Sunday, October 31, 2010

What I Hate About (Some) Conservatives and Republicans

Not every so-called conservative or Republican exhibits these behaviors, but enough do that I bristle at being called "conservative" or confused with Republicans.  They range from the small to the large, and I see them in conservative editorials and political speeches, on conservative web forums, talking to conservatives, etc.

1.  Rank ignorance of economics.  But this bugs me about everybody.  The same people who say that government stimulus spending doesn't work (and it doesn't), will in the same breath advocate spending government money on sports stadiums and teams to "stimulate the local economy."

2.  Confusing the "socialism" and "Marxism" with "statism."  One can be statist without being a Marxist or socialist.  Very few people, even many liberal Democrats, are actually socialists and Marxists, and most of the genuine socialists and Marxists are in academia or ensconced in government bureaucracies.  Not many of them actually run for office (there are exceptions, like Bernie Sanders and Barbara Lee).  You sound like an idiot when you call somebody a Marxist just because they are left-of-center.  Even being a communist does not make one a Marxist, and (believe it or not) you can be a bona fide Marxist without being a communist.  "No way!" you say?  Yes way!  Why not read Thomas Sowell's excellent book on Marx so you actually know what you're talking about?  Conservatives are always attacking Europe and other countries with large welfare states or nationalized industries as "socialist," which is sometimes true and sometimes not.  France has privatized water utilities.  We have socialized water utilities.  France has more nuclear power than we do.  There are many things about so-called socialist countries which do not fit the socialist mold, and you make yourself ill-prepared to logically defend free market economics when you've painted everything with the same broad brush.  Americans often mistake a large welfare state for socialism.  However, social services are not necessarily the same thing as socialism, and you can in theory have a free market economy and a welfare state at the same time (though I don't recommend it), in the same way that an organism can be healthy and living and growing in spite of having an ailment.  Part of the reason many other countries spend so much more on welfare state programs is because A)  they don't spend much on defense and B) they often spend their welfare state money more wisely than we do, by which I mean they ration care and cut corners all over the place.  Americans wouldn't put up with that, but generation after generation of them have grown up with rationed medical care.

3.  Protectionism.  Throw a rock in any gathering of conservatives and you'll hit somebody who on one hand claims to hate government interference in the free market, and on the other hand never met a protectionist policy they didn't like.  They can say they aren't protectionists, like Lou Dobbs claims, but they are.  They dig up arcane quotes from economists that they don't understand, dredge up discredited episodes in history, use misleading statistics that they don't know how to read, and good ol' bad reasoning to support their arguments for high tariffs, import quotas, worrying about "trade imbalances" and how to correct them, and nationalism (not to be confused with patriotism).  Free trade (not "fair trade") is simply a good policy.  "Fair trade" and protectionism aren't.  End of story.  No argument.  I can respect people who disagree with me on most issues, but two schools of "thought" for which I have nothing but contempt are socialism and it's ugly twin, protectionism.

4.  Conspiracy mongering about the NWO or globalism or some such crap.  It doesn't crop up super-often, but it does crop up.  Economic illiterates often accuse staunch free trade supporters of belonging to some NWO cabal wanting to impose one-world government, as if free trade has anything to do with that.

5.  Seeing Biblical prophecy everywhere.  Just stop.  Stop embarrassing us.  The Bible does not predict that something call the "AntiChrist" will rule the world, or that Europe will unite into one nation, or that a global government will form, etc.  There is not a shred of Scripture to back up any of this malarkey.  Reread Revelations.  Notice how the word "anti-Christ" isn't actually in there.  Revelations is about God's Kingdom.  It is a prophecy that we will not understand until it has happened, in the same way that the Old Testament prophecies about Christ were not understood until after Christ came, died, and rose again.  It is not to guide us, but to show us, after the fact, that God's Word predicted it.

6.  Remaining ignorant of other countries and cultures.  This goes hand in hand with unfounded assumptions about other countries and cultures.  Once on a conservative web forum, somebody posted pictures of Sikhs visiting Obama at the White House for a function.  All the conservatives saw the turbans the Sikhs were wearing, immediately mistook them for Muslims, and went railing on about how Obama is a secret Muslim and cavorting with the enemy.  Why not wear a dunce cap while you're at it?  This type of behavior is typical of a great many conservatives.  I talk to conservatives who seem to think that every other country in the world lives in poverty and oppression, seemingly ignorant of what it is actually like to live in Australia or France or Norway or Singapore.

