Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Jefferson on Generations

Thomas Jefferson is famous for having written memorable words for commonplace ideas.  One of these ideas is:  “the earth belongs to the living, the dead have neither powers nor rights over it.”  This quotation comes from a letter he wrote to his friend James Madison on 6 September 1789.  The context for his remarks is the new U.S. Constitution.  Jefferson was registering his concern that a piece of paper composed by one generation might bind the next generation.

Put our quasi-sacred Constitution out of your mind for a moment and consider how you feel about this idea: that the laws of one generation should not bind the next generation, that each generation should make up its own rules for living.  I’ll wait while you consider your own position on this question.

Some historians believe that Jefferson had personal motivations for this idea: his father in law’s death left him with a legacy of land and slaves – and debt.  And he resented the debt being left for him to pay off.  Consider now how you would feel if your father left behind debts for you – his only son – to pay off.  Should a single son be responsible for his own father’s debts on his father’s death?  This time I will quit the essay and wait while you consider this question.  Please do not read the next part of this essay until you have thought this out.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ferguson

It would be wrong not to comment on this sad story, wouldn't it?  So here goes.

Here is what I don’t know.  I don’t know if Michael Brown assaulted police officer Darrell Wilson.  I don’t know if Michael Brown ever had his hands up in surrender or if he ran away.  I don’t know if Officer Wilson’s life was threatened or if he had reasonable cause to believe it was.   I don’t know a lot of things.

Here is what I do know.  I know that Officer Wilson did not know anything about a robbery or Michael Brown’s role in it, as the police chief made clear weeks before the Grand Jury was impaneled.  I know that Michael Brown was unarmed and that officer Wilson knew it.  I know that Michael Brown was shot dead by officer Wilson and that he was shot several times.   I do know that Officer Wilson is alive and that he will not stand trial for anything, not even involuntary manslaughter (the penalty for which is typically a year in prison).  I do know that a) a Grand Jury is not supposed to hear argument or testimony from both sides, it is supposed to hear only the prosecution’s side; and b) a Grand Jury is not supposed to rule on guilt or innocence as that is the job of the Trial Jury.   I do know that the prosecutor's team did not attempt to win an indictment – which is its sole job – but rather that it acted as a defense team; and I know this out of the prosecutor’s own mouth.  I do know justice was not done because it never got that far, and it never got that far because the prosecutor was determined that justice not run its course.  What I do know is that we will never know what really happened, because out of a court of law anyone can say anything with impunity; it is only in a courtroom that someone is bound by laws against perjury.  And, sadly, I do know that cops sometimes get away with murder, literally murder, and that nearly always it is a white cop murdering a black person.

Our Civil War took some 600,000 or 700,000 lives.  It ended with the Union intact and slavery ended.  But it seems that we are not done fighting it yet.  The old Confederacy is alive and well and living in the United States of America.

This is my country and I am sad for her.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Deficits Don’t Matter

“Deficits Don’t Matter” sounds like some weak liberal defense of our out of control deficit spending.  As I have shown in my book – and what is clear to any student of recent American History – it was Reagan who was the first President to submit huge deficit budgets without a real war to justify them.  While one might argue that he did have a war to justify them – the Cold War – and that that struggle was brought to a successful conclusion in 1989 (under the Presidency of George H W Bush) partly because of the defense build-up and spending, there was no compelling reason not to collect the taxes to pay for that spending (and thereby avoid unnecessarily large deficits) as we were not digging our way out of a depression.

However, the quote belongs to Dick Cheney – Vice President under Obama’s predecessor, George W Bush – and here is the “full” quote: “You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. We won the mid-term elections, this is our due.”  He was speaking to Paul O’Neill, the Treasury Secretary at the time (within days of becoming a former Treasury Secretary).  While it was primarily a political statement, its contempt for “balanced budgets” and “fiscal responsibility” shines through nonetheless.  It was 2004 when Cheney said it, and the Debt was on its way toward doubling what George W Bush had inherited from Bill Clinton, exploding from $5.8 trillion to $11.9 trillion.

The reason for this partisan rant is this: it is good to have at least one political party be the party of fiscal responsibility.  It is not so good when they ignore their own cardinal principles when they control the government.  But it is not so good when they remember their principles just in time to attack relentlessly a successor President of the other party who has the job of reining in a recession that was their gift to the American people.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Corruption Perceptions Index

Virtually all my writing is a protest against the political “corruption” in the United States of America, in the form of legislation and jurisprudence in favor of the highest bidder.  This might lead some to think that I believe that the USA is especially “corrupt” among nations.  This is neither the case nor do I believe it to be the case.  Transparency International, self-styled as “the global coalition against corruption,” annually ranks countries on their “corruption perceptions index.”  In 2013, the USA ranked as the 19th LEAST corrupt nation in the world.  19th!  As an American, as a patriot of the land of my birth, I would like to see us much less corrupt than that.  Ahead of us (in order of the organization’s 2013 ratings) are: Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Singapore, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Luxembourg, Germany, Iceland, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Barbados, Belgium and Japan.  Our score is 73% while the top two (Denmark and New Zealand) have scores of 91%.  There are 175 countries that the group considers and North Korea is at the bottom with a score of 8%.  

So we are better than average!  Great!  That’s nothing to write home about.  When we get to 1st place with a score of 93%, I will still be banging the drum for us to get cleaner.  This is my country, and as long as she sells herself to the highest bidder, I will continue to sound ugly noises.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

John Ferling on Paine's Common Sense

Nothing that I have read, by or about Tom Paine, does so good a job explaining my connection to the great American revolutionary as this passage from John Ferling’s book, Independence:The Struggle to Set America Free, Bloomsbury Press:2011, pp. 217 – 223.  

Tom Paine didn't invent the American Revolution, he brought people around – aristocrats and the common people alike – to the necessity and the urgency of it.

This passage is totally worthy of your time and attention.  If you like what you read here, read the book.

Just days before word of the Canadian calamity reached Congress, an express arrived with the first tidings of George III's October address to Parliament.  “It is decisive," a New Englander instantly responded.  No greater proof was needed that Britain's monarch "meant to make himself an absolute despotic Tyrant."  Samuel Ward added that "Every Man must now be convinced that . . . our Safety depends wholly upon a brave, wise and determined Resistance."  Samuel Adams told others that this proved the king was the driving force behind British policy.  War guilt "must lie at his Door," he added.  A Virginian, Francis Lightfoot Lee, concurred.  The king's speech laid bare his and North's “bloody intentions" and demonstrated beyond doubt that it was folly to any longer continue "gaping after a reconciliation."
Thirty-six hours after the express brought the king's speech to town, Thomas Paine's Common Sense, the most important pamphlet published in the American Revolution – indeed, the most influential pamphlet published in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America – hit Philadelphia's streets.  Its central argument was cogent and timely: Reconciliation was not in the best interests of the colonists.
The thirty-seven-year-old Paine was an Englishman who, like Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams,

Friday, November 14, 2014

On Representative Democracy

Putting aside a real question – do we really live in a democracy? – I’d like to talk for a brief moment about our representative democracy.

