Sunday, July 3, 2011

Clinton's Legacy, a Few Thoughts

--Democrats often claim, quite rightly, that Clinton was better at cutting spending (both defense and non-defense discretionary spending) and cutting the deficit than Bush or Reagan. (Yes, Republicans in Congress helped out here but it is a Republican myth that Clinton was a spend-happy socialist from 93-95, the facts are that he didn't change the spending-level status quo during that time). One would think that liberal Democrats are therefore in favor of general spending cuts and deficit reduction. Are they?

--By the same token, why doesn't Bush get credit from liberal Democrats on the huge expansion of the welfare state he presided over? Will they come around in another ten years and realize Bush wasn't as bad as they thought, just like a lot of Republicans are coming around to the idea that Clinton actually gave them a lot of what they wanted?

--I lived through the Clinton years and I remember quit vividly that Clinton was often accused of being a closet Republican, of using Republican policy ideas, of being center-right in his economic policy, and all of this from the disillusioned socialist wing of the Democrat Party. Now they seem to cheer him for the results of his policies but when a Republican proposes much of the same they get attacked for it. I have no problem with criticizing a Republican hypocrite, but don't criticize Clinton for his economic policy in the 90s, and then praise him for it fifteen years later because of the results. That's hypocrisy too.

--This is just a hypothesis: could inadequacies in how we adjust numbers for inflation throw us far off the mark? Could Reagan-era spending levels be exaggerated because we adjust using the (flawed) CPI rather than using monetary bases? Hmmm......

--Democrats should not over-gloat. After all, Obama is making a decent showing in the Misery Index and is making Reagan and Bush's spending look like Clinton's.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How Socialism Happens

Read this article. This was posted on DemocraticUnderground to demonstrate to everybody how socialism beats capitalism. The headline of the thread was "stocks of socialist countries outperform USA" or words to that effect. I want you to read this cartoon because it is the framework of the point I'm about to make.

The whole article purports to tell professional stock traders, you know, those people whose entire livelihood depends on knowing how to buy and sell stock, that they've been doing it all wrong for decades, and that in fact American stocks are *not* among the best you can buy. Instead, they suggest that "socialist" countries like Canada (?) are better investment choices. It's worth breaking this article down to see how an otherwise rational adult can choose to believe in something like socialism against all facts and reason.

The first paragraph points to a study which allegedly shows that stocks in "socialized" countries perform better than US ones. This comes from a single chart comparing France, the US, and Japan for the past twenty-five years. The same paragraph includes that old canard about the last twenty-five years being some kind of libertarian, laissez-faire free-for-all, where Milton Friedman personally wrote all US economic policy. In reality, the opposite is true, the government grew, more and more money has been spent, more laws passed, etc. A few changes to the tax code here and there or the odd deregulation here and there is paltry evidence of a libertarian revolution. If you were in court and had to prove that statement, you'd be screwed because the proof isn't there.

They also include this study, bringing other countries into the mix.

Both studies have the same big flaw, which can be gleamed from reading this article on just the S&P 500 but the principles of which can be applied to the other studies. The long and short of it is that the first two studies do not show what the authors of these articles purport to show, they do not show that France, Sweden, etc. have had higher-performing economies over the past twenty or forty years. Even adjusted for inflation (using a different metrix for each country) they only tell one small part of a much larger story.

Stock markets are one indicator of economic performance, and among lay-people they have become *the* indicator of economic performance, but there is more to how stock markets perform (and how a country's economy has performed) than just prices. As the article above showed, if you leave out dividends and the possibility/certainty of reinvesting them, you come up with a false picture of how the stock market has performed over time.

The article tries to "balance" at the very end by quoting some left-leaning economist pointing out how these European gains in the stock market can be chalked up to market liberalization, but then balances *that* out by talking up all of the welfare state programs he likes.

There are a few other points to add, all of which are speculation and would require further research to develop:

1) For a long time, European economies were not as dynamic as America's. Because they had less economic freedom, companies at the top could stay huge without much fear of smaller competitors (I'm speaking broadly), whereas in America we have not only the entrepreneurial mindset but also the capital markets that can make a no-name company like MicroSoft or Facebook become a world-conquering giant in less than a decade. But some years ago, Britain, Belgium, France, etc. got into the act with markets for smaller companies. This could account for a large portion of growth.

2) "Government intervention" hasn't been defined and thus this study is nothing more than a bunch of somewhat-adjusted data, for what that's worth.

None of this will come as news to actual stock market traders and other financial people or economists whose job it is to be experts on the ups and downs of stock markets around the world. When your career is on the line, you do not have the luxury of misinterpreting data or relying on a shallow statistic or taking something from a study out of context or reading too much into one particular fact all for the sake of your political views.

(not to mention that almost all of the countries in the latter study on stock prices appear among the top countries on the Index of Economic Freedom--hardly socialist. Notice Cuba, North Korea, most of Africa, pre-reform India and China never showed up very high on stock market ratings)

But the main thrust of my post is that most leftists will not take the pains to understand what studies like this actually mean, whether they tell the whole story, or just generally learn more about stock markets and economic performance. Rather, their thinking doesn't go much further than the headline itself. People are always asking me "why do liberals believe when the facts clearly show the opposite?"

It's easy to believe something that isn't so if you can find one manipulated set of data showing that it *is* so, no matter what every other expert has to say or how misleading that particular study may be. I think a lot of people treat "studies" as a kind of voodoo charm to ward off ideas they don't believe in.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Okay, I Couldn't Resist

A good example of a "liberal Christian" being dead wrong, and highlighting exactly what's wrong with so many of them.

"As Christians of a progressive persuasion, we are very good at listening, at empathizing, understanding the other side’s hurt, at walking a mile in their shoes. We look to reach compromise, to make everyone happy, or at least leave no one upset. And this is a good thing, a Christ-like thing, that we should never lose."

Reaching compromise, trying to make everybody happy, and he's saying these are Christ-like things? Did Christ reach a compromise when He said the only way to the Father is through Him? Did He try to make everybody happy when He up-ended the traders' tables in the temple? When He said that families would be divided because of Him? When he incensed the religious authorities of the day by ministering to prostitutes and tax-collectors?

Jesus never compromised, He was unerring in His commitment to His Godly ethics, He could do no less.

The author of this blog goes on to talk about the coming schism in the Lutheran church over the ordination of openly gay, sexually active clergy. He claims that it's better to have a schism than to compromise on the Gospel itself, which made me think he was on the side of the conservatives. But no! In his deceived brain (I use the word "deceive" for a reason, let the reader understand) it is the dismissal of Biblical ethics on sexuality and its proper role that is adhering to the Gospel. He has been deceived into thinking he is remaining faithful to God but whatever he is being faithful to, it is neither God nor His Word.

Where the Christian Left Goes Wrong (Broad Stereotypes Ahead)

As a Christian, I can't dismiss any true part of the Body of the Church, but I can point out misguided or false teaching, and I am duty bound to point out dangerous teaching. I have my problems with some political crusades taken up by so-called conservative Christians but that is not the point of this post.

The problem with the Christian left is that, by and large, faith is just an affectation for them--an accent to their political beliefs, rather than a life-transforming relationship with Jesus. (I warned you about the broad stereotypes) Why do I say this? Because they so readily surrender any aspect of the Word of God that conflicts with what the secular authors of their political faith have written. Anything that embarrasses them in front of the Richard Dawkins of the world they want to get rid of, they want to be the crowd-pleasing, unoffensive Christian. Somebody who is unwilling to call a sin a sin.

They cherry-pick what verses from the Gospel they can to paint a hippy-like picture of Christ. Rather than provide a variety of links, you can just look for left-wing Christian sites and articles yourself. I've seen God's call to care for the poor and needy as "Biblical evidence" that God favors a large welfare state. This is no different from assuming that God wants the police to break into peoples' bedrooms at night to make sure they aren't touching themselves. In both cases you are taking something God said about our own moral behavior and turning it into government policy. There is simply no Biblical basis for that.

It is this itch for egalitarianism, socialism, collectivism, statism, whatever you want to call it, that forms the lens through which they read the Bible, if they read it at all. When you read a book through a lens, rather than with an open mind, an open heart, and lots of prayer, you simply see what you want to see, nothing more. You ignore what you don't want to see, you come up with reasons to ignore it.

"It was written for another time."

"We don't know who really wrote it anyway."

"You have to read it in context."

"I don't think it fits with the Jesus I know."

I have news for you, fellow Christian, if "the Jesus you know" is telling you that the Bible isn't really God's Word, then that isn't Jesus.

Subsidies or Tax Cut?

Notice how politicians call a tax rate reduction a "subsidy" when they want to poo-poo it, and a "tax cut" when they don't want to call it a subsidy? Cut taxes on people who aren't paying taxes to begin with, and it's a "tax cut" and how dare you call it a welfare handout. Cut already high (much higher than the global average) taxes on a business in America and those same politicians (yes, I'm talking about Obama and other Democrats) call it a subsidy.

The exact difference 'tween a subsidy and a tax cut can be subtle but there IS a difference and it's not just one of point of view. But that is not the subject of this post.