7.  Mistakenly assuming that the US has anything like a free market health care system, and then trying to defend it on those grounds.  No objective observer who understands economics would mistake the US health care system, with it's 50% (give or take) government funding, myriad rules, licensing restrictions, regulatory bodies, and onerous requirements put on insurance companies.  For some reason, too many conservatives try to defend the US health care system and attack foreign socialized systems.  A few things wrong with this:  the US health care system is a government bureaucrat's dream, not a free market, and not all socialized or government universal health care systems are the same, so the same arguments against, say, Britain's NHS won't fly against Singapore's much-better government universal health care system, which is run much more like a business and less like a government bureaucracy.  Again, as with protectionism, I run into conservatives who claim to love the free market but want to protect (rather than reform or abolish) Medicare, Medicaid, etc.  A big mistake that everybody makes is that health care cost rises are simply bound to out-pace inflation in perpetuity, rather than trying to reform the system, another huge mistake is to assume that health insurance (with all of its problems) and health care (with all its problems) are one and the same issue.  The health care industry is a perfect place for free market boosters to point out the flaws in government intervention, yet this rarely happens.  I have never read a conservative editorial pointing out how licensing laws increase the costs of health care, sometimes drastically.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Political Analysts on TV

Now, I have a lot more important things to do, like clipping my fingernails or making sure my dresser is perfectly parallel to the wall, than to watch tv political talk shows.  But sometimes I'll sit and watch for a few minutes (and when I was younger I remember my dad watching them all of the time).  I've noticed that there are two types of "analysts" or "strategists" you see on tv political talk shows.

The first kind is the cheerleader, the my-party-is-going-to-win-and-here's-why guy.  You can safely ignore them, they are just there to fill up airtime.  The second kind is the person who actually analyzes the political scene and makes predictions about how things (particularly elections) will turn out.  Some of them are just terrible at this, like Dick Morris, who by my count is wrong on every prediction he makes.  Some, like the late Bob Novak and the hated Karl Rove, are actually very good.  They make reactions dispassionately, with no optimism and no pessimism.  I have learned from experience that Novak (before he died) and Rove are worth listening to.  I guess it's from simply observing the political scene and absorbing it for so many years, they are just in tune with what's happening.  Neither of these guys are always right, and it's not hard to find examples of their predictions gone wrong.  But these guys and others like them are right often enough, and in ways I didn't expect, to make them worthwhile (if you care about the political horse races, I for one think that election outcomes aren't nearly as important as they're made out to be because The System already has such enormous momentum and special moneyed interests guiding it and bureaucracy keeping it from deviating etc.).

The great thing about this type of analysis is that it's ideology-free.  It doesn't matter what a person's position on the flat tax is, or whether they voted for the porkulus bill, it's simply an objective matter of reading the political landscape, seeing how things are going, how voters in aggregate are feeling, etc., and making a prediction.  Two ideologically-opposite analysts, using the same methodology, could arrive at the same results.

But what I do not understand is why so few of these really-good-at-making-predictions guys are on the left.  I mean the left left, not the Larry Summers left.  I mean, I can't even think of one.  Left-leaning, sure.  Especially veteran ex-politicians who know how the Washington Machine works.  But actual socialist left?  Nope.

Key Changes I Would Like To See In Right-Wing Politics

I shy away from calling myself "right-wing" (the title of this blog notwithstanding) for a few reasons.  Namely, there are big areas of disagreement with me and most of the other right-wingers.  I'm pretty much anti-war, would like to see defense spending slashed, question the idea maintaining a standing military in the first place, want to see the government get out of marriage, and favor open immigration.

I'm certainly not left-wing though, partly because my opposition to war, the military, and strict immigration springs from different reasons than most leftists.  There's a certain crowd amongst the left that says they are anti-war but what they really hate is the American military, they really hate when a Western, relatively free country exerts itself militarily.  They have no end of excuses for dictators and terrorists the world round waging war.  These are people like Noam Chomsky or the people on Democratic Underground or Daily Kos.  I'm against war because it is costly, devastates economies, and destroys life and spreads misery.

Although in America we often think of war as a tool used to fight dictatorships and evil, more often than not war is the final stage of a simmering conflict that rose to the heights it did because of bad economic policy, specifically bad trade policy.  Pick any war, and you'll find trade barriers, embargoes, tariffs, etc. somewhere preceding it, allowing normal nation-against-nation bad attitudes to turn into outright war.  Nobody likes the French but we don't fight wars with them because they trade with us too much for war to be worth it.  Ditto China.  We *might* go to war with North Korea or Iran because, essentially, we don't trade with them enough (or at all).  A lot of people think war is about misunderstanding or hatred.  It ain't.  Those things can exist in abundance and war can still be a virtual impossibility because it would conflict with too many general and special interests.  No, war happens because, as the great economist Frederic Bastiat said, "when goods don't cross borders, soldiers will."