It seems to me that a representative democracy can take two forms: where our representatives do as we bid them or where they do what they think is best.  As to the first choice, it seems to me that if we really wanted them to do as we demand, then we should begin to implement a technology-based referenda state for all matters big and small and just let the people decide.  No need for representation at all.  On the other hand, I personally believe that our representatives ought to do what they think is best for us.  If we disagree, it is their job to explain to us why they think what they think.  If it is convincing, fine.  If not, it becomes our job to explain to them why they were wrong until they agree with us.  Failing that, it is our duty to remove them from office.  Or to allow them this difference from us ("we agree to disagree but we still love you").

There is one other argument for a representative democracy: our elected representatives have a chance to become experts on the issues they deal with, something we citizens do not have time for.

On the other hand, there is an excellent argument against preferring representative democracy.  If our representatives act in a way that they believe is best for us, fine.  However, if their choices reflect what is best for themselves – that is, if they have become corrupted – then that representative democracy is a sham and it serves no one but the thieves among us.  Those kinds of representatives should be … removed.

The problem is, the way our system works today, with Big Money being more powerful than We the People, universal corruption is nearly 100% inevitable.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Equality: What Does It Mean?

If the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are America’s Holy Bible, then surely “all men are created equal” is its 23rd Psalm, as no phrase rings so true for Americans as these immortal words.

But what do they mean, exactly?  And what do they not mean?  

Before the United States became a Republic, every nation on Earth was a class-based society and government.  That is, they had a king or a queen, a court, the nobility and aristocracy and clergy, merchants, and peasants.  And the kind of life you would lead was defined by which class you were born into.  There was some mobility between classes but not a lot.  The king had privileges and rights and powers that the nobility did not, the nobility had rights and powers and privileges that merchants did not, etc.  And the peasantry – the 99% of its day – fed them all.

Jefferson’s ringing words were a declaration to the whole world that we reject that long-hallowed reality.  We would have no kings, no aristocrats, no priests with special powers, and no peasantry to feed everyone else.  We were all created equal, all equal before God (putting aside any argument about His existence).

Over time, our common equality has added the notion that we are all equal before the law.  If a rich man commits a crime he will pay the same criminal price that a poor man will pay for the same crime (independent of the fact that THIS character of equality has not proved true, not yet anyhow).

This is what we mean when we say that all men are created equal, no more and no less.

However, there are some – and they are all politicians – who would like you to believe that preachers of equality want to rob you of what is yours, of the fruit of your labors and your invention.  They want you to believe that preachers of equality are “levelers” or socialists or communists.  Well, maybe some are but they are very few, and they call themselves socialists and communists.  And I know socialists who swear up and down that they do NOT mean THAT!  

Nevertheless, 99% of those who insist on our equality mean equal before the face of God and equal before the law, no more and no less.  And any man who tells you that they are all socialists who want to take what you have earned and what belongs to you is worse than that: he wants you to follow him and promise your allegiance, your obedience to him, as though he were the Son of God.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why Are You So Angry?

One of the most effective rhetorical devices used against women, gays and other minorities to undermine their arguments and invalidate their passion is the cool, calm question: “Why are you so angry?”  Proof that it is effective is the fact that nearly invariably the speaker disowns his anger and says it is really not anger, it is really something else.  Further proof that the device works is the fact that it is still being used; if it stopped being effective, it would stop being used.

But let me not waste your time.  The one and only proper response to the rhetorical “Why are you so angry?” is: “What!  Are you fucking nuts?  If you heard what I said and it doesn’t make you angry, you’d have to be an emotional cripple, you’d have to be someone who was never taught the difference between right and wrong, whose parents never taught him fair play.  If you are not angry at what I have just described, YOU are the problem; it is because of people like you who are NOT enraged by injustice that the injustice exists in the first place.”

That’s it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Regulations, Again

This post is written as a small "corrective" to the essays in my book about regulations.  It is easy to imagine from my essays that I am FOR a regulatory state.  This is a simple way to characterize my more complex notions about regulations, but it is inaccurate.  I am for SENSIBLE regulation.  I am for whittling away much (probably most!) of today’s regulations and today’s regulatory agencies, but I am not for eliminating them.

First, what is a regulation?  A regulation is nothing more than a law respecting organizations, rather than individuals or persons.  Laws dictate our personal behavior: you MUST do this or you MUST NOT do that.  With penalties for non-compliance.  Regulations are the same as laws for people but they concern themselves instead with organizations, especially businesses.  No one would suggest that we should not have laws against murder or vandalism.  Even if it could be shown that these anti-social behaviors increase with the introduction of laws that prohibit them, still no one would suggest that we not regulate these behaviors with laws that include criminal penalties.  Similarly, we do not want to eliminate a regulation with penalties for bad behavior, even if the bad behavior might increase with the imposition of the regulation.  As with laws, regulations are appropriate where we want to coerce good behavior or prohibit bad behavior of corporations and other organizations (“artificial persons” in legalese).

However, the anti-regulatory folks do have a point or two.

  • If a regulatory agency fails to regulate, why should we taxpayers have to pay for it?  If it does not enforce its own regulations, it is not the fault of the agency, it is the fault of its management, who should be removed and charged with criminal inactivity.
  • If a regulation is added to the mix of already too much regulation, we end up with a regulatory mess which no one knows how to navigate.  Once again, why should we have to pay the bill for something that is not doing the job that it was created to do?
  • If a regulatory agency is too big to do its job effectively and efficiently, it should be cut down to size.
  • Many, if not most, regulations were invented, not by Democratic or Republican office holders, but by lobbyists acting on behalf of commercial interests.  The IRS code is filled with regulations that were put in place to benefit Exxon-Mobil, GE, Apple, etc.  And to make it tougher for their competitors to compete with them.

I don’t want to overstate my case.  If it is appropriate to have laws that regulate our personal behavior – if, that is, we do not favor anarchy – then, by the same reasoning it is appropriate to regulate businesses and other organizations.  However, most of our regulatory apparatus is in need of real reform, not elimination but reform.  Because if we were beginning from scratch, we would all of us agree that businesses and other organizations need rules to live by.  Businesses do not self-regulate good behavior, any more than people do.