Rather I want to ask how in the world politicians and their followers get away with this? Despite what you've heard, the facts don't lie and oil companies already pay much higher tax rates than most other corporations. If anything it is the non-oil companies that are being subsidized. But trashing oil companies during a period of high gas prices always works for politicians.

But for how long?

While I'm at it, I'd like to ask the left a question. You oppose domestic drilling, right? I mean, most of you seem to. You claim that there is so little oil in this country anyway, it wouldn't make a dent in world oil supply and thus prices. Right? That's the argument I hear. So my question is: if there is such a trivial amount of oil in this country, why oppose domestic drilling? If you are right, oil companies wouldn't bother extracting this oil you are trying to protect, if the cost of extracting it is too high for it to be worth the bother.

It almost makes me think you're wrong and that there is actually much more oil in this country than you say. I mean, the oil companies are the people who want to drill, it's their money they want to put on the line to drill/sift/dig/whatever for this oil. Why would they push so hard for something that's of such little benefit to them?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden Dead, Question for Obama Fans

I don't need to link to a story, I mean come on, it's all over the news. But I have a question to the Obama fans who are already saying things like "Obama did what Bush couldn't, etc." or "Obama gets Osama," etc.

My question is this; how? With all due respect to the President (and for the record, I don't hate him, I think he's a phony politician like all of the rest of them but I don't think he's evil or anything), how can this be attributed to him? I am not a military tactics expert, I doubt that more than fifty people alive right now fully understand how Osama was killed or even if it was on purpose.

But to give a politician credit for an action carried out by the military, well, hmm, how can I put this, I need to see an explanation of what discretionary actions by the President led to this happening. I say discretionary to mean, did Obama do something that other Presidents might not have? A hypothetical situation: if military experts saw their chance, knew where Osama was, and presented their plan to the President, would it have made a difference whether Obama or McCain was in office? There's also the very good possibility that the President was more or less a bystander whose job it was was to simply give the okay to proposals from the military brass.

I'm not trying to take anything away from Obama, if this kill was a result of a discretionary action or hiring by Obama, if he put the man in place who came up with the plan or something, then fine, credit where credit is due. To this day I can freely give credit to politicians I otherwise don't care for for the actions they took that I approve of. Nixon, opening trade with China, Carter deregulating airlines and finally becoming more sensible on monetary policy (he appointed Volcker), Clinton signing welfare reform bills and a variety of other free trade and free market initiatives he took. Yes, some or perhaps all of these can be explained as a politician making the best choice to maximize popularity with voters and not out of governing skills or ideology. Doesn't matter to me.

But getting back to the main point, I foresee in the coming months many many refrains of "Obama did what Bush couldn't do," etc. I would just like people to think a bit harder about that. Is it really appropriate to credit everything that happens under a President's watch to that President? If somebody in the military had, say, murdered a civilian, do we give Obama the blame for that? Or do we only credit him with the good things and chalk up the bad things to happenstance? Republicans do the same thing. Lots of people just look for reasons to praise "their guy" or trash "the other guy." Doesn't make sense to me. Politicians, at their best, are just cogs. I don't care what brand the cog is or if it agrees with me, as long as it does what it's supposed to do.

Doctor Shortage

A Cato guy wrote this article on the growing doctor shortage. I sense that many people will read it, get the gist of it, and say "well the solution here is easy, the government should just pay more to providers."

A shallow, stage-one analysis makes the suggestion seem okay, but a deeper look reveals that whether the government is under-paying or over-paying providers, in both cases we have essentially the same thing going on: the decisions of panels of government bureaucrats setting prices are taking the place of the normal, market-based, supply-and-demand determination of prices (of course, given the existence of occupational licensing and a host of other government interventions into the health care industry, we aren't even close to a free market system, Medicare or not).

As it exists right now, the government pays doctors too little, which means that to be profitable (or to break even) providers must charge more on their private patients--those with private insurance or people who pay out-of-pocket. Or opt out of the government system as much as possible.

If the government decided to start paying doctors more, it would attract more doctors to the government programs and do something towards easing the (artificially-created) health care labor shortage. But the story doesn't end there, at stage one. This means doctors will change what they charge private patients. As government reimbursement per service went up, doctors would be able to charge private patients less as a result and the prices paid by both welfare recipients and private patients would be closer to the same dollar amount per service. But this would cost tax-payers more and create friction there.

The government could also overpay providers and have two choices about what to charge private patients, either extract the same amount of money from them as they get from the government (which would make people unhappy, imagine if an envelope company said "sorry, we get dollars a box from the government now, so now we're charging you ten dollars a box instead of the usual three"), or charge them less than they charge the government. That is a politically unsustainable situation (to say nothing of the economics). Voters would see they are being ripped off by providers and not stand for it. The government would pay less to providers.

The third option is for the government to not set prices at all, but to pay whatever providers charge. The government would be saying to providers "just think of us as another customer, and whatever you charge them, charge us." This might actually work if we had a properly functioning health care industry that could be more receptive to consumer demand and hence prices would be more liquid, but what with the health care industry being one of the most tightly regulated and inefficient industries in the country, I don't see it happening. If the government made it known that it would pay whatever providers want to charge, then providers, knowing they can exploit the tax-payers, will do so, and overcharge.

Another option, the best option (for as long as we have some kind of socialized medicine), is for the government to give every recipient a dollar amount per year, possibly with some sort of bonus for using fewer dollars, and providers simply have to work with that. Say, for example, $4,000. Then providers know they can't extract more than that per recipient, they will have to be more economical and less likely to mandate high-cost, low-return tests, treatments, etc.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Few Gripes

I know what you're thinking: "Gripes? On this blog? Heavens!" But it's true. Here they are:

1) For the jillionth time, pro-lifers are pro-life because they believe abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, i.e. murder. It is not because they hate women, or want to keep women in their place, or think women should all be mothers instead of workers, etc.

2) Pro-lifers do not stop caring about babies after they are born. You lefties are making the classic mistake of thinking that just because your opponent doesn't hold with a given policy (i.e. a large welfare state), then he doesn't care about the intended beneficiaries of such policy. This is like thinking that a person is really pro-terrorist or anti-American just because he doesn't think invading Iraq or Libya is a good idea. Take statement p: " cares about children and the poor" and statement q: " is in favor of a large welfare state." You assume that p automatically implies q, and if !q is the case, then obviously !p. Your error is the assumption that p implies q. (propositional logic, do some reading)

3) There are many "controversies" in economics which are, for all intents and purposes, settled, and only persist in being controversies in the mainstream press or among politicians or whatever. They are settled because both the theory and (more importantly) the empirical data has pretty much made up every economist's mind on the subject. I say this because of a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a "study" claiming that reductions in corporate tax rates do not spur investments, and thus do not "create jobs." This is, of course, total baloney, and akin to releasing a study claiming that tides do not actually go in and out but rather stay put. There are still plenty of areas for disagreement, but there are many "controversies" which can be settled empirically without a lot of hemming and hawing. Anybody who thinks of themself as a serious, reasoning person should begin their understanding of economics (and hence politics) by accepting these settled axioms and reasoning from there, not trying to "debunk" them in a vain attempt at salvaging a discredited ideology.

4) Ultra-rich liberals, exactly how does that work? I mean, Ted Turner once claimed to be a socialist. Friedrich Engels was a wealthy heir and incompetent factory boss. I can't make up my mind about whether these people are aberrations and distractions from the real debate or if this trend says something important and fundamental about left-wing philosophy. In either case, how can one possibly take them seriously? If Warren Buffett really believed that the wealthy weren't being taxed heavily enough, why does he have accountants to help him reduce his taxes at all? Why not write a bigger check to the government and say "nah, you keep it all"? Or why not give more to charity? In the case of Buffett, many people argue that he advocates higher progressive taxes because his financial services companies would personally benefit (and they certainly would), but if we're talking about multi-millionairess Whoopi Goldberg, communist sympathizer and talented actress, then what's the explanation?

5) Tax cuts do not "cost" anybody anything, it is outright lying to claim otherwise. There is no cost incurred by anybody, anywhere, when taxes are cut. "But what about people who rely on government spending? Aren't they bearing a cost?" No, when your parents decided you were too old for an allowance and had to get a job instead, it didn't cost you a thing. Your total stock of resources didn't diminish one iota. If a person works, and then doesn't get paid for their work, then they beared a cost--the opportunity cost of their labor. To say that it "costs the government money to cut taxes" means that, as a result of tax cuts, the government must now spend more money. That is literally what leftists are saying when they complain about tax cuts. It may not be what they mean (I know very well what they mean, they believe the government is de facto entitled to everybody's money and that tax cuts take away what's theirs), but it is what they actually say, it is the actual argument that they are using (in my experience leftists don't say what they really mean, but instead use other "dummy arguments" like "it's for the children" or something, rather than saying "line the pockets of the public sector unions and keep me in office!"). Pay attention to the wording next time. They say that as a direct result of cutting tax rates, the government will incur a cost. How else can the government incur a cost but by being forced to spend money? Now, how does being forced to spend money follow as a direct result of tax cuts?

