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).