So, let us all agree that ending the regulatory state is not really a desirable goal, and get to work pruning the rot out of the regulatory state.  Yes, the IRS Tax Code is beyond any man’s ability to comprehend it all.  The people who know it best should scrap it and start over, and write a simpler code that does not allow for special interests taking it over.

In the end, I am probably in agreement with the anti-regulations forces that more than half of our regulatory state has to go.  Maybe 75%, maybe 90%, as technology can perform wonders if brought into the game.  But let’s not throw out the baby with the dish water.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

On Misunderstanding Ayn Rand

Many of those who have read my words may suspect that I am a closet liberal.  That may have elements of truth in it.  Some (fewer) may suspect that I am a closet conservative.  That too has elements of truth in it.  Those who have read me carefully know that I am virulently anti-Republican and not much more in love with Democrats either.

Ayn Rand, author of (among other works) Atlas Shrugged, can be said to be an inspiration to many Libertarians, those on the philosophical far Right (and Left!).  With some justice.  I read Ayn Rand’s books (all her fiction – 4 books – and some of her non-fiction) decades ago.  It would be true to say that I was under her spell while I read her books.  It would also be true to say that I escaped her spell within months of reading her.  Let me say, unequivocally, that I think she is a good novelist (by which I mean she grabbed my attention and kept me interested all the way to the end, and what more can a fiction writer want?  Rand wanted more).  And that I admired, respected and loved her heroes and heroines.  But the reasons that I did not remain a follower of hers are these: 1) the world of her book is NOT the world we live in, and 2) she conflates indispensable heroes with all successful businessmen.

To the first point, all Rand's villains are true “collectivists.”  Like little Lenins and little Stalins.  But for the most part the real villains of yesterday and today are all self-serving bastards who say what they say in order to serve themselves.  Some preach “I am my brother’s keeper” and others preach “look out for number One” to get what they want, not to serve the masses.  These villains are the same as Rand’s villains – successful politicians and CEO’s – but they are NOT collectivists, they are after what serves themselves.  In other words, they are SELFISH (the word that Rand elevates as the highest virtue), not altruistic (the source of evil, in Rand's world).

To the second point: I honor Thomas Edison, I condemn Jack Welch.  I honor Walt Disney, I condemn Michael Eisner and am neutral so far toward Robert Iger.  I honor Steve Jobs (within human bounds, not like those who make him a god) and the Woz, and I condemn John Sculley and am neutral toward Tim Cook.  I honor Bill Gates and Paul Allen and am indifferent toward Steve Ballmer and am on my way to condemning Satya Nadella.  All the folks I named were or are all important businessmen.  Those who I said I honor ALL created their businesses out of thin air; they all had Big Bang moments; they all were indispensable human beings.  The others just took over the job of CEO.  Many of these follow-up CEOs profited from their tenure more than the founders of the company they led ever did.  Many of them have coddled up to government for special favors.  And many of them have profited at the expense of their own employees (by laying them off).  None of them were indispensable and it is likely that a trained chimpanzee could have done their jobs creditably.

Rand’s heroes are all indispensable human beings.  And her villains are all whores.  But her whores feed at the trough of collectivism, feeding the many; whereas today’s real villains feed at their own troughs and do not give two hoots for the many.

The real problem is not that Rand is wrong about the real world and its villains.  The problem is that her followers – mostly Libertarians – despise the many, the collective (as Rand did; she hated most of humanity and she can be caught on tape admitting it); but they honor Rand’s whores – business leaders who were hardly indispensable and whose company’s share prices were made to inflate on the backs of employees who were no longer needed).

Those who follow Rand – Libertarians and Objectivists – call their enemy crony capitalism.  “My enemy” is corporatocracy or oligarchy or fascism, all of which share the definition of “crony capitalism”: business in bed with government.

It’s about time the Right, the idealistic Right, stops fighting with the Left, the idealistic Left.  The Right claims that Government is manipulating Business, and the Left maintains that Business is manipulating Government.  Their charges are equally true.  And the fact is that their marriage needs to be nullified, to the benefit of the people – the collective – and to the benefit of our indispensable men (who I am pretty sure don’t need the help of the government, the help of the people; they just need to be left alone).

If you have NOT read Ayn Rand – in particular Atlas Shrugged – well, you must!  Anyone who considers himself a full-fledged citizen should be familiar with our nation’s texts: and any LONG list of important American political works must include Atlas Shrugged.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Is Ebola the Coming Plague?

I am not a trained physician, I do not work in the health profession, and I am not a student of biology.  So, what I am about to write may be a small pile of shit.  Nonetheless.

The “Black Death” (the second outbreak of the bubonic plague, ca. 1340 – 1400) took 1/5 to 1/3 of the population of the entire world at the time (some 75 to 200 million souls).  The 1918 flu pandemic took 20 to 100 million souls worldwide.  These figures compare frighteningly well against the casualties of our most horrific wars.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Best and Worst CEO's

Hey, THIS is hardly a legitimate blog post but I couldn't resist!  Consider this a public service!

You may not agree with all or many of these picks, but CNBC has put together two Portfolio lists: Worst American CEOs of All Time and Best American CEOs of All Time.  I don't know how old these lists are, or who is responsible for them, but they are a hoot!  Have fun!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Consistency in Presidential Elections

This survey stops with the Presidential election of 2008.  Too lazy to update it.

Four states – Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota – have voted Republican in every Presidential election since 1940 (FDR’s third term), except for 1964 (Johnson vs. Goldwater).

Four more states – Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho – have voted Republican in every Presidential election since 1952 (Eisenhower’s first term), except for 1964.  

Arizona has voted Republican since 1952, except for 1996 (Clinton’s second term).  

Alaska has voted Republican since 1960 (JFK), except for 1964.  

Minnesota has voted Democratic since 1960, except for 1972 (Nixon vs. McGovern).  

Indiana has voted Republican since 1940, except for 1964 and 2008 (Obama).  

Virginia and Montana have voted Republican since 1952, except for 1964 and 1992 (Montana, Clinton’s first term) or 2008 (Virginia).  

Hawaii has voted Democratic since 1960, except for 1972 and 1984 (Reagan’s second term).  

Finally, Alabama and Mississippi have voted Republican since 1964, except for 1968 (Nixon vs. Humphrey) and 1976 (Ford vs. Carter).  

+ + + + + + + + + + + + +

Fifteen states have voted Republican and two states Democratic nearly monolithically, since at least 1964.  The other thirty-three states have voted less predictably over the same time period.

It can be said that these states know their own mind.  It can be said with equal justice that they don’t pay much attention to Presidential campaigns, that their radios and TV’s are used for different purposes than politics.  You decide.

And it is interesting that such a huge disproportion, 15 out of 17 states, voted Republican.  Yet Democrats won the Presidency as many times as Republicans.  What this means is anybody’s guess.