6) A particular reason I have trouble taking leftists seriously is that I think they put ideology over pragmatism even when it hurts them. Going back to taxes for a good example: leftists want bigger government, to get bigger government you want more tax revenue so the government can afford to be big (the alternative is slavery and brainwashing, which worked for the Soviet Union for a while), and here is where leftists put ideology over pragmatism. Their stated goal is more tax revenue, the way you get more tax revenue is often (but not always) with tax cuts. I say often but not always for a reason, for now we'll focus on those times and places where taxes are to the right of the Laffer Curve (to use a broad analogy) and where reducing them would result in greater economic growth and thus more long-term tax revenue. This happened during the 80s. I know, I know, you've heard that the government had horrendous deficits as a result of tax cuts in the 80s. Not true, the government actually had enormous revenues as a result of the economic growth following the tax cuts, it was the spending spike that caused the deficits (deficits or surpluses are functions of both spending and revenue, if revenue goes up and so do deficits, then spending must have gone up too, that's not even economics that's just arithmetic). The facts bear me out on this one, tax cuts in the 80s spurred economic growth which gave the government more money. Now, if I were a leftist and my goal was more money in government hands, I'd root for tax cuts wherever it seemed appropriate as a means of maximizing government revenue for the long-term (obviously we could maximize government revenue tonight if we simply taxed everybody at 100% of their income right this minute). But as I said, this is where leftists reveal that their religion, their faith, their ideology of collectivism is more important to them than their stated goals: they opt for higher tax rates virtually every time. It's more important to them to see the government being large and overbearing than it is to actually maximize revenue. They may not all think along these lines, but a lot of them do. I hear some conservatives talk about peace, but what they really like to see is the military kicking some butt, whether it brings peace or not. Same kinda thing. I love when I get to compare left-wingers and right-wingers and show their similarities. :-) Maybe I should make a post all about stuff I love about politics and economics.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pseudo-Marxists Really Steam My Beans

I've written before about my respect for Marx the man, but his alleged followers a bunch of dingbats. They can't even interpret his theories correctly, they present these second-hand notions from long-dead communists who came after Marx as if they hadn't been completely discredited even in the eyes of socialist economists about fifty years ago (yes, there are still socialist economists out there, but they're mostly ignored given how wrong they have been). It's like going to the library, checking out some eighty-year-old book on reading head bumps to predict peoples' futures, and then explaining how this head bump thing "totally debunks" modern psychiatry, psychology, physiology, etc.

Just look at what I found:

Thus production price determines the price of a commodity, not supply and demand, in the long term. In fact, price determines demand as consumers face prices as (usually) an already given objective value when they shop and make decisions based on these prices. The production price for a commodity is a given and so only profit levels indicate whether a given product is “valued” enough by consumers to warrant increased production. This means that “capital moves from relatively stagnating into rapidly developing industries... The extra profit, in excess of the average profit, won at a given price level disappears again, however, with the influx of capital from profit-poor into profit-rich industries” so increasing supply and reducing prices, and so profits. [Paul Mattick, Economic Crisis and Crisis Theory, p.49]

I've quoted this paragraph because it's the crux of his argument, and anybody familiar with economic history will read this paragraph and go "mm hmm, mm hmm, and for a while in the 1800s this appeared to be true to some people but it was quickly discredited by Marshall, and then further buried by the socialist Oskar Lange" or mental words to that effect. It really is like a time capsule for one school of thought from another time, but of course the the flaw in the crux of that paragraph, the crux of the crux, is that production prices are not a given but float with supply and demand just like consumer goods prices do.

Marx had a theory (which this guy presents a bastardized version of) which turned out to be false. Prices do not work the way Marx thought they did, as we now know with total clarity. And the whole surplus profit idea was dropped completely. You don't have to be Milton Friedman to see that Marx, brilliant mind though he was, was just wrong because his "givens" were wrong. So his whole analysis fell apart, I mean it was falling apart before it was even fully published.

But one thing that irks me about pseudo-Marxists is that they don't seem to care about what happened in the 130 or so years since Marx died, or in the 100 years since Lenin distorted the heck out of Marx's writings and gave us what people think is Marxism. They whip out these discredited analyses and archaic definitions and if modern economics conflicts with them, then they say modern economics is wrong. Which is like saying that a body of knowledge, of empirical data and a better understanding of the cause-and-effect relationships and "laws" that govern any economy (socialist, capitalist, fascist, etc.), that took over two hundred years to build is wrong. Just because of what they read about in Philosophy 101.


I'll try to keep this short (I really will).

I have noticed that privatization efforts get a lot of bashing from the left, or just from ordinary people. As an econ nerd acquainted with the pros and cons of privatization, I always get curious when I hear that somebody actually prefers government provision of a good or service to private provision, so do some digging on every instance of "failed privatization" I hear about. And I've noticed trends. When leftists complain about privatization, what they are really complaining about is either:

1) The failure of a particular public-private partnership

2) The failure of enforced monopolization

3) In developing countries, the lack of rule of law

Genuine privatization, with all of its savings, efficiency, etc., rarely gets attacked because it has been working so well we didn't even notice it. Did the same people who say that water is too important to be left up to profit-driven private corporations to supply ever stop to think about how the food they eat is provided by profit-driven corporations? Do you want to see a government-ran grocery story with government-produced goods? Go to Cuba or North Korea and take a look at what the typical citizen there shops at, it'll make Michael Moore beg for a Wal-Mart.

I would like to talk about this in more detail in a later post but I wanted to just float this idea out there, that when leftists and righties jabber back and forth about privatization, if you look at what leftists are actually saying, you can see the two sides are actually talking past each other.

Monday, April 25, 2011

John Stossel Says What We've All Been Thinking

Or at least, I've been thinking it. I consider myself anti-war...ish, but I still regarded most "anti-war" protesters as a bunch of dishonest phonies. If you want to have an anti-Bush rally, have an anti-Bush rally and call it that. Don't claim to be anti-war and then just clam up when we change Presidents.

One of the things that bugs me about the left (the American left, anyway) is that the left just isn't that honest about what they really want and what really motivates them, left-wing politicians even less so. The hard left has a long history of this, they say innocuous-sounding things like "equality" and "workers rights" instead of "socialism" or "big government," and they even built such deliberate deception into their philosophy (see "popular front"). I believe in Europe things are quite different, and left-wing politicians will openly say they prefer socialism, or don't believe in the rule of law or private property, or whatever. I prefer honesty. I don't always agree with conservatives and Republicans but by and large they are extremely upfront about what their policy aims are and why they push for the policies they do.

Perhaps in a more left-wing country it would be right-wing politicians who hide behind popular fronts and left-wing politicians are more open. I just don't know.

My worry is that in many parts of Europe the only "right-wing" political movements with a real grass-roots push seem to be anti-immigrant, protectionist, xenophobic ones. I consider such big-government policies to be the antithesis of my own right-wing libertarianism, but the powers that be have decided to classify people like that as "right-wing" right alongside with myself, so what am I gonna do?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Post to Bookmark

From Cafe Hayek. Do not miss this graph.

Racism is Alive and Well in America

It's just a variety of racism that's politically incorrect to discuss because the perpetrators aren't white. Eric Holder was right when he said we're a nation of cowards for refusing to have an open discussion about race. But it's guilt and fear and shame and condescension and politics that keeps us from having this discussion.


White people in this country are pathologically guilty about the sins of the past, even though most white people today had nothing to do with lynchings, Jim Crow laws, slavery, institutional discrimination, etc. We are also guilty about the economic disparities between whites and Hispanics and blacks, even though these disparities have far more to do with productivity disparities than racism, which in turn has everything to do with cultural differences and virtually nothing to do with race. Guilt forces white people into only wanting to have discussions about race that adhere to the white oppressor narrative, and eschewing any other.


It is part of school curriculum everywhere to spend a lot of time reading, discussing, and watching films about racism in American history. Mississippi Burning, In the Heat of the Night, Separate But Equal, Brother Future, countless documentaries, etc, contribute to the American school student's understanding of what race relations were like in the old days (or at least, we are getting one part of a much larger story). Blacks and possibly Hispanics are seemingly unaware of just how terrified white people are of being called racist, partly as a result of this. Once, when I was working at a drive-through, the kitchen was taking too long to prepare a customer's order (nobody in the kitchen could have a clue what race the drive-through customers were and were not in a position to drag their feet, more to the point we had an racially diverse staff), and as I was finally handing the customer his order, he said "I hope it's not because of my color that it took so long." I was terrified at being associated with lynch-mobs, hood-wearing rednecks, George Wallace, shouting low-life mobs, etc., so I instantly put an extra order of fries in his bag to make up for the wait. Giving the customer a lagniappe is ordinary when the customer had to wait too long or there was some other problem, as a way of keeping customers happy. But what I did with the fries was solely a white guilt move.

After he drove away it occurred to me how powerful white guilt is, and how, if I were black or Hispanic or American Indian, I could exploit the heck out of it for personal gain. And I strongly believe that many many people do exploit white guilt for personal gain. An otherwise unemployable humanities PhD (but I repeat myself) could exploit white guilt to be given a professorship (or a whole studies department) where other humanities PhDs have to settle for working in book shops, for example. I don't see how any good can come about by lessening the incentives for an entire ethnic group to educate itself and become productive. Booker T. Washington was right, and his approach was the approach adopted (not according to any grand plan but due to people following the incentives they faced and adhering to the work ethic they group up in) by Jewish, German, and Chinese immigrants to this country, or to Brazil, or to Argentina, or to South Africa, or to Malaysia, etc. But I'm getting off-track. Many non-whites are also afraid of being called a "race traitor" or some such thing for discussing openly things that need to be addressed, which leads me to.....


