state makes everything too easy, a socialist might well retort: Should everything therefore be made more difficult, so you can have the deep satisfaction of overcoming difficulty? If the welfare state is bad, why are police good? Why not abolish the police so that walking home safely requires more effort (such as arming yourself) and can thereby become a source of deep satisfaction?

We can’t ultimately answer this question without distinguishing between morally legitimate and illegitimate ways of making things easier. Policing the streets makes our civilization more conducive to deep satisfaction because it is right. Coercive redistribution of wealth makes our civilization less conducive to deep satisfaction because it is wrong. Able-bodied people who live on welfare for extended periods are cheating—just as much as an athlete who bribes the judges. That’s why the welfare state has the corrosive effects it does.

—-Those who are now building the socialist utopia around us are convinced that their way is morally superior, and increasing numbers of Americans (especially in the rising generation) are beginning to think that they’re right—especially as they come to see unbridled capitalism as morally hollow and corrosive. The moral case for economic freedom—the rightness of capitalism in the context of an ethical culture—is indispensable if the disaster Murray rightly warns us against is to be averted.

It’s more or less received wisdom on the Christian Left that its socialist leanings are morally superior to those of the selfish, capitalist Right.  After all, didn’t Jesus come to minister to the poor and downtrodden?  Wasn’t His ministry about challenging everyone else to care for the poor?  Isn’t selfishness evil?  Aren’t we supposed to “give till it hurts”?  What about “widows and orphans” in the New Testament?  Aren’t Christians morally required to vote for politicians and policies that will provide more resources for the poor?  Wasn’t a form of communism the pattern of the early church?

These are serious questions, of course, and I plan to treat them seriously in upcoming posts.  If you’ve been lurking around this blog for awhile, you probably know what my general position is, but you may be surprised at some of the reasons.

The next post in this series is here.

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May 03 2009

California Dreamin’

Category: economy,governmentharmonicminer @ 8:38 am

Speaking of California’s budget crisis, which was created purely by state overspending, HUGE increases in spending that far outstripped population growth since 1990, George Will tells it like it is. (more at the link)

If voters pass 1A’s hypothetical restraint on government spending, their reward will be two extra years (another $16 billion) of actual income, sales and vehicle tax increases. The increases were supposed to be for just two years. Voters are being warned that if they reject the propositions, there might have to be $14 billion in spending cuts. (Note the $15 billion number four paragraphs above.) Even teachers might be laid off. California teachers — the nation’s highest paid, with salaries about 25 percent above the national average — are emblematic of the grip government employees unions have on the state, where 57 percent of government workers are unionized (the national average is 37 percent).

Flinching from serious budget cutting, and from confronting public employees unions, some Californians focus on process questions. They devise candidate-selection rules designed to diminish the role of parties, thereby supposedly making more likely the election of “moderates” amenable to even more tax increases.

But what actually ails California is centrist evasions. The state’s crisis has been caused by “moderation,” understood as splitting the difference between extreme liberalism and hyperliberalism, a “reasonableness” that merely moderates the speed at which the ever-expanding public sector suffocates the private sector.

California has become liberalism’s laboratory, in which the case for fiscal conservatism is being confirmed. The state is a slow learner and hence will remain a drag on the nation’s economy. But it will be a net benefit to the nation if the federal government and other state governments profit from California’s negative example, which Californians can make more vividly instructive by voting down the propositions on May 19.

Obama, judging from his budgetary ambitions and spending plans, has looked at California’s current condition and pronounced it desirable.  If you want to know what the whole USA could be like soon, come to California. Please. We need your income to tax.

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Apr 10 2009

Killing the patient with care

Category: Congress,economy,energy,government,Obama,taxesharmonicminer @ 8:37 am

An earlier version of this was posted Oct 21, 2008.  It has been edited slightly to reflect current conditions, but it is basically accurate still.

The patient takes vitamins and minerals in doses recommended by most physicians, and gets plenty of exercise.

The patient eats a reasonably healthy diet. However, the patient depends to a large degree on imported food, which is often expensive, though the price goes up and down to a degree, and while the patient could grow plenty of home grown food, the patient hasn’t been planting enough lately to sustain present and future dietary needs. So the patient is hungry, and losing weight

The patient is mysteriously ill. Upon examination, it appears that the patient has been slowly poisoned. The patient’s immune system and general state of health might have been sufficient to cover the symptoms of the poisoning longer, except for the strain imposed by the recent hunger and weight loss. The symptoms have been coming on for sometime, but only recently have they become indisputable, as what seemed subclinical does of the poison accumulated in the tissues enough to cause big problems.

Some physicians suggest simply stopping the poison immediately, engaging in a crash program to feed the patient, and growing lots more food for the future, starting today. The basically healthy patient’s immune system and generally good habits will reverse the effects of the poison.