I have no idea why this essay is in this book.  It was interesting to research, so I included it.

Accidents

It affronts our sense of fair play when we consider someone having an accident having to pay for the accident and its consequences and repair.   But it attacks our notion of fair play and common sense when we consider the victim of the accident paying for the accident, its consequences and its repair.  In other words, we don’t think BP should have to pay for its “accident” and the consequences of the accident on the Gulf Coast until we consider the residents of the area having to pay for it.  At which time it becomes 100% obvious that the perpetrator of the accident, not its victims, must pay for their “accident.”

What then should be the difference between an accident and a non-accident where there is damage to someone or some things?  Simple.  If there was intent, there ought not to be merely civil damages; there ought also to be criminal charges and criminal penalties.   And if you cannot charge a corporation with criminal intent, you surely can charge its leadership with criminal intent.

Why, you may say, this an attack on the corporate privilege of limited liability.  Yes it sure is.  “Limited liability” is an important capitalist privilege that allows a man who would commit a crime to incorporate and then not have to suffer the penalty for committing the crime.   Limited liability is an attack on justice.  We as a society really should revisit the institution of limited liability when it protects guilty men from their guilt.

BP and its own insurers must pay for the clean-up and the damage done to people’s livelihoods and the environmental damage.  With no “cap”, no limit on what it must pay.  And, should a proper investigation reveal that actions were taken that may have contributed to the “accident” happening, then criminal charges against BP management must be made.  When the sacred privilege of limited liability defies justice and common sense, limited liability be damned.

The Contraceptives Controversy

Reader: if you are a practicing Catholic who believes the Pope has a right to define women’s sexual behavior, please do not read this essay; it will only piss you off.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + +

Have you caught the spat about contraceptives between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church?  Church doctrine forbids contraception and the Church objects to the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) providing information about and access to and coverage for contraceptives to its faithful.  Newt Gingrich – a third wife convert to Catholicism – called it the biggest assault on freedom of religion since … well I am not sure, maybe since Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the door of his church.  Rick Santorum, a one wife Catholic, has said equally nasty things about it too.  The Obama administration, as its first response, offered to allow the church, as an employer providing health insurance to its employees, not to have to pay for that part of the insurance package; but the insurance company would still have to provide contraceptive services to the church’s employees and insurance policy holders.  I suspect that will not satisfy everyone as the church may want to deny its members information and access to contraceptives (despite the fact that many of them already use contraceptives, doctrine be damned).  So, for Gingrich, Santorum and others, freedom of religion in the USA seems to mean the right of the Catholic Church (the employer) to deny freedom of choice to individuals who work for them (employees).  Ironic.

Guns

Here’s a rule.  If there is a politician or a TV or radio political commentator – or worse yet more than one – with whom you are in agreement 100% of the time, what that proves is you are not an independent thinker.

Obvious, right?  Good.  Because I am sure that the following will rub many Americans the wrong way, Americans I most want to reach.  

But just because we may disagree on one issue does not make everything I have to say unworthy of your time and consideration, right?

OK.

Abortion

Before Roe v. Wade, American women had abortions.  Some were self-administered and very dangerous, even fatal; some were black-market, expensive and very dangerous, even fatal; and some were safe, expensive and out of the country, where the law couldn’t do anything to you, even when you returned.  And for many of those who went to term, there were abandonments (dropping newborn babies in dumpsters or leaving them on door-steps in strange neighborhoods) and there were orphans, millions of orphans.  But for those who seriously considered abortion, what there was very few of was a happy couple welcoming a newborn into a loving family life.

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that is so “controversial,” the decision that forbids a state to outlaw abortion for the first trimester, was not a close 5-4 decision pitting conservative justices against liberal justices.  The decision was 7-2.  The makeup of the Court was 6 justices installed by Republican presidents and 3 justices installed by Democratic presidents.  Five of the six Republican justices voted with the majority and two of the three Democratic justices voted with the majority.  Bet you didn’t know that.  It was not a close decision, nor was it a party-line decision.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Social Darwinism

“So, Social Darwinism, whazzat?”

If “Darwinism” can be thought of as “survival of the fittest” (not Darwin’s idea at all; he preferred survival of the best adapted or the most adaptable), or prominence of the strongest, the most competitive, the wealthiest or the best connected, and then you apply it to humans, rather than the “inferior animal species,” that would be Social Darwinism.  The Law of the Jungle, applied to humans.  A corollary to survival of the strongest or fittest is the non-survival of the weakest or least fit.  Only the “best” would survive and reproduce, and this would naturally result in a superior human species, superior to what it would be without this kind of a Natural Selection.  Social Darwinism has no need for any “social safety net” to rescue the least fit, as it does not approve of allowing the least fit to survive.  Social Darwinism is cruel but efficient; think the ancient Spartans and the not so ancient Nazis.  A good case could be made that a more compassionate society would be a stronger, more fit society in many ways, but I am not approving or condemning Social Darwinism, just defining it.

A Social Darwinist society would be a cruel society, even if some might call it a just society (with little room for mercy).  An irony is that Darwin himself would not have been an advocate of Social Darwinism.  He saw Evolution’s Natural Selection as a description of how Nature works, not as the way humans should act.

Some Anarchists, some Libertarians, and even some Republicans admit to being Social Darwinists.  But it is politically difficult to argue as it does tend to resurrect images of Nazi Germany’s Aryan master race.  Putting all that aside, it is worth considering, just as much as a cradle to grave welfare state where the strong are compelled by the majority class of weaklings to keep the weak alive.

Just as a full-blown welfare state is less than 100% desirable or even sustainable, so too a Social Darwinist state.  Why do so many Americans seem to embrace one or the other extreme idea (the simple answer is: it is simpler), whereas the best is probably a random selection from both camps to keep things interesting.  Which is what we have now – isn’t it? – with Democrats forever battling Republicans, and each side capturing some but not all the hills.

But, no, that is NOT what we have; we have a society ruled by those who can best pay off the strongest to come work for them and do their bidding, while they get away with ripping off the wealth of the world from the rest of us.  They are neither the strongest nor the most fit; what they are is the most determined to grab more than their share of the toys.  Most of them would not last a week in the wilderness.  That is the prime defect of Social Darwinism: those who survived would not be the best.

No, the prime defect of a Social Darwinist state is that the "best" would be those best able to accumulate monetary wealth: the hedge fund managers, CEO's of multi-national firms best able to avoid paying American taxes, top Hollywood stars and the most gifted professional athletes.  Is that your idea of the "best" that we have?  It is surely not my idea of the "best."