Here I'm speaking primarily of the shame felt by blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and other economically disparate racial groups about the dysfunctional cultures that have gripped them. To a certain extent, these dysfunctional cultures formed as a reaction to the institutions of society. An entire cultural shift happened in many American Indians groups as a result of forced resettling and segregation onto reservations. An entire culture shift happened as a result of huge masses of blacks resorting to welfare instead of work, making illegitimacy and absentee fathers the norm among blacks where once it was the exception.

The particulars are for a whole other post (indeed I've talked about this before on this blog as the interplay between culture and economics is a favorite subject of mine), but the long and short of it is that many black people feel deep shame about the high crime rate, high illiteracy rate, widespread improvidence, uncouthness, even "loud-talking." It is something that many minority groups do not discuss in front of white people, but only in racially uniform company. And it is shame that keeps people from discussing this dysfunctional culture openly.


This is one you don't hear about much but it was introduced to me by reading a Larry Elder book (The Ten Things You Can't Say In America). It is the concept that whites hold non-whites to lower standards. For example, he tells the story of an attendee of some conference on minorities in film who spoke to the group about how hard it was for him to find work in the industry, and how the attendee (who was a black guy) believe he was the victim of racism from would-be employers. Larry Elder asked a white woman who was in attendance, during the drive home, what she thought of the speaker. Her answer was that she felt sorry for the guy, and that he may have a point about racism. Then Larry asked her what her opinion would be if the guy was white, but said the same things and spoke in the same way. She realized her mistake. She said that if the guy were white, and spoke in the same way, she would say that the guy came across as uneducated, uncouth, and speaking bad English, and that she wouldn't hire a guy like that either. She realized she had two standards, one for black people, one for white people.

For black people, her standards were lower. Her attitude, and the attitude I see from many whites, is verging on subconscious but it goes like this: "I shouldn't really expect black people to speak good English or be all that educated or work hard or have a good job, that would be expecting too much from a black guy." You saw this white condescension on display when Obama ran for President and people couldn't stop talking about how incredibly bright he was because he said "before" instead of "befo" (unless he was speaking to an all-black audience) and because he used proper English and had been to Harvard. It's like how when people say their dog is really smart because it can open a door, when if the brightest thing a human could do is open the door you'd call them mentally retarded.

A lot of white people just have lower expectations for black people or Hispanics and don't even see it as a racist attitude, when it totally is. "Oh, they couldn't learn proper English because it wasn't spoken in their household." That excuse never held back Asian immigrants. I've met more Asian immigrants than I can count whose parents are from another country and who themselves were born elsewhere and grew up in Asian-American communities but who speak flawless English. But people have one standard for one group and another standard for another.

It is this white condescension that prevents people from saying things like "you know, maybe we should stop glorifying rap stars who have been unrepentant gang members, pimps, murderers, thugs, etc." Because white condescension will make white people think "nah, this is normal for black people, in their culture it's okay so we shouldn't say anything." You simply let all of the gangsterism, thuggery, misogyny, crass materialism, criminality, illiteracy, innumeracy, etc. pass because after all, "they're only black."

White people often don't realize they're doing this until it's pointed out to them.


And the last thing that keeps us from having an honest discussion about race is politics, which is another way of saying it's about power, ego, and money. I suppose, since racism was prolonged in this country by politics in the first place it shouldn't be a surprise that because of political reasons, we still haven't sorted all this race stuff out. It was the government that sanctioned slavery as a legal institution and Africans as property, it was the government that put into place keeping blacks from moving into this or that neighborhood, or owning land, or marrying whites, or voting, or using this or that park or public facility, and it was the government that decided to make up for these shameful acts by swapping out black fathers and installing the welfare state instead (don't agree with me? Lyndon Johnson, one of the architects of the modern American welfare state, agreed with me), and it was the government that lessened incentives for underachieving minorities to do better by enacting racial quotas (either real or de facto) in hiring and promotion and subcontracting.

There's a lot of politics invested in the racial status quo, a lot of people in positions of political power or with cushy jobs who might find themselves forced to get a real job if we could move past our obsession/fear/guilt/shame/etc. over race.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Apologize to Ted Rall: A Clearer Explanation of His Beliefs

Ted Rall (who must have an even slower weekend than I do) feels I misquoted him. He doesn't seem to dispute that the quote I attributed to him (which is actually a caption from a cartoon, not a direct quote) is his actual attitude, but it ruffled his feathers that I presented (and call this a goof-up on my part for not seeing this) it as a direct quote when it technically wasn't.

So let's look at some quotes from interviews and books by Ted Rall so we get a better idea of how he really thinks and feels. I'll provide links too this time.

"I’m all the way on the far left, as far as you can get, so I would like to see a completely leftist proletariat dictatorship"

A war is coming. At stake: our lives, the planet, freedom, living. The government, the corporations, and the extreme right are prepared to coalesce into an Axis of Evil. Are you going to fight back? Will you do whatever it takes, including taking up arms?

Again, I don't have anything personally against Ted Rall. I'd help him change a tire if he were stuck on the side of the road, I'd hold the door open for him if he was coming into a restaurant and I was heading out, I think he can actually be pretty funny sometimes. But I also see him as the victim/member of a cult, which is how I think of all far-leftists, and so I pity them while at the same time being a little unnerved at any political power they wield.

Just like you have to be a brain-washed Scientologist to believe that psychiatry was invented by Nazis or that L. Ron Hubbard actually has a degree in physics, or that you have to be a brain-washed Nation of Islam member to believe that mountains are caused by high-tech bombs or that a UFO built in Japan ages ago will cause the apocalypse of whatever, you also have to be brain-washed to believe that socialism in preferable to free market capitalism, or that forced unionization actually makes workers better off, etc.

I don't use "brain-washed" as a pejorative, but as the closest description I can think of to what could cause a person to ignore reality. Coerced unionization, for example, has been shown time and again to cause a rise in unemployment and in price levels by artificially making labor too expensive. Coerced unionization is great for the lucky few who get in, but it simply creates a barrier to entry to other workers and causes goods and services to cost more, effectively lowering peoples' incomes. This is common knowledge among economists, backed up by study after study as well as basic economic price theory. Yet the idea persists among left-wingers that the way to help workers is to unionize them and to force employers to deal with unions rather than individual workers, and that if you oppose forced unionization then you are anti-worker or pro-rich or whatever.

The reason I advocated free market capitalism is because of my concern for the poor, and for the average worker, not my concern for the wealthy. That is why I say left-wing politics are like a cult or a religion, it requires you to suspend your patronization of reality.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I Was a Smidge Harsh and Perhaps I Should Explain

I talked in my last post about "dedicated leftists," and everything I had to say about leftists in that post is necessarily (but not exclusively) about that subset of leftists. What is a "dedicated leftist"? It's a term I invented cuz I wasn't sure how else to put it. Let me put it this way, I believe left-wing politics of the Michael Moore variety is something that young people are drawn to because it sounds good to them, but that as one matures and learns more about the world, one grows out of. It takes dedication to commit yourself to an ideology that is proven false at every turn. Socialism, social democracy, or whatever you want to call the collectivist statism practiced by the left these days, simply doesn't hold up to scrutiny, which is why it has become a fringe minority among economists and why the Chicago School had so much impact. Theories are all well and good, but real-world track records can demolish any theory, and the real-world track record of free market capitalism and that of centrally-planned economies is very clear to anybody who appreciates facts. To be a dedicated leftist, you have to be the sort of person who only admits certain facts to lodge themselves in their consciousness and ignores others.

Note I'm not letting all right-wingers off the hook, there are plenty of right-wingers who prefer their preconceptions to a reasoned analysis of the facts, and remain willfully blind on issues like war and free trade. But that is not the point of this post or the preceding one.

A recurring theme among many libertarians is that they were once leftists who couldn't help but turn to free market capitalism as a result of their devotion to logic and empirical fact. Thomas Sowell began as a young Marxist economist, until his real world experiences working with the Labor Department (and I think also the State Department) showed him that he could either cling to his beliefs and ignore inconvenient truths, or embrace truth and change his beliefs. His fellow Marxist co-workers chose to ignore the truth, he chose to embrace it. Milton Friedman used to be a New Dealer. John Stossel used to be a liberal. Arnold Kling used to be a socialist. The list goes on. These people were leftists but they clearly were not dedicated leftists because they allowed themselves to be guided by truth to wherever it led them.

There are three basic reactions that anybody with strong opinions can have when faced with an argument or a purported fact which counters their beliefs.

1) The first reaction is to quickly find a counter-argument or counter-fact. The attitude here is like noticing a table is wobbly so you put a folded-up paper towel under it. You ignore the problem with the table but satisfy you were able to make it sturdy again with a makeshift argument or solution.

This is sometimes called grasping at straws, usually when the person reacting has found a weak counter-argument or counter-fact. But it may be the appropriate reaction if the counter-argument or counter-fact outweighs whatever the original argument or fact was.

A frequent example from the left is to say that if we cut education spending, we will actually incur greater costs through societal decay.