Some physicians suggest continuing the patient’s calorie restriction, cutting back on the vitamins and exercise, switching to a different poison (but reducing the dose) and using leeches to drain away the bad blood. When it’s pointed out that the vitamins and exercise are usually good things, and that poison is usually a bad thing, these practitioners assure the patient that the problem was an unexpected reaction between the nutritional supplements and the low grade poison dose, and the new poison is really a purgative to help clear the system of the effect of too many vitamins, and won’t do any harm. When these doctors are asked if the patient really shouldn’t be eating more, they say it’s good to be skinny, and research shows that skinny people live longer, anyway. They point to all kinds of studies that seem to prove all of this, and cite complicated sounding theories to justify the counter-intuitive nature of their prescriptions. Trust them: they’re the experts. And besides, even if the patient starts growing more food again, it will be many years before enough can be grown to adequately feed the patient (aren’t growing seasons usually annual things?). And even if the patient eats more, the patient will just start exercising more again, and burn the calories, and what good will that do?

I know which advice I’d follow, if I was the patient.

The patient, of course, is the US economy.

The vitamins and exercise are the tax cuts put in years ago by the Bush administration and Congress. Strictly speaking, the vitamins are the tax cuts (think antioxidants that prevent cross-linking), and the exercise is the additional economic freedom those cuts created for productive activity that drove the huge success of our economy for six years after 9/11, until the combination of oil prices and the housing/financial meltdown drug it down about a year ago.

Did you get the pun?  The housing/financial meltdown “drug” the economy down.  Ouch…

The diet is oil and energy, and we don’t make anywhere near enough of our own, which is part of the reason prices were so high not long ago.  Don’t be fooled!  Even though prices have fallen far off the $150/barrel highs, oil is still in short supply for an active, vibrant economy.  You can’t have a speculative bubble without an underlying “shortage,” and right now people are simply doing less that demands energy. But our access to energy is going to reflect itself in our ability to “rev up” the economy as we grow out of the recession.  The combination of a true structural energy shortage for a vibrant economy, plus the inflation that is going to result from the printing of new money, is going to result in higher oil prices than we’ve ever dreamed of, within a relatively short time, as the economy improves, demand goes up, and the worth of money goes down.

The mysterious poison (that “drug” we mentioned, the one with inevitably serious side effects) is government interference in the marketplace, particularly in trying to repeal the basic laws of economics. One of the main things that poisons do is to interfere with normal biological processes, and market interference is little different. There are many of these poisons, and when one of them is having an obviously negative effect on the patient, too many so-called experts suggest we try a different one. The problem is that all such interference is toxic for our economy. Some amount of government interference is probably inevitable; after all, we take medicines that are essentially poisons, because our overall organisms can handle it in small amounts, and the medicine sometimes helps resolve a short-term problem. But you will die young on a steady diet of high doses of all kinds of medicine, regardless of how beneficial some medicines are in short term use for very specific problems. A body can tolerate just a very few “maintenance” medicines for a long life, and they must have very mild side effects to be survivable.

A few years ago I had some blood tests that revealed serious problems.  My doctor couldn’t figure it out, and sent me to a specialist.  He looked at the list of medicines I was taking, and simply took me off everything but the absolute minimum.  My blood-work improved dramatically, as did my overall health.  What had happened was “medicine creep”, where the doctor prescribes one thing, then another to deal with the side effects of the first, then another, then another, and so on.  It took an expert to decide to do very little, while the mediocre practitioner tried to do too much.

We are toxic with government economic medicine right now. The physicians who are prescribing it were wrong about the LAST ten prescriptions, with side effects they claimed we wouldn’t experience, and with frequent failure in the purpose of the medicine, even WITH the deleterious side effects. And they are planning to send us the bill for their professional services, anyway. The very best thing they could do is to withdraw all but the very minimum of economic medicine (meaning a tolerable toxicity), and let the body heal itself. It will.

But our president and Democrat congress have big plans. They want to put us on about a dozen VERY STRONG maintenance medicines for life, medicines with serious toxic side effects, medicines that have not ever worked for any other patient over the long term, and send our children the bill.

I wish politicians had to take the Hippocratic oath before taking office, which includes, if memory serves, this promise:

First, do no harm.

Unfortunately, instead of Hippocrates in office, we have hypocrites.

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Apr 07 2009

Socialism in class

Category: economy,humor,socialismharmonicminer @ 8:42 am

The following came to me in email.  I don’t know if this really happened, but it SHOULD be true, since, from what I know about college students, this is exactly what would happen:

An economics professor at Texas Tech said he had never failed a single student before, but had once failed an entire class. The class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

The professor then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism.”  All grades would be averaged, and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A.

After the first test the grades were averaged, everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset, and the students who studied little were happy.  But, as the second test rolled around, the students who had studied little, studied even less, and the ones who had studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too, so they studied little..

The second test average was a D!   No one was happy.  When the 3rd test rolled around the average was an F.

The scores never increased as bickering, blame, name calling all resulted in hard feelings, and no one would study for anyone else.  To their great surprise,all failed, and the professor told them that socialism would ultimately fail because the harder to succeed the greater the reward, but when a government takes all the reward away, no one will try or succeed.

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Mar 16 2009

Algorithmic Angst

Category: economy,taxesharmonicminer @ 9:46 am

Handy Stimulus Flow Chart

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Mar 14 2009

Does Christian Love call for taxes to fund social programs?