Non-Violence

Many of my liberal friends – and I have more liberal friends than conservative ones (because of where I live!) – seem to believe that non-violence is the right approach to any issue that has the potential for violence, the ONLY right approach to any such issue: violence is never justified.  No doubt Martin Luther King, Jr’s non-violent approach to African-American Civil Rights worked wonders in the sixties, but I am not convinced that the perceived threat of mayhem posed by the Black Panthers didn’t help the cause some, maybe a lot.  Indeed, I am not so sure that the back-sliding of black power since the sixties cannot be traced at least partially to two generations of near total black non-violence.

But putting the Civil Rights struggle aside, my personal answer to the Left’s near-absolute allegiance to non-violence can be found in a simple movie of long ago: High Noon.  Those who know the movie know what I mean, and I would bet that all of them agree with me that non-violence has its place, as does violence.  For those who have not watched High Noon (or listened to its Oscar-winning song), I recommend it highly.  You might come away from it not so sure that non-violence is always the right answer to every question.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Freedom of Speech, Revisited

“Well, I don’t think that you have made the case against money as protected speech.  For example, Meg Whitman (former CEO of eBay) and Carly Fiorina (former CEO of Hewlett-Packard), not only spent gobs and gobs of money running for governor and senator, respectively, of the great state of California, but they lost, and they lost embarrassingly, Whitman to a Democratic fossil who had been governor when T. Rex's ruled California.  Money did not corrupt the electoral process there, did it?”

Monday, July 28, 2014

Freedom of Speech

The 1st amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech is a pretty simple affair to anyone who has not thought about it too deeply.  “I can say what I want to and too bad if you don’t like it; you can’t stop me, ‘cause it’s a free country.” That pretty much sums it up.  To a 1st amendment scholar or to any lawyer or to a legal mind, it is not quite that simple.  “I can say anything I want to except for the following: 1) I can’t slander or libel anyone and get away with it (both of these require the statement of an untruth, malice, and damage to a person or his reputation or his financial security).  2) I can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, thereby provoking an unnecessary panic with possible consequent damage to persons or property.  And 3) I can’t be obscene, whatever that means ('but I know it when I see it').”  That’s what freedom of speech means to a person familiar with how the law works.

But things have gotten interesting lately.  The already infamous Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has introduced another wrinkle in the fabric of just exactly what speech is protected by the Constitution.  Now corporations are persons whose free speech rights are protected by the Constitution and, as it may cost money to place a political ad on a network TV station, now money is protected as speech without limit too.  And a lot of people are upset with this decision, without knowing really how to get around the issues of just exactly what speech is really FREE and protected.

So, this essay is my 2c worth.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Texas After Roe v Wade

Let’s indulge a thought experiment.  Let’s imagine the repeal of Roe v. Wade, effectively returning to each state complete sovereignty over the abortion issue.  Let’s further suppose that Texas, not wishing to be outdone, legislates abortion to be the same as first degree murder (far from impossible – if abortion is murder – and no abortion is ever not pre-meditated – then abortion is pre-meditated murder, 1st degree murder), punishable by death or life in prison without hope of parole.  Let’s further suppose a Texan Jane Roe who just found out that she is pregnant and for whatever reason does not want to have a baby, Texas law notwithstanding.

What does Jane do?  Real easy!  Jane travels to neighboring Colorado where they have not legislated against abortions, and she has an abortion.  Jane then returns to her home in Texas.

Now what?  What does Texas do?  Does Texas arrest her?  How does Texas know that Jane had an abortion?  Are all Texas women who leave the state followed?  Will a work colleague or a neighbor snitch on Jane?   The state will need better evidence than a snitch to prosecute Jane for the crime of abortion.  Will the Colorado doctor who performed the abortion cooperate with Texas law enforcement and appear to testify against his former client?  Will Colorado state law compel the doctor to help Texas make its case?  How does Texas go about proving Jane had an abortion – where it was legal to do so?

Let’s imagine instead that Jane does not dare to risk returning to her home state where she might be arrested, even if it might be difficult to prove her guilt.  Jane takes up residence in Colorado.  Does Texas then seek to extradite Jane for murder of an unborn child?  Would Colorado respect such an assault on their proper sovereignty?

If you say that Texas will be content not allowing abortions within its borders and not providing a home for those women who were careless enough to need an abortion, an unintended but absolutely certain consequence of such thinking will be the slow but steady emigration from Texas of women who would rather not take the chance of running afoul of Texas law.  You may speculate whether that would be a net positive or a net negative, but it will be a loss, guaranteed.

One of the biggest hurdles that Pro-Life forces face is coming up with a workable legal response to a woman having an abortion.  Before Roe v. Wade made it legal everywhere to have an abortion in the first trimester, women had abortions that were performed illegally.  Outlawing abortions does not stop abortions; it just makes abortions difficult and ugly and dangerous.

Addendum: Thursday, 12/10/2015
A few paragraphs above I suggested that rigidity on abortion would cause an emigration of women from Texas, and I suggested it would be a loss to Texas.  It looks like Texas is committed to brain drains.  See this news flash!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The BIG Question

The Big Question for the 20th Century is whether a critical mass of humanity will realize by the start of the 21st Century that it has been on a path of self-annihilation for a long time and that it may be too late to save itself by changing course; so why bother?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Open Carry Gun Rights

Apparently it is Constitutional to openly carry firearms.  So here is my question: May a business prohibit you from openly carrying your firearm into their place of business?  May a business prohibit you from carrying a firearm into their place of business at all?  Prohibit you LEGALLY?  The answer is remarkably simple: yes and yes.

The 2nd Amendment prevents Congress – and the federal government and state and local governments – from infringing your right to keep and bear firearms.  It does nothing to prevent a private entity from prohibiting you from entering its privately owned space.  The private entity makes up its own rules as to who may enter and who may not and – except rarely (as in cases of discrimination) – may enforce those prohibitions.

Here’s the rub though.  By the above, it would seem that your right to bear should allow you to bear arms into government buildings, right?   Hmmm.  Not so quick, Charlie!  Logic may be on your side, but you will have to sue.  And don’t bet that logic and rights will help you to win your case.

Every now and again, common sense needs to trump what someone thinks is Constitutional.  Not often enough if you ask me.

If someone can find an official and somewhat comprehensive list of companies on one side of this “issue” or another, please let me know.  I will publish a link to it, to the delight of all those on either side of this issue.