2) The second reaction is to deny the argument or the fact. This is done in different ways, it may be that the source of a given fact is untrustworthy or that a given argument has flaws. Or it could be that the person is choosing to ignore reality.

An example is the left refusing to have a serious discussion about abortion and what it actually is. Honestly, ask any "pro-choice" person what an abortion actually does, like what the actual procedure is. See what they say. Inevitably they will say things like "removing tissue to prevent pregnancy" or some such thing. Absolutely no reference to "limbs," or "bones" or "dice" or "baby" will be made.

3) The third reaction comes when the first two aren't working. This is when a person actually says to themselves: perhaps this argument/fact has merit, and if it does, what does that mean then?

I'll give you an example from my own life: when I read more about pornography in Japan and realized I could no longer say that there was a causal relationship between porn consumption and violent crime (you hear this a lot in the church), given that porn is very popular in Japan yet violent crime remains low. I didn't have a "change of heart" about pornography laws, rather I had a change of heart about my own pride after which I decided I would draw conclusions from facts rather than be led by conclusions to whatever facts I could find that supported my conclusion.

Other examples are those leftists courageous enough to admit that they've been on the wrong side of the teachers' union debates. They swallowed their pride first and then looked at the facts again.

And I think this difference in how we react to our own pride is very important. It humbles us about what we really know and what we don't know. And I think pride is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to intellectual honesty the left faces, because unlike, say, American conservatism or Judeo-Christian ethics, which emphasize humility and treating people like equals, left-wing viewpoints tend to sort people into the "enlightened" and....everybody who comes under them. There is a certain smugness you don't see elsewhere. The most patriotic, jingoistic, ex-Marine, GOP-voting Texan doesn't think his pickup truck makes him better than other people the way leftists think their Prius makes them better than other people. Consider this statement (sorry, quotation from a cartoon, which does not IN ANY WAY reflect the actual opinion of Ted Rall, who in fact voted for Bush and come to think of it, doesn't even write a cartoon) from Ted Rall, a very strongly-left-wing political cartoonist:

"Over time, however, the endless war in Iraq began to play a role in natural selection. Only idiots signed up; only idiots died. Back home, the average I.Q. soared."

Or another Rall gem:

"Why shouldn't those of us on the coasts feel superior? We eat better, travel more, dress better, watch cooler movies, earn better salaries, meet more interesting people, listen to better music and know more about what's going on in the world. If you voted for Bush, we accept that we have to share the country with you. We're adjusting to the possibility that there may be more of you than there are of us. But don't demand our respect."

Anybody with a basic knowledge of how geography works shouldn't be surprised that coastal areas (I notice he leaves the Gulf Coast and the Alaskan Coast out of this analysis, both of which are far more cosmopolitan than you might think) have greater varieties of food and people. I realize he's being (partly) tongue-in-cheek here, but he's becoming extremely petty when he starts talking about "cooler movies" and "better music." As for knowing what's going on in the world, most conservatives I talk to want to talk a lot about what's going on in the world, not just at home. He probably means that because liberals are so often well-off, they travel more and thus know more about, say, driving in France or hostels in Indonesia. Polls actually show that conservatives know more about basic economic principles and the workings of the government better than liberals.

Isn't that funny? Liberals, who love the government, know less about how it actually works than do conservatives. Most liberals I talk to are unclear about where the government gets its money, how it is spent, what happens as a result of this or that program, etc. They are more concern on goals and "what ought to be" and see government fiat as a way of making those goals happen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Trying to Get Inside the Mind of the Left

On of my pastimes is to figure out what makes leftists think the way they do. I have plenty of disagreements with conservatives, and as a former-conservative-turned-libertarian I believe I have a very good understanding of how they think, cuz I used to think those thoughts. But leftists can puzzle me, because to be a dedicated leftist, one has to put on all sorts of mental blinders. You have to become like a Scientologist and simply ignore huge swathes of reality because it conflicts with your worldview.

To be a dedicated leftist, you must entirely ignore the unqualified success of free market capitalism and ignore the dismal failures of socialism. You must purposefully not think about the actual effects of the policies you advocate and concentrate only on your intentions. You must put your own preconceptions above the facts.

I'll give you an example: poverty in America. To anybody living in Bangladesh or Guinea, the idea of poverty in America is a joke. What we call "poverty" in this country would be a comfortable middle class life-style over there, because the alleged poor in this country live in such abundance. You simply cannot argue with the facts, that the overwhelming majority of the "poor" in this country have a higher standard of material living than the average upper-middle class person of forty years ago did. The average poor person in this country has air conditioning, cable tv, cell phone service, at least one car, more living space than the average Japanese family, and despite the myths, has ready access to affordable nutritious food.

I have pointed this out to leftists, and while they usually don't deny it, they ignore it and move on. They find other ways in which to distort the truth the poor in America to create the impression that things are worse than they seem. I pointed out to a leftist that his map of "food insecurity" in this country happened to correlate perfectly with a map of obesity. The obvious answer, after a quick look at the facts, is that the "food insecurity" thing is a myth, his answer was to blame obesity on greed and inequality. Huh? You truly have to shut your brain off and drink the Kool Aid to be a leftist.

The thing is, leftists used to have pretentions of being scientific (they sometimes still do, they are always talking about this or that "myth" they have debunked with half-truths and distorted statistics), and they still practice cargo cult science in abundance in such areas as "education research" or "social theory." But for the most part that pretentions seems to have flown out the window. Which explains why they are always so eager to shut down viewpoints other than their own (yes, they do want to get Rush off the air).

It's hard for me to understand how they function, because my instincts are to look at the facts and draw conclusions, theirs are to stick with their conclusions regardless of the facts. I saw that America's immigration and drug policies weren't working and I changed my mind. They see that capitalism is working and invent things to complain about.

Here is an article that is a great example. Let's look at some of the examples of leftist non-thought present:

Gorski wanted Parsons USD 503 teachers Wednesday to grasp that, "The achievement gap is not as much an achievement gap as an opportunity gap. ... By calling it an achievement gap it puts full responsibility on our most disenfranchised, and I think that is problematic."

I hear this repeated all of the time, and there is no denying that different people face different opportunities. That cannot be overcome, one cannot "redistribute opportunities." The wealthy will always exist and they will always have opportunities that the average person will not have. That is not the same thing as saying that the wealthy will always be able to achieve things that ordinary people will never achieve, it just means those achievements will come harder. Despite the obsolete leftist belief that most wealthy people inherited their money, the fact is that most wealthy people actually earned their money, and many if not most of them started off with ordinary family backgrounds. Leftists hate this because it shows how well the free market system works. Due to their religion of collectivism (and yes, I believe that all dedicated leftists belong to that religion and put it ahead of all else--their behavior makes more sense when you think of them that way), they do not want to see meritocracy and individualism working well. So they must poo-poo. Despite the night-and-day difference in track records between collectivism and freedom, they must make faith-based statements like "it's not an achievement gap, it's an opportunity gap." The reason this speaker says we musn't "blame the victim," or however you want to phrase it, is because it conflicts with his religion--collectivism. Moving on:

Culture of poverty, first coined by Oscar Lewis and based on ethnographic studies of a few small Mexican communities, is the idea that poor people share all the same beliefs, values and behaviors -- such as frequent violence. He extrapolated his findings to suggest a universal culture of poverty.

The rest of the article is about how wrong this all is. While the exact details are worth debating, right off the bat the leftists misunderstand/purposefully distort. They present a straw man version of a competing philosophy and then debunk it, a common tactic of the reality-denier. In reality, Lewis wasn't talking about all poor people, which is why if you try to apply this philosophy to all poor people you will fail. Rather, he was talking about cultures which are pathologically inclined towards poverty for the reasons he outlined. Chinese immigrants who came to this country poor but whose descendants became doctors, scientists, engineers, and professionals were not what he was talking about. Poor white southerners, ghetto-dwelling black people, Hispanics, and other groups which have much higher rates of generational poverty, generational criminality, illiteracy, etc. etc. are what Lewis was talking about. Ask anybody who actually lives in such a community and they will agree whole heartedly that such a culture of poverty exists, a culture that glorifies ignorance and slovenliness and a life of crime, and that denigrates education and hard work as being for suckers. Leftists use the fact that not every single member of a poor community fits this mold as a reason to dismiss the theory entirely, when it is the best explanation there is of the generational poverty we see in this country.

Instead, they fall back on the old, old socialist notion that "the system" is to blame, and that education is biased in favor of English speakers and their is a "glass ceiling" preventing non-whites from succeeding, etc. This view falls to pieces when one looks at the history of Chinese immigrants in this country (German and Jewish immigrants are worth looking at too but Chinese were the most discriminated against by "the system" so their success is the best example to use).

Apart from black slaves during the era of slavery, there is probably no ethnic group that was more discriminated against in America than Chinese immigrants. They were restricted in numbers, forced (by law, not by the free market) out of gainful employment and into menial work, exploited, lived in poverty, grouped into ghettos, forbidden to marry whites, the list goes on. Their children grew up in families that did not have access to the mainstream white culture, didn't speak English, etc. Every aspect of "the system" was against them. Today their Chinese-American descendants outperform whites on IQ tests, educational scores, incomes, representation in the professions, science, medicine, etc. How did they do that? Because they didn't have a culture of poverty. The culture of poverty is a real thing. Leftists hate this because it does indeed transfer blame for the achievement gap onto a dysfunctional culture, which there is no government fix for. In fact, government redistribution schemes only make things worse by acting as a massive enabler for illegitimacy, improvidence, laziness, etc.

