Sunday, November 15, 2009

E.J. Dionne's latest

"Why do I write so many responses to editorials?" you may be asking.  Well, actually you would ask "why does he write so many..."  It's not just to respond to what's being said in editorials, it's because they provide a simple source of stupidity, fallacies, myths, and muddled thinking.  Rebutting the worst offenders is an exercise in wisdom, and since what's being said in these editorials will doubtlessly come up in other editorials, campaign commercials, arguments, etc., it's worth covering here.

This one is a week old or so but I'm just now getting around to talking about it.

BTW, I recommend reading these editorials first, in context, before reading my rebuttal.  This editorial is kinda about a few ballot issues in Maine and Washington state, what he calls "tax-limitation measures" being defeated.  Whether he accurately describes them or not is beside the point, and also beside the point is his main point of the editorial, which is that:

"When advocates of public programs take on the right-wing anti-government crowd directly, the government-haters lose."

First of all, that only matters if the debate is over what kinds of policy are likely to be popular among a given group of voters.  Alas, much to my unhappiness, economic freedom is not always popular with voters, from any area, because it is often seen as a threat to special interests.  Things that in everybody's general interest tend to get less support than things that in somebody's special interest (especially when that special interest can convince other people that it's in their interest too).

That whole debate is aside from the debate over whether a particular policy or program "works" or not.  Minimum wage laws are opposed by virtually all economists, because economists understand that minimum wage laws simply increase unemployment and raise prices on basic goods and services--they do not, contrary to popular belief, raise peoples incomes, and also contrary to popular belief, minimum wage laws are most harmful to the very people these laws were supposed to protect--minorities, teenagers, single mothers, ex-cons, the disabled, etc.

But that's one example.

Something that irritates me in politics is how people act as if something is "right" because it is popular (with voters, whose ignorance of politics and economics is well-documented), and they do this disingenuously.  They sidestep the real argument (would a reducing taxes and lowering government spending lead to greater economic growth?) in favor of some other argument (Americans want more government spending!  We have a mandate from the voters!  etc.).

Also, in this particular instance, Maine and Washington state are two left-of-center, and in some places far-left-of-center, constituencies.  It would be surprising if these ballot initiatives had passed, not been defeated.  As is, the only lesson here is that left-of-center states will vote left.  Way to earn your paycheck, Dionne.

"Only rarely do those who believe in active government take the argument head-on and insist that many of the things government does are necessary and, yes, good. The media almost never discuss what the sweeping dismantling of public services inherent in the rhetoric of the anti-government movement would mean in practice. It's far easier to replay footage from a few tea-party rallies over and over, and discuss some vague "mood" in the electorate."

I really do believe that leftists have something in their brain that censors and distorts reality for them, so that they don't see things as they are.  F'instance, find somebody in one of these "tea party rallies" who is anti-government.  Just one.  Fine one, single anarchist.  You can't.  But you will find people who have different ideas than Dionne has about what powers a government should have and how those powers should be exercised.

Since Dionne doesn't provide specifics here about what "good" things the government does, I can't really rebut it without putting words in his mouth, which I prefer not to do.

"Nor was the anti-TABOR campaign confined to what individuals get out of government. Another ad highlighted the larger social and economic impact of public education. "Without strong public schools, our kids won't be prepared for good jobs," the announcer said. "Maine's future could be in doubt.""

Leftists have two approaches to defending our obsolete, bloated, inefficient, joke of a -baby-sitting-service-pretending-to-be-an-education-system system.  The first, usually done in times of economic growth, is to claim that education isn't just about preparing people for careers (since it's obvious to everybody that they aren't doing this), but preparing them to be "citizens," "well-rounded," "critical thinkers," etc.  They won't debate past this point, because that would mean coughing up empirical evidence that schools actually achieve these things for the majority of it's expensively undereducated students.  On these grounds they defend bloated budgets, more school construction, more teacher hirings, and a system of employment which virtually assures that you will need to commit murder to get fired (and even then at enormous tax-payer expense).

In lean times, leftists resort to another tactic, which is to claim that we need schools to prepare students for the job market and for America to stay competitive.  How much the art classes, strata upon strata of administrators, bands, sports, extra-curricular activities, and books about how the Great Depression was caused by Bush is contributing to students learning how to read, write, and do math is not clear, but I suspect it ain't contributing much.  This is a tricky defense for leftists to try, since the next obvious question would be "well then why do education costs keep rising while reading, writing, math, and science scores keep going down?"  Leftists have a few options here.  They can provide cooked statistics that look at the data in just the right way to declare it a "myth," or they can hope that voters are stupid and will fall for the original "schools make better workers" argument.  Unfortunately it works for them--for now.

Given that the home-schooling system proves that average parents working with their average kids with cheap textbooks studying at home with their kids for a few hours a day produces far better results than our expensive schooling-industrial complex, it's only a matter of time before the populace slowly wakes up to the realization that our education system isn't just broken, it's actually not working at all, and students are coming out of high school no more educated than they were when they went in.

Back to the editorial:

"In Washington state -- where tax limitation was opposed by leading moderate Republicans, including former governor Dan Evans and former senator Slade Gorton -- the No campaign offered a cross-generational message, focusing on cuts in both school budgets and home care for seniors."

Obamacare is opposed by "leading moderate Democrats," but I doubt Dionne would use that factoid as part of an argument for why it should be opposed.  Notice again how the left uses the most vulnerable, or the allegedly most vulnerable, as hostages for their policies.  "Vote our way or the kids and the old folks get it!"

Folks, let me tell you, if the inefficiency and bureaucratic crap and wasted resources on this or that "initiative" were taken out of the American welfare system, we could provide live-in DOCTORS for these old people and private tutors for these kids.  Not that I advocate that.  I'm just pointing it out.  The real enemies of these people are the leftists who run the welfare system programs and departments, who enlarge them and enlarge them and make actual service to their consumers incidental to the whole process.  I have an insider's view on this.

I won't quote it, but Dionne also makes the irrelevant point that the gay-marriage ban passed in Maine while the tax-limiting proposal failed.  I guess he lives in the fantasy land where social conservatives and people who believe in sound economics are always one and the same.

He finishes with an Obama quote:

"Obama took a brief whack at doing so in his September health-care speech. He noted that his predecessors "understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited." Why aren't we hearing more of this?"

Possibly because it's bunk, and Obama knows he can't provide real specifics.  He knows, as his famous econ advisors have undoubtedly told him, that the Great Depression was caused by the Federal Reserve (i.e. da gubmint) not a market crash as we are erroneously taught in history class, that markets fix themselves, that monopolies don't exist in a free market, and that his concerns about exploitation of the vulnerable hardly justify the type of socialism he's trying to introduce.

It's more phony false dichotomy from the left.  Real free market economists, from Smith to Hayek to Friedman to Sowell have held that there is a role for the state in preventing coercion and fraud, for maintaining law and order, for enforcing contracts.  But it's bad economics to say that markets need a hand of wise policy to guide them, unless, of course, you were trying to make the economy fit your view of society...

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