Hobby Lobby

The Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case is yet one more case that the Supreme Court has decided that remains controversial.  Whose rights are we to protect anyhow?  Are we going to protect the "religious rights" of owners of a corporation, their rights to refuse to allow some health-care coverage to their own employees, even if they do not have to pay for it?  Or ought we to fight for the protection of the rights of the many more American citizens who work for them, who do not share the religious biases of their employers?  Whose freedom is it anyway?  The Roberts court affirms that the freedom they will protect is the freedom of the employers.  The Roberts Court has a long and consistent history of imagining that corporations have Constitutional Rights.  <Sigh>

But here is something that I believe is incontrovertible, uncontroversial.  The Supreme Court – the Roberts Court, the Kennedy Court, the Scalia Court, whoEVER owns this court – is suffering from a loss of respect from the American people.  Yes, I know all about all those 9-0 decisions (and their oftentimes angry "concurrent opinions"), but most of the “important” decisions seem to be decided by one justice named Anthony Kennedy, everyone else voting “predictably.”  The people are right when they think that the Supreme Court is putting political ideology above justice.

And when that so-called political "ideology" maintains that corporations have protected Constitutional Rights, on a par with you and me having protected Constitutional Rights, that ideology is stupid, it is wrong and it is evil.

Addendum: Thursday, 08/13/2015
You can tell that I didn't like that SCOTUS decision, can't you?  It was a decision that was based on an understanding that corporations are persons under the Constitution and thereby entitled to Constitutional Rights, a proposition that I abhor with all my might and that underlies all my work, my book and my blog.  If you are unfamiliar with my argument, or need convincing, read my book, To My Countrymen.  Or look at my Corporate ... What? blog post.  Here are two other more technical responses to check out, Property v. Liberty: The Supreme Court’s Radical Break with Its Historical Treatment of Corporations and Getting the History Right: Tracking the real history of corporate rights in American constitutional thought.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Gifts to my Readers

Dear Reader of To My Countrymen!

The links below are gifts to you for reading To My Countrymen, every word of it (not necessarily from front to back)!

Needless to say, anyone who can read this blog post can access these links freely without buying or reading my book.

But I swear to you: if you have not read my book, and absorbed its lessons and dreams, these gifts will seem to you like "What's the big deal?"

So, be forewarned: these "gifts" will only BE gifts for those worthy to receive them!

Democracy: lyrics and performanence.


You are most welcome!

Libel, Slander & Lies

Libel and Slander are laws that penalize careless and harmful speech.  They require malice or ill-will on the part of the speaker or author, they require that what is said or written be Untrue, and they require some kind of damage to the aggrieved party.

Famous people – political office holders and celebrities – are not protected by libel and slander laws.  Pretty much anything may be written or spoken about them with impunity on the part of the author or speaker.  The idea is that people in the public eye can defend themselves without the aid of the courts, that they have a voice that people will listen to, and that their credibility will be a match for their accuser.

A senator or a Congressman or even the President may speak or write, or be spoken to or written about, with impunity.  And with the exception of my damaging your reputation in a way that has harmful consequences to you, we can all tell lies.  Lying is legal in the USA!  This is good; else we’d all be in jail from time to time (research John Peter Zenger and the Alien and Sedition Acts for some interesting background history of what speech is legal in America).

But maybe there is a place where lies ought not to be tolerated: in politics where you and I are the audience and the true victims of the lies.  For in the political arena, when a politician tells a lie, the real victim is not the famous person being maligned, the real victim is the public who does not have the resources to tell the difference between the truth and a lie.

At the moment, the only response to this conundrum is “fact checkers.”  But which fact checker should you listen to, as there are more than one of them?  Some are hacks for one side or the other, and the rest compete for your attention by artificially pointing their finger of shame equally at both sides, in order to seem “fair.”  A less than perfect solution to a real problem.

This is one more problem that is a real problem that I am my wit’s end to suggest how to fix it.

Your suggestions are welcomed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Net Neutrality

Some political issues are just SO simple – so right vs. wrong, so good vs. evil – that no one would dare to admit he favors the “wrong” choice.  Like democracy vs. fascism.  Like the use of nuclear weapons on a populated city to prove we are still the strongest nation in the world and no one should fuck with us.  Simple issues with a clear right and wrong.

I THINK that Net Neutrality (Internet Service Providers, ISPs, carriers – MUST provide equal bandwidth [imagine a water “pipe” between you and your ISP] to all web services; ISPs cannot charge web services extra for a faster pipe that only large corporations can afford, while consigning all other web services that cannot afford the toll – like my blog – to a slower pipe) is one of these simple issues.

But before I have my say, before I say something that I may regret later on, I’d like to hear an argument against Net Neutrality.  A real argument by someone who honestly believes that Net Neutrality is the wrong choice.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Monica’s back

Better she had gotten on with her life in private.

The problem with Monica Lewinsky is not that she gave Bill Clinton a blow job (I was never interested enough in the story to gather the details – was it once or ten times, and did they ever … kiss?), the problem was not that she showed such bad judgment trusting her "friend" Linda Tripp, the problem is not that she still blames Bill for taking advantage of her, or that she blames Hillary … for what?

No, the problem is simpler than that.  Faced with doing the right thing (telling the lasciviously ambitious Kenneth Starr to go fuck himself), she caved in to a threat of imprisonment for refusal to cooperate.  She’d have become a modern heroine had she done the right thing.  Instead she has had fifteen years (and counting) of being an American pariah, a sad joke, and she is so stupid and so in denial that she doesn’t understand why.  She broke a code that she should have learned as a teenager: you never kiss and tell.

She’s had her 15 minutes of fame and it was terrible.  Now she wants more.  Amazing.

*************

There is a real chance that someone who reads this post will read it as a Clinton apologetic.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I had two thoughts driving my writing: a silly girl (yes, I am quite aware that she is a 40 year-old woman, but she still acts like a silly girl) intent on learning wrong lessons from life; and the shame of our becoming a nation that allows a "special prosecutor" appointed by a highly partisan group to become more powerful than a popular President elected by the people.  It is a real possibility that our national politics has so degenerated that we may expect to see every future President subjected to an impeachment, at least every Democratic President.  If a Republican reader thinks this would be a great idea, I ask him how happy he would be if the Democrats got wise and played the same game on THEIR Presidents.  I think our COUNTRY needs to grow up, which in turn will force our elected representatives to do the same.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Balanced Budget Amendment

A Balanced Budget amendment is a great idea, an idea whose time has come.  Finally, as it is long past overdue!

A Balanced Budget amendment is an essential symbol of an economy that lives within its means, within the rules of fiscal integrity, fiscal responsibility.

But that is its biggest problem – isn’t it – that it is just a symbol of fiscal integrity and fiscal responsibility?

“OK, what’s the problem?  Why is it just a symbol of fiscal integrity and fiscal responsibility?  Why doesn’t it FIX the problem?”

The problem – I think we all agree – is an out of control National Debt.  And balanced budgets do not fix that problem.