To believe the poor are poor because of their own shortcomings ignores the impact of rising costs of health care, gasoline, housing, utilities and food.

More blaming the system. There's not doubt that higher price levels affect the poor the worse, but blaming poverty on systemic causes like this doesn't fit the facts. The poor, as I've pointed out, have better housing, utilities, food, etc. than many middle class people in other countries. Many poor people will cut back on medical spending before cutting their cell phone or cable tv service. That is improvidence and an aspect of the culture of poverty, but leftists don't want to talk about it.

Regarding stereotypes of the poor -- they are lazy, live on welfare, are wasteful, abuse drugs and alcohol, are prone to crime and violence and they do not value education -- Gorski said they have all been proven wrong. They are myths perpetuated by parents, police and the media.

Here's another example of how you have to put on mental blinders to be a dedicated leftist. Any astute googler can, in just ten minutes, summon the data which shows that the poor in this country do indeed work fewer hours, tend to subsist on welfare more often (although the rolls declined after welfare reform, which the left hated, and the creation of the American welfare state has not made a dent in American "poverty levels"), they do tend to abuse drugs and alcohol more, they do tend to be over-represented among criminals, and they do tend to value education less. Ask any cop.

But as you might expect, when you put their backs to the wall with facts, the left has an excuse for each one of these. The poor work less because they are discriminated against and so can't find work (in that respect they are actually partially correct, the existence of minimum wage laws ensures that the least productive among us will always be unemployable), or they have to go on welfare because greedy Big Agri/Big Pharma/Big Oil/Big Whatever charges too much (gosh, how did the Chinese ever lift themselves out of poverty?), if they abuse drugs it's because there isn't enough government funding for arts centers and community centers, and (I love this one) if they are over-represented among those being arrested, or prosecuted, or in prison (yes, yes, and yes) it's because the wealthy use the law as a way of keeping down the poor.

This is a hand-me-down of a modified version of one aspect of Marx's philosophy, and in spite of our many disagreements I actually have respect for Marx and do not like to see him distorted. The wealthy do not, in fact, use the law as a political tool to keep the poor down (they do, however, use the law as a political tool to direct customers/subsidies to their businesses, which is an example of statism, not free market capitalism) because keeping the poor down is a waste of their time. The poor keep themselves down, for the most part.

Bad social and cultural habits tend to come in groups. It's not surprising that people whose cultural and family background predisposes them to either improvidence, or crime, or illiteracy, or drunkenness, or something similar, would simultaneously and by extension predispose them to the others. This is why the poor tend to be the most obese among us and the wealthy tend to be fitter. People with bad habits tend to have them in groups, people with good habits (hard-working, values education, provident, etc.) tend to have those habits in groups too.

Leftists shrink from this culture of poverty thing for two big reason, the "blame the system" reason I already talked about (that's where the religion of collectivism comes in) and because it sounds like an old-fashioned, classist viewpoint, when in fact it is in complete disharmony with classism. Classist viewpoints see the socioeconomic classes as static, that poor people beget poor people, rich people beget rich people, middle class people beget middle class people, etc. You will hear (or heard, since this is an archaic viewpoint in western culture) that people were "bred for" a life of servitude, or "bred for" aristocracy, or whatever. This is a disgusting, elitist viewpoint that is the cousin of racism.

The idea of a culture of poverty is entirely different, because it does not begin by saying that poverty is generational, but begins by saying that where poverty is generational, then, ceteris paribus, a culture of poverty is to blame. That is, for those segments of the lower classes that do not ascend over the generations, it is a cultural phenomenon at work. There are cases where "the system" can be blamed for generational poverty, such as the former Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, etc..........

Regarding welfare, the majority who collect welfare are not the poor, but those who work and lose their jobs for a short time. Despite popular notions that so much of the U.S budget is spent on welfare, less than 1 percent goes toward welfare.

Actually more like 15% of GDP is spent on welfare (that's excluding education, including education it's closer to 20%). How can one be a leftist and hold facts in high regard? And notice how leftists, as part of their religion, love to make welfare sound like a program we all take part in, rather than something reserved mainly for the generationally poor, by using statistics that are too broad to really tell you much. In this way they can claim the the idea of the welfare cheat or the single mother who breeds to get welfare is a "myth" that has been "debunked." But anybody who has seriously studied American welfare knows darn well that abuse of the system abounds (though it has been reduced drastically after welfare reform, which, again, the leftists hated, so here they are taking advantage of the good results of a policy they hated, and trying to spit it back in our face as a failure of understanding our part).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

False Accusations of Racism

Like most white people, I've been called a racist at least once in my life, and as always, it's not for doing or saying anything racist but for saying something that is taboo for a white person to say in a politically-correct environment. As an example, pointing out the high level of crime among male black youths. It's an innocent little statistical fact, not a smear, and yet for a white male to point it out is like walking across a mine field, you never know what you'll set off. And I'm talking about just pointing it out, not making some kind of white supremacy argument.

This kind of thing has got to stop, but I don't think it will stop until certain ethnic groups more or less achieve economic parity with the majority of the population, and I don't think that will happen without some major cultural shifts. And I don't mean cultural shifts among whites.

If I point out that white southerners (excluding Yankee-fied pockets such as parts of Florida or Texas) on the whole do not earn as much as white Northerners, or that they tend to read less, or do worse in math or reading scores, or tend to attend or complete college less, or when they do get a college degree they tend not to major in STEM, medicine, economics, etc. but in other softer degrees, or that they tend to be fatter, or even such things as pointing out that white southerners are often louder than many white northerners, I would just be reciting a bunch of statistics which point to some aspects of white southern culture that "hold back" the South, for lack of a better term.

Southerners like to pin all of their woes on Northerners, it's common to hear that the South is still suffering from the devastation visited upon it by the North during and especially after the Civil War. And there was plenty of devastation. This mirrors the argument made by many black people that many of their woes (lower than average job earnings, high school graduation rates, college graduation rates, representation in medicine, engineering, science, business, and higher rates of crime and single-mother households) are legacies of slavery.

But past devastation alone cannot account for the earnings and other disparities between rural white Southerners and the majority of the population, or between blacks and the majority of the population, etc. After slavery was abolished, it was actually the Chinese immigrants who faced the worst kind of racism and segregation laws, not the blacks, but these days the Chinese-American population earns more than the averages, learns more than the average, is way over-represented in the sciences, academia, etc. One place they are greatly under-represented is in government.

Likewise, the Jews were almost wiped out by Hitler, but many of them came to America, rebuilt their lives and families, and they too earn and learn more, are over-represented in society's upper-echelons, etc.

The point of this is to illustrate how with the right cultural background, an ethnic group can thrive even after the most extreme oppression possible. As bad as slavery and Jim Crow laws in America were, they were a whisper compared to the Holocaust. Nor can white Southerners just blame Northerners for everything. I suppose I should point out right now that I believe the effect of white racism is a minimal contributor to the economic disparities between blacks and whites, or hispanics and whites, etc. The disparities between Asians and whites certainly aren't a result of Asians being anti-white. I think such disparities exist because, on the whole, blacks and hispanics have not made themselves as productive as the average person--they haven't gone to college as much, or when they do they tend to major in lower-paying degrees, and they tend not to open businesses as much as white people, or Asians for that matter. For lack of a better way to put it I believe these disparities are the outcome of problems in "black culture." Black people are allowed to talk about these problems amongst each other (higher rates of illiteracy, low graduation rates, high crime rates, drug problems, lower rates of savings, lower workforce participation rates, higher illegitimacy rates, low pants, etc.), but it is still taboo for a white person to talk about these things. Even black people will take heat for bringing up these things. Barack Obama and Bill Cosby have both been criticized for comments they've made.

Getting back to the main topic, one wonders why false accusations of racism are so common from certain ethnic groups but not from others. Where is the Chinese-American equivalent of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, immediately flying to any part of the country where an asian guy had his toes stepped on and holding protests, vigils, and threatening to sue unless changes are made to the system? Too busy having a real job, I suppose. I think the reason these false accusations fly from blacks and Hispanics (I'll cover false accusations from white people in a bit) are chiefly because of the existing economic disparities between them and the rest of society, and merely pointing out an tragic truth like the high black crime rate is pouring salt on a wound. Like Zora Neale Hurston said, "my people, my people!"

I think that people in general think of themselves as part of a larger "tribe" and when the tribe has its dirty laundry aired, the shame can instantly metamorphose into anger at the airer of said laundry, and the anger can be confused, by the person who feels it, as justified anger at real racism, or if the airer is black, at being "talked down to" by a guy who "acts white."

Everybody does this. How often did you, as a teenager, react with anger at your parents for them pointing out how you hadn't done your chores or your homework? That was you turning your shame into anger, and you will quickly rationalize the anger you feel however you need to. Events from the past and existing disparities provide a very convenient rationale for the person who wants to call their anger a reaction to racism.