Category: economy,government,politicsharmonicminer @ 9:10 am

John Mark Reynolds thinks not, in Love Your Neighbor and Don’t Tax Him

Key graphs, more at the link.

Moral men have a duty to help their neighbors, but nobody has the right to force other people to help.

Jesus told a story of a Good Samaritan who crossed difficult social and cultural barriers to provide relief to an injured man. This is a good model for our own behavior. We should help the hurting neighbor even if he is a pariah in our community. The mortgage broker who has lost his job is also my neighbor and, when he is hurting and repentant, should receive pity, charity, and care—not just sermons about his errors.

Moral behavior is most valuable when it is not easy to do. The temptation is to avoid doing our moral duty by ignoring it or passing off the dirty work to somebody else.

The Scroogish Samaritan ignores his moral duty to help his neighbor. He assumes everybody should care only for self and destroys common culture by his selfishness. The Statist Samaritan forces everybody else to help the injured man and so gains a cheap feeling of virtue, but undermines any real virtue.

Sadly, it is so much more blessed to give than to receive that the Statist Samaritan tries to give all the blessings to the state. He loves the state and so wishes to turn everyone’s appreciation for charity to it.

Not surprisingly charity that is coerced does harm to everyone. The injured party may be helped at first, but only at the cost of doing injustice to others. Taxing Peter forces Peter to help Paul, often does little for Paul, and almost certainly will make Peter resent Paul. Peter should help Paul, but making him do it will teach both men bad lessons. The taxed feels resentment as the object of his charity lacks a human face—he gives his coerced taxes to faceless bureaucracy—and the recipient becomes the ward of government.

When we pass our moral duties over to the state, we lose the power to do charity ourselves, turn an act of charity into coercion, and give the state too much power. People are habituated to look to the state to meet their needs and not their communities, churches, and family. This weakens every non-state institution and risks tyranny.

Forced charity is inefficient because it rarely distinguishes between worthy and unworthy attempts at charity. ….

Forced charity is bad for us because in removing our liberty to choose between goods it makes us perpetual dependents. No good person wants to be perpetually dependent on his neighbor, because his neighbor has a face and knows him. It is much easier to become a perpetual dependent on the government, because the government is faceless.

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Mar 13 2009

I told you so #2

Category: economy,left,Obamaharmonicminer @ 9:11 am

‘I’m Maureen Dowd, and I’ve Been Had’ (Much more at the link)

They may need a support group before the month is out. They could gather in New York or Washington where many victims reside. The meetings would start: “I’m Maureen [or David]. I’m a duped Barack voter. And I’m mad.”

The ranks indeed are filling with the disaffected and the disappointed — Chris Buckley, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, David Gergen, and even that gynecological sleuth and blogger Andrew Sullivan. And then there is the very angry Marty Peretz. Their complaints are varied but expressed with equal amounts of remorse and bitterness. They all have been done wrong by Barack.

Was there EVER a chance that the most Left Senator wouldn’t be the most Left President?

They ain’t seen NUTHIN’ yet.


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Mar 07 2009

It Ain’t Your Money To Spend

Category: economy,musicharmonicminer @ 3:46 pm

I always said that jazz tells the truth.

Now Kathleen Stewart speaks truth to power.

It Ain’t Your Money To Spend

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Mar 06 2009

“Big government” equivalence is a smokescreen

Category: Congress,economy,mediaharmonicminer @ 8:31 pm

Both parties love big government _ just different programs

Republicans say they’re outraged that Obama would “borrow and spend” his way to a new behemoth government. But they borrowed and spent their way through the ’80s and the current decade. And they love big government — when it’s at the Pentagon .

Democrats from Obama on down insist that they don’t like big government, that they’re just forced into a temporary spending spree by the recession. But Democrats love big government as well, when it’s for social programs such as universal health care.

“The basic difference between Democrats and Republicans in recent decades is which aspect of government spending they prefer,” said Steven Schier , a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. “With the Republicans, it’s defense. With the Democrats, it’s education, environment, health care etc. That’s been the major difference between the two parties going back to Reagan.”

What a crock.

Without a strong military, a nation disappears, or must depend on some other nation for its defense. Who, exactly, would have defended the USA during the Cold War, if not the USA? Who, exactly, will defend the USA now against the various threats on the world stage? Bluntly, our biggest error has probably been letting OTHER nations subsist under the USA defense umbrella for so long, especially Europe and Japan, but that’s Monday morning quarterbacking at this point… After WW II, it seemed like a good idea for Germany and Japan not to be militarized.

But what happens if a nation does not provide nationalized health care and retirement programs, centralized education bureaucracies and regulatory agencies? Not much. People simply make other arrangements. The market works, except when government interferes with it, and then blames the market for the outcome of its own interference.

Defense is one of the two biggest absolutely required roles for government, the other being the maintenance of law and order in the interest of public safety.

In any case, the amount of money that has been spent on social programs since 1960 is ENORMOUS, and social spending remains 60% or more of the national budget. And Obama’s intentions in social spending make the Pentagon’s fondest wishlist look like chump change.

The Lefty media, of course, wants to pretend there is a moral equivalence between what a nation must do to survive, and what Left leaning politicians must promise in order to be re-elected.

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