“Whoa, really, why not?”

Friday, April 11, 2014

Wikipedia

I link to Wikipedia articles a lot in my Blog.  I don’t ever use it for my writing because my posts would be much wordier than they are and I prize brevity; and because the audience I am writing for is not so compulsively interested in learning all that there is to know about a subject – who has the time?  Not me!  But I do like to give my readers a place to go for more information about a subject that I write about, if they are interested.

But why Wikipedia?

I understand that Wikipedia is controversial.  But that is a mistake.  Anyone can write a Wikipedia entry.  But every entry will be edited and re-edited by many other contributors world-wide.  It is the rare Wikipedia entry that will not go through 100 revisions.  And end up pretty reliable.  Lots has been written about Wikipedia reliability, too.

Finally, my killer argument for loving Wikipedia articles.  A Wikipedia article is itself never a “source” for any information (as “the internet” is also never a source; "I found it on the Internet" is as empty of meaning as "I saw it on TV") as it is never a primary source.  But every (most ...) Wikipedia article has a References section (with Notes and Further Reading) which points to a gazillion primary sources for virtually every assertion in the article.  So in the end it is a great way to get at primary source material.  And it is far superior to any other non-primary source that I know of to get you to primary source material for anything you want to do research on.

Viva Wikipedia!

Moral Hazard

“Moral Hazard” (for a longer discussion) was one of the most important – and necessary – factors that allowed the Great Recession of 2008 to occur.  Indeed, it may have compelled it to happen sooner or later.  So, maybe a sufficient factor, too.  For the mathematicians out there, moral hazard may have been a “necessary and sufficient” factor for the Great Recession of 2008, the Recession that was nearly the Second Great Depression.

So, what IS this thing called “moral hazard”?

Moral hazard is a condition or set of conditions that present a person or a business with the opportunity to make a bet where “heads I win, tails you lose.”  We all look for bets like this but few present themselves to us because we have laws that try to make life … more fair.  And a moral hazard bet is inherently unfair.

The kind of moral hazard that presented itself so often to the banks in the early 2000’s was being able to write a mortgage for a family, take a fee for the transaction, and then sell the mortgage to another bank or financial institution.  If the mortgage holder were to default on his monthly payments, the mortgage writer and his bank would be off the hook; the bank that bought the mortgage would take the loss.  Another example is making high-risk high-reward trades for a bank where if the trades work out the bank profits enormously and so does the trader; if the trades fail, the trader still has his salary and his bonuses and his bank will be rescued by the government (heads you win, tails the government – the taxpayer – loses) because it is “too big to fail,” too important to the health of the financial sector of the economy (finance is the new tail that wags our economy).

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Corporate … What?

It’s called “Corporate Personhood.”

Corporate personhood” means that corporations are treated as though they were persons, indeed citizens, under the law, as having the same Constitutional Rights as “natural persons,” as citizens.

On the one hand it seems innocuous enough.  On the other hand it seems absurd – and dangerous.

Corporate personhood has two arenas where it seems to make a difference whether corporations have such “rights.”  In the first instance, personhood allows corporations to participate in the electoral process – not to run for office (not yet) and not to vote (not yet), but to influence elections by spending unimaginable amounts of money, so much money that it overwhelms all other sources of campaign money.  The issue is not that their money always wins elections (as often as not both major party candidates are the recipients of big corporate cash), but that whoever wins is beholden to his or her corporate benefactors.  In the second instance, personhood allows corporations to participate in writing legislation, to dictate the terms of the legislation.  Obamacare was the handiwork of the health insurance lobby more than it was the work of Congressional Democrats or the White House itself.  We don’t elect health insurance companies to write health care legislation, but they do.

Here’s a very brief history of corporate personhood.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The New Economy, Revisited

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  I forgot the main reason I sat down to write about "The New Economy."  The main reason is that the New Economy is a “structural change” in the economy, it is not just another down-swing of another “business cycle.”

Huh?  What you talkin’ about?

Many if not most economists are so wrapped up in Economic Theory that they see the recent Recession as just another recession, just another Bust following another Boom.  This strait jacket of Economic Theory forces them to see everything as business cycles and keeps them from seeing the obvious: that this recession – the jobless recovery part of it – is not the result of a cyclical Surplus in Supply or a Deficit in Demand (I capped these 4 words because they alliterate!), it is rather the result of a new economy that needs fewer and fewer workers.  I am not talking about Globalization or the out-sourcing of jobs to China and India, etc. which will continue to savage American jobs.  I am only talking about the Technology piece of the New Economy – computers and artificial intelligence and robotics – performing work that was previously performed only by human beings.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The New Economy

In the early 1990’s, IBM laid off 135,000 workers (this is a number that I remember but I can only find support online for 115,000, still a HUGE number to be laid off in less than two years).  Few to none of them were low-skill workers.  And the number was SO huge that it was 10 times the total number employed at the time by Microsoft, the company that more than any other was making IBM’s life miserable.

From the early 1980’s through the early 2000’s, General Electric under the leadership of “Neutron Jack” Welch laid off between 120,000 and 160,000 workers (internet research supplies varying numbers).

From the distant past, I dredge up these two cases to make the point that “The New Economy” (the economy that is less and less dependent upon human labor, or high-skilled American labor) is not merely the consequence of computer / internet-based productivity gains or globalization / out-sourcing manufacturing jobs.  These two and other early massive layoff events were often a consequence of “Mergers and Acquisitions.”  M&A was part of a new strategy to boost corporate Bottom Lines – by terminating workers who did not contribute directly or adequately to that goal.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A. Lincoln on Capitalism

These words are the words of Abraham Lincoln, a Libertarian before his time.
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
You cannot build character and courage by destroying men's initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Workers' Paradise

Who first spoke the expression “a workers’ paradise” is not certain.  It may have been Karl Marx glorifying a stage on the path to a Socialist Utopia, or it may have been coined (or re-coined) by a very Left Wing American in the 1930’s as a reference to Stalin’s Soviet Union.  Few people today believe that Marxist Socialism would be a paradise, and everyone (even those 1930’s Communists) today knows that Uncle Joe’s USSR was more a workers’ Hell than a workers’ paradise.

But there is a real workers’ paradise, and it is here – in the good old USA.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Republicans and Democrats

The core difference between the two major political parties is over the role of government in our lives.  Republicans believe that government interferes with our lives and should be kept to a minimum.  “The government that governs least governs best” (Thomas Jefferson said that).  Democrats believe that government should help us out when we need its help.  “I am my brother’s keeper” (Genesis' Cain did NOT say that).

Republicans believe in competition; Democrats believe in cooperation.  Mostly.

Republicans believe in self-reliance; Democrats believe in teamwork.  Mostly.