Coming from white people, I think the reason is almost entirely political. Leftists use the word "racist" as a club, and it's got to stop. I think most accusations of "racist!" coming from a white liberal are obvious rhetorical ploys and not expressions of genuine feeling. There is also "definition creep," the way words change on us. There are people using the word "racism" in bizarre ways, ways the word never meant before. Now, if you criticize Welsh people, you're being "racist," as if the Welsh were a race and not just a nationality. McDonald's was criticized as being racist for celebrating black history month and having some kind of advertising campaign centered around this (the accusation I heard came from white conservatives, for what it's worth). There is nothing racist about selling hamburgers to black people, or saying "all Italian men are sluts." The other big way in which "racist" and "racism" is being changed is to apply it to religion. Criticize Jews or Judaism and you're a racist, or criticize Hindus and you're racist. Criticize Muslims and you're definitely racist.

I think part of that has to do with the Holocaust, and people like Hitler making popular the belief that Jews were somehow a race, when there are black Jews, white Jews, Persian Jews, Arab Jews, etc. Jews are defined by their faith, as are Muslims. I find anti-Jewish rhetoric offensive when it is made racist by the people who make it, when the people making the statement adhere to the Jews-as-race belief (either extremist Muslims or extremist white nationalists). But is it racist when the New Testament of the Bible points out that Jews who do not believe in Christ have separated themselves from God and do not have salvation? That is a theological point, not a racial one.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Serious Question about the Wisconsin Pandemonium

I understand why Democrat politicians and the people who work for them are upset at something that takes away political power from the unions, after all the unions are how the Democrats launder money. I'd expect Republican politicians to be similarly up in arms if the military were suddenly disbanded: a major source of money and political support would have been diminished. And I understand why the actual union members aren't happy about this, they'll lose a lot of their expensive perks and job security. IOW, they'll have to do what everybody else does and actually earn their keep or lose their job. Stay productive or be terminated. Join the real world for once in your lives, union members.

But I don't understand the anger and harshness over what happened in Wisconsin. There are near-riots at the Wisconsin state capitol building, the internet is exploding with left-wing rage, etc. And if you aren't actually a Democrat politican, or somebody who works for them, or an actual union member, you shouldn't be upset at all. Union members are earning above-market-level salaries and benefits at the expense of everybody else. No serious, sober economic analysis of the situation would lead one to think that the lack of competition and efficiency going on among government employees is a good thing. No serious person is going to think "yes, paying too much for labor and going broke by funding golden parachute pensions instead of operating more efficiently and saving the tax-payers money is a good thing."

Which leads me to believe that most of the people who are so angry don't really know much about the actual situation. I think they may be full of misconceptions and half-truths about the situation, but I think if you sat them down and actually hashed out the issues, you'd quickly find that they just don't know much about what's happening. I think many die-hard union supporters who are not actual union members themselves fall into two categories: limousine liberals trying to make a show of how sympathetic they are to "the common man" (as they used to say), and people who don't know much about what enforced unionization actually means.

And the "enforced" is really the nub of the issue. Collective bargaining isn't the problem, really. In effect, a union operates as an employment agency, a subcontractor. But when a business hires an agency to, say, clean the building or do their IT work, there is no government agency forcing them to stick with that particular agency, or to pay them a certain amount, or to prevent them from firing workers who aren't up to snuff, etc. There is truck and barter going on among employers and employees, and through trial and error, guided by the price system, eventually an arrangement will be settled on that is the most efficient one possible.

But enforced unionization prevents this from happening, especially in governments, which are notoriously slow and static anyway. It's probably too subtle a point for the political pundits to go into, and certainly too subtle for headlines, but what is really happening is that the government is foolishly agreeing to hire people for much more than they are actually worth, not fire anybody no matter how incompetent, and go broke paying for top-notch pension and insurance schemes. Leaving aside union politics, this is really just another case of a politically-well-connected special interest seeking rents from the government. The particulars may differ from contractors hired to build public works, or agricultural subsidies, but the economics are the same.

One last point: the slogan I keep hearing is "they're destroying the middle class/working families." I doubt the people saying that have honestly thought about what that means for more than a few seconds, but I'd like to ask them: if de-unionization of government workers means that working families or the middle class are being destroyed, does that mean that the great majority of the working population, which is not unionized, is already destroyed? Why are states which are not heavily unionized thriving economically in comparison to states where unions had free reign?

I happen to think that collective bargaining can actually be a good thing, when unions are not political bodies, do not get special favors or any kind of recognition from the government (such as closed-shop laws, etc.), but when they are honest bodies of workers who have collectively decided to dictate terms of employment to employers. There are times when this has been effective. Where unions go wrong is when they assume that merely be being a union, that they are right and all of their demands are reasonable, and therefore they deserve to have the government force their employers to put up with them. Telling employers what labor to buy and how much to pay for it is exactly the same, in principle, from the government telling you what brand of toothpaste to buy, where to shop, how much to pay, etc.

Unions can be a good thing when they are voluntarily formed and when employers voluntarily abide by union demands, because this is nothing more than a particular mechanism to smooth over the bidding process (Hazlitt).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Limbaugh's "Ching-chong" shtick

No, I haven't bothered to listen to it, but the actual "rant" is not the focus of this post. I continue to be confused about people who abuse the word "racism" to shut people up. I'm not clear if they genuinely believe they are confronting racism, or if they have ulterior motives.

Let's get a few things straight: it's not racist to mock another culture or language or nationality. It may (or may not) be tasteless, low-brow, ignorant, offensive, stupid, or mean, but it's not racist. How do I know? Because culture, language, and one's nation of origin are not racial markers. East Asians, or what they used to call "mongoloids" (analogous to caucasoid or negroid, terms from anthropology) are a "race." But the Chinese aren't. If "Chinese" is a race, then what are Koreans? Japanese? Vietnamese? They are all the same race in the sense that white Germans, Britons, and French are all caucasians. Big whoopty-doo.

I'd say that the liberals who are calling Limbaugh racist for doing a mock-Mandarin are the ignorant ones, because they are assuming that "Chinese" is the "race" of all Asians. But there are plenty of East-Asian-descended American politicians criticizing him as well. Hard to know if the average Asian American is as angry, or cares. Judging by most Asians I've known, I'd have to say that there are plenty of Asians out there who would have thought Limbaugh was being hilarious. But that's beside the point.

This is just one example of phony racism accusations. I think a lot of people are just ignorant about racism and they assume that whenever a white person makes any criticism or joke about a non-white person then racism must somehow be involved. But I think a lot of people are just using the word "racist" like a club to get their way. Either it's to shut up people who they disagree with politically, for fear that they will influence other people, or non-white people who claim to be the targets of racism make these accusations to bring attention to themselves and differentiate their identity from the crowd, especially if you are, say, an upper-class black American who doesn't feel "connected" to most other so-called authentic blacks. Even though you live a cushy life, if you can claim you were the victim of racism, it connects you to that much larger crowd and sets you apart from the mostly-white people you work with and live amongst. That's just a conjecture. I could be wrong.

I also think that, for some people, if there are large achievement gaps between one racial group and another, it makes them hypersensitive to criticism of any kind from the majority, "dominant" racial group, and all such criticisms get labeled as "racist."

Back to the main point, whatever one things of making a mock Chinese language (although I understand Limbaugh's intent was not to mock Mandarin but to make a point about how Jintao wasn't being translated during a speech), it cannot, by definition, be called racist. Call it whatever you want, but don't confuse it with racism. Charlie Chaplin mocked Hitler in "The Great Dictator" by doing a mock German language. Nobody accused him of being "racist" against Germans, because the idea was absurd. The change of nationalities from German to Chinese doesn't change anything. It's still absurd to call it racism.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I am not a biologist, but....

When it comes to the evolution/creation debate (which most scientists see as a political/cultural debate, not a scientific one), I am best described as a creationist. So now you know. I don't waste my time trying to come up with models to explain creationism or miracles such as the global flood, because an inherently miraculous and supernatural event is, well, supernatural. Meaning that science, which is a tool for understanding the natural world, doesn't help there.

So I think many creation scientists are wasting their time. I'm all for looking at the Earth to learn more about the flood, but I don't sit and worry about how it happened. If it happened, and I believe whole-heartedly that it did, then it was a miracle. Models don't enter into it. Although I do believe that miracles can and do leave naturalistic traces of themselves behind and it's worth looking into those.

I think that scientifically, my position is best described as anti-Darwinist, but even that isn't quite right. The long and short of it is that evolution does indeed happen. It has happened, it's continuing to happen, and will go on happening. Evolution is nothing more than selective breeding, with nature doing the selection for us. But I definitely do not believe that, for example, reptiles became birds, or unicellular organisms eventually led to humans. I do not believe that apes and humans have a common ancestor. I believe that new species do come about by evolutionary processes, but these are not the same processes by which we went from a barren world to a world teeming with whales, puppies, and yeast.

Now, anybody's who's spent any amount of time among actual scientists or on science forums (oh, I forgot to mention, I'm a physics major, currently in my sophomore year, so now you know where to "put" me) knows that the above paragraph is worthy of galaxy-sized levels of scorn from the scientific establishment (sci-stab?). You can Google this if you don't believe me. Creationist scientists are treated like communist scientists were in the 1950s, and that's by other scientists, not by the administrative or political powers that be.