And yet the "anti-war" crows for "fair trade," higher barriers to trade with China, etc.  The only trade embargoes they seem to want dropped are those against communist or Islamofascist nations.  For the record, I say we should open the borders and let the trade fly between us and Cuba, N. Korea, Iran, etc.  China is a textbook example of how nations that--according to common sense--ought to hate each other and being warring with each other, are instead cooperating with each other in the form of markets.

I'm against gay marriage bans because I'm just against the government being involved in marriage at all.  I don't want to be forced to recognize a marriage I disagree with, nor should the government prohibit two people from calling themselves "married" or whatever else they want to call themselves.

I'm in favor of open immigration, but not because I want to create a pathway to citizenship, or grow the welfare rolls to create a dependent class of Democratic voters, or sign up more people to join the labor unions.  I'm in favor of open immigration because there's no good reason to be against it.  Why shouldn't I have the right to hire somebody just because they live across some border?

Yeah, Been a While

Not that anybody reads this blog, but I felt like coming back to it because I had a lot of things I needed to get off my chest and stored somewhere else.  So I'm putting those things here.

I felt moved to talk about so-called progressive Christians, even though this is largely a political/economic blog.  They come in a variety of flavors.  Many of them are downright heretical.  These are your Shelby Spongs and others who merely dispense with whatever part of God's Word they do not like.  Many others strive to maintain Biblical integrity while fostering intimate alliances with secular political movements that are inherently anti-Biblical.

So-called conservative Christians aren't perfect.  But this post isn't about them.

What I'm getting at is that for the more serious leftist Christians who are pro-life, try to stay Biblically integral, etc., but happen to favor leftist politics and leftist means, I have a really hard time taking them seriously.  I'm not questioning their faith, but I mean taking them seriously as the agents for good they think they are.

In the first place, if you are serious about minimizing poverty, your first step is to educate yourself on how affluent people and affluent countries achieved their affluence, and then try to make the rest of the impoverished world mimic those institutions and habits that brought about the affluence in the first place.  Which means that you would be in favor of continuous maximized economic growth.  While there is room for debate over particulars (especially as regards social services i.e. welfare state programs) in broad terms this means you are in favor of:

1)  unfettered free trade between nations (not "fair" trade)

2)  as little regulation as possible over the economy

3)  no price floors or price ceilings, no monkeying around with the price system at all

4)  sound monetary policy

5)  maintaining law and order

6)  maximizing market competition, minimizing government central planning

You don't have to take my word for it, you just have to ask reality.  What's the track record of central planning, or interferences with free trade?  The track record is crap.  I'll save you the time of looking at the data, but feel free.

I see a lot of progressive Christians rooting for various schemes which undermine economic growth, foster dependency rather than stimulate productivity, and focus on wealth redistribution rather than wealth creation.  That "fair trade" coffee you buy may have put some extra money in some impoverished African farmer's pocket, but you deprived his neighbor of a living by making the price for coffee artificially high and thus the demand artificially lower than it would be, which means his neighbor's supply of coffee goes unbought.  Fair trade is like unionization:  great for those few who actually get to participate, very bad for those who don't.  It's econ 101, by keeping the price at higher-than-market levels, you stimulate oversupply, but since you are keeping the price high rather than allowing it to fluctuate with supply and demand, there is a surplus of coffee.  This result's in many farmers having to sell their coffee to non-fair-trade buyers at a *lower* price than they otherwise would.  Distorting the price system is never a good thing, except to the well-connected special interests.

It doesn't take a graduate degree to learn about this, all it takes is the curiosity and the drive to understand how an economy works so that we can alleviate poverty.  It's the reason I studied economics in the first place.  But too many progressive Christians blindly swallow the leftist line about fair trade rather than listening to what hundreds of years of economic thought has to say about truly free trade.

The other big issue is that progressive Christians mistake the Biblical call for charity as a mandate for a welfare state.  Not at all.  There is nothing charitable about the government spending other peoples' money.  Charity is when I make a choice to give.  Taxes aren't a choice, they are coerced from the tax-payers.  Regardless of what you may think about the welfare state, do not blatantly misinterpret the Bible as an excuse.  Do not say that more welfare spending is required because the Bible says so, because it doesn't say so.  Defend or attack welfare on its own merits (or lack of).