I've been a long-time observer and occasional participant in the creation/evolution wars, and I think I've developed a few analytical points about the scorn that creationists receive that I haven't seen discussed elsewhere, so I'll mention them here:

1) I think a lot of the scorn from the scientific establishment is well-deserved, because most creationists are not scientists but lay-people. Let me explain. The lay-person creationist stance ranges from that of outright hostility to all of science, to those who are well-versed in all of the common critiques of Darwinian evolution but not well-versed in anything else (like actual Darwinian theory), to those who are knowledgeable about science but put bulls eyes on their backs by using a discredited argument (such as saying that Eohippus is the modern Hyrax or by using straw man versions of evolutionary theory), to those who are actual bona fide scientists (including biologists). From PhD to science-hating lay-person, the farther down that scale you go, the more often you encounter Internet-style histrionics and uninformed arguments. These people should educate themselves before talking and tarring all creationists as unscientific rubes.

Probably the most useful thing any creationist could do would be to study evolution the standard, textbook way, or at least books written for the non-biologists but which are from a Darwinist standpoint. Read the critiques that Darwinists are making of what creationists are saying.

2) I think a lot of the scorn comes from the common human error of seeing multiple things as a single thing. For instance, evolution of the "micro-evolution" variety is well-documented by experiment and observation. It is undeniable. Evolution of the "macro-evolution" variety has lots of evidence which is largely circumstantial and has alternative explanations which go entirely ignored by the sci-stab (hey, I'm liking that term more and more). And yes, I'm aware that the terms "micro" and "macro" evolution are controversial, but they provide a useful shorthand.

Where I'm going with this is that there is a two-pronged scorning going on here. On the one hand Darwinists ridicule creationists for doubting evolution when there is all of this evidence (experimental and observational) in favor of "evolution" and they also ridicule creationists for doubting evolution when there is all of this evidence (circumstantial) in favor of "evolution." Most neo-Darwinists do not make distinctions between micro-evolution and macro-evolution (maybe because by dividing evolution into two parts, the real one and the inferred one, it made Darwinism more vulnerable to attack? I'm not sure what made those terms fall out of favor). Anyway, because they don't make this distinction (although they really should for practical purposes, because the latter is merely inferred from cherry-picked circumstantial evidence and the former does not guarantee the latter, it is not a mathematical proof-by-induction), any creationist who says they "don't believe in evolution," when they really mean "I don't believe in common ancestry, or molecules-to-man evolution" then a Darwinist hears "I'm such an ignorant Bible-thumping cornpone I refuse to believe all of that factual experimental and observational evidence," when all they are saying is "I don't believe in something that allegedly happened eons ago, when there is only circumstantial evidence of it and nobody actually observed it."

Refusing to believe in that is hardly far-fetched. Heck, the entire Biblical story of creation, or any ID theory, is based on circumstantial evidence and inference, just as Darwinian evolution is.

The second prong is that people also have the common error of confusing a particular interpretation of the facts with the facts themselves. For instance, all of the evidence for common ancestry can just as easily be considered as evidence for common design (and was, before evolution ever came around), or just because quantum theory seems to be true, that doesn't mean the Copenhagen Interpretation is true. So when evolutionists hear "I don't believe in evolution," the confusion between the facts (fossils, genetic similarities, etc.) that are used to bolster common ancestry and the theory of common ancestry, leads the evolutionist to hear "I don't believe all of those verifiable facts."

People who don't believe obvious facts, like Holocaust-deniers, flat-Earthers, geocentrists, etc., deserved our scorn, and they deserve our action when they hold great political and cultural sway. But evolutionists are so stuck inside their mental box they can't tell the difference between a difference of opinion and a difference of fact. Among reasonable people, facts are rarely in dispute. But particular interpretations of the facts often are.

3) I think evolutionists are wasting energy by trying to keep creation teaching out of schools. Let me say now that I don't want the government deciding on school curriculum, but leaving that aside, I think that if everything neo-Darwinian evolution has to say is true, then there can be nothing to worry about if creation is taught along side it. If you put forward two theories in a science class, and one is true and scientific and the other is phony and unscientific, even most lay-people would be able to distinguish fact from fiction if the science is well-taught.

It's like of like what some people say about sex education, they either hear it in the class room or hear it on the streets. The argument I'm making here is that if I were an evolutionist, I'd be more worried about people hearing about evolution from a one-sided book or web site and becoming involved in creationism that way, then by hearing it proposed as a possible alternative espoused by some people, in a class room setting.

The fear that Darwinists have of competing with creationism in a class room makes me think that they are worried people will opt for creation rather than evolution when it is presented to them, or that the critiques of Darwinian macro-evolution from creation teaching can't be refuted. I'm not saying this to be provocative, that's just how I see it. After all, if the government forced private religious schools to teach evolution, and parents and teachers at these schools objected, wouldn't the gut-reaction from evolutionists be "Ha! They're worried their kids will learn the truth!"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sarah Palin Has An Amazing Talent

Merely by speaking, Sarah Palin has the power to make leftists' brains stop functioning entirely for a short time, even at a distance of a thousand miles, during which time they rely on their brain stems to keep them breathing or from falling down stairs or anything.

Sarah Palin was defending herself and others against the outrageous accusation that strident right-wing rhetoric created the context, or whatever, that led to the Arizona shooting, or something. The fact that the shooter was a left-leaning, Bush-hating looney tune conspiracy guy who didn't listen to Rush Limbaugh, it seems, judging from the Internet's reaction, that the debate has quickly switched gears.

Leftists, having made a HUGE stink over the course of just a few days about how Palin practically pulled the trigger, are now confronted with direct evidence that they are 100% wrong (nothing new there) in this case. Anger has a momentum though, and it's got to go somewhere. So it focused on two words in a short speech by Palin where she described the accusations made against her and Limbaugh and seemingly 33% of the population, as "blood libel." In other words, people were making blanket false accusations, laying the blame for shed blood at the feet of people who don't deserve it.

She couldn't have made the liberals madder if she'd called Obama the n-word, to be perfectly honest. Trolling the lefty message boards, I can see that the PDS is in overdrive, and that's saying something.

At first I didn't see what the outrage was about, until I realized that it was just leftover outrage from earlier in the week when liberals still thought they had a shot at pinning the shooting on right-wing talk show hosts. The outrage took on a different form, Palin gave them something to be easily confused about and thus angry.

There seem to be a few different takes on this. Some of the lefties seem to think that "blood libel" is, itself, an anti-semitic term, and a very ugly one at that. Well, no, it isn't. Actually, the very word "libel" clearly tells us that it is a term which defends Jews from false accusations. It's like when you say "fish story," or "tall tale." It's obvious from the very term that you are disparaging the accuracy of said tale. It wasn't anti-semites who coined the term "blood libel," it was anti-semites who perpetrated blood libel.

The other, less-crazy take on Palin's use of the term goes like this: "blood libel refers specifically to historical blood libel against Jews as perpetuated in Europe a long time ago and in the Middle East today, and it is an offensive appropriation of an injustice suffered by Jews by a clueless middle American."

It's less crazy, but even if it were true, it's not worth getting as worked up about (unless, of course, you are simply manufacturing reasons to be angry) and also it's just not true. "Blood libel" has become a generic term for a false accusation. You can Google on this if you don't trust me.

Basically, leftists still have a ton of outraged left over from their disappointment with Obama and the Democrats in Congress and also from having lost the election, and that anger is going to continue to pop up in various guises for the foreseeable future. Because as we all know, leftists are always miserable.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Gifford's Shooting Was Not Political

I honestly can't tell if leftists are being serious or not. Are they simply trying to score some cheap political points against their enemies by associating the rhetoric of right-wing activists and politicians with the actions of a looney tune gunman (and he was a looney tune, not an activist with a cogent agenda, just look at his youtube videos), or do they seriously think that passionate rhetoric actually leads people to take this kind of action?

If the former is true, shame on them. If the latter is true, then I have to question their grip on reality.

Yes, to a certain extent people are shaped by their environment and the culture(s) they live in. But the best your environment can do is bias your towards certain options, it can't actually make you make certain choices.

More to the point, if the type of words this article is complaining about caused shootings, there would be a lot more shootings. I have a far better explanation for what happened: a crazy man got his hands on a gun and had an freakout that left six people dead. This isn't South America (or Revolutionary France), where assassinations are a regular part of the political process (that was tongue-in-cheek, so hold your angry emails). Assassinations in this country are virtually always motivated by crazy people. That's probably because it is a lot easier to get rid of a particular politician in America--through the ballot box--versus a country where they have regular rotation of dictators.

Anyway, if the left is serious about what they are saying here, then they aren't going far enough. Where were they when Republican offices were having bricks hurled through windows? When left-wing activists were calling Bush a terrorist, the next Hitler, a maniacal dictator (and also simultaneously an idiot), or calling Rove or Cheney Darth Vader incarnate?

Of course, I don't expect serious thinking or self-restraint from politicians or activists. They are partisan after all, if not to a party then to a cause. I'm sure that if some nut had taken a shot at Bush then Republicans would be saying that the hyperbolic anti-Bush rhetoric played a part in it.

I'll leave you with this link. It's from the occasionally weird World Net Daily.