Rural areas are always more Republican than urban areas, and urban areas are always more Democratic than rural areas.

Women are always more Democratic than men, and men are always more Republican than women.

The more religious tend to vote Republican, while the more secular tend to vote Democratic.  Those who favor faith over science tend to vote Republican, while those who favor science over faith tend to vote Democratic.

Businessmen tend to be more Republican, and those whose livelihood is not business tend to be more Democratic.

Owners and managers are more often Republicans, and workers are more often Democrats.

All else being equal, the young are more likely to be Democratic and the old more likely to be Republican.

Look at this list of alternatives again; do we really believe that one alternative is better than the other?  Don't we really need both alternatives?

He who believes that any American with a different political belief system than his own is either stupid or evil needs to spend more time in the other fellow’s shoes.

We are all Americans.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

American Exceptionalism

Watch this video because I will not be repeating what the news anchor says to his audience.  If you don’t watch it, you will miss some of the context for what I have written.  Go ahead; it is an entertaining and dramatic eight minutes.

+++++++++++++


America is not the greatest country in the world.

But she used to be, in the same ways in which she is no longer.

And she can be again.

But if you are convinced that America is still the greatest country in the world, then we have nothing to do to keep her there but to keep on doing what we have been doing.  If that is OK with you, then you are part of the reason why we are not the greatest country in the world any more.  Because we don’t have to exert any effort to be Number One, we just ARE Number One.  And that’s crap.

So, saying we are NOT the greatest country in the world is not an unpatriotic sentiment; it is the necessary precondition for us all to get moving and do what we need to do.  My blog, my book, all that I have to say to you is about that: what you and I have to do to restore this country to its once and future greatness, lest we surrender this century to the Chinese (and I have nothing against the Chinese; but I am an American and I want the best for US first).

Before you go away totally pissed at me, …

We ARE still exceptional!  But we have lost our edge.  We are not as exceptional as we once were; our only real competition for the honor is ourselves, in the past.

There is no country in the world where you and I can say any damn thing we want to without fear of fine or imprisonment.

There is no country in the world where a single person of humble origins can make such a huge difference, in his country and in the world.

There is no country in the world where I had rather been born.

But be careful, because even these truths are slipping away.

Addendum: Wednesday, 10/21/2015
An update by the Washington Posts's economist Robert J. Samuelson.

We’re Broke

You’ve heard this before.  “We’re broke.”  You’ve heard it many, many times.  You’ve heard it so many times that you probably believe it, because in many ways it seems true.

But it is not true.

First, some context.  When a politician says “we’re broke,” he is always arguing to cut government spending and/or arguing against tax increases or for tax cuts, usually for the wealthy.  If “we’re broke,” we surely cannot get blood from the stone of people’s incomes.

Admittedly, there are ways in which we are broke.  The number of American households living in poverty keeps increasing, the number of households on food stamps, on unemployment insurance, beyond unemployment insurance – all keep increasing.  The number of people working two or more jobs, working part-time when they’d rather work full-time, keeps increasing.  The number of people working for less pay than last year or even five years ago keeps increasing.  When we look at the economy this way – for many if not most Americans – we are indeed broke.

But look at the stockmarket.    No matter what time frame you look at, investors don’t think we are broke.  CEO’s and Hedge Fund managers have never done better; they don’t think we are broke.  The numbers of American billionaires and millionaires keeps increasing (if you can find better sources, please let me know), and they don’t think we are broke.  Not only is the top 1% doing better than ever before taxes, their tax rates are at historically low levels.  The money that no longer finds its way into your pockets and mine has not disappeared; it is flying into the already full-to-overflowing pockets of the rich and (not-so) famous.

Warren Buffett has said: “When a country needs more income, they should get it from the people that have it.”  If Buffett, a supremely rich man, thinks that he and his moneyed class should pay much more in taxes than they do, why would you argue with him?

You and I may be broke, but the country is not broke, and all our money is just going to fewer and fewer pockets; and those who are doing more than OK should be footing more of the bill.  As they used to.  Without complaining about it.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Redistribution of Wealth

Every penny, every cent, every sou, every shilling, every yen that is ever taken by taxation at any time in history and anywhere in the world is a “redistribution of wealth.”  NEVER is a single penny taken in tax NOT a redistribution of wealth.  Whether it is taken in the form of a sales tax, an income tax, a property tax, an excise tax or a luxury tax, every cent that gets taken by government will be “redistributed.”  To government workers who handle the collection and distribution of tax monies, to other government workers, to construction teams, to doctors and hospitals, to teachers, to police and fire-fighters, to sanitation workers, to mass transit workers, and, yes, to thieves.  You may indeed be a beneficiary of your own tax dollars, but that benefit will rarely be the same as what you paid in taxes.

Republicans use this phrase when they want to undermine Democrats' attempts to raise taxes on the wealthy, and redistribute tax monies DOWN, from the wealthy to the middle-class and the poor.  Rarely if ever do Democrats charge Republicans with the same crime when they want a tax cut for their wealthy donors, even though it is equally true, as it redistributes tax monies UP, from your pay-check to the brokerage accounts of the wealthy.

The main questions we should ask about our tax bills are: “what programs and what people will benefit from my taxes?” and “are others more fortunate than me paying their fair share?”   Taxes are always a redistribution of wealth.  The only crime is when they are redistributed UP (as they were in the story of Robin Hood, where the poor had to pay taxes to benefit the king and the nobility).

Obamacare: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I do not like Obamacare AKA the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

But before getting to the particular points of this blog post, let me say that if you think that Obamacare is 100% perfect, or if you think it is 100% evil, in both these cases you are displaying an impatience with thoughtfulness and detail.

So, let me now beg your patience for a while.

First, Obamacare is not so awful that, if it were totally repealed, it would not have to be replaced by something better, because it IS better than what we have had for the past 35 years.  And here is why:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mankiw on Economic Inequality: Part II


Argument 1 – The title “Yes, the Wealthy Can Be Deserving” is disarmingly inoffensive.

Reply 1 – Is there a person alive who does not agree that “the wealthy can be deserving,” the logical equivalent of which is “some of the wealthy are deserving”?  The title is deceptive as no one wants to debate it, and surely no argument is necessary to defend it.  Surely Professor Mankiw means to argue more than his title suggests; and that is what I will answer.

Argument 2 – “Robert Downey Jr. was paid $50 million for his work on The Avengers.  Do you think that is unfair?”  Most of you will say no, it was not unfair.  After all, many of you chose to see the movie BECAUSE of Downey’s participation (and are more than happy to contribute a piddling $0.25 to Downey’s fortune out of the $8.00 you paid to see the movie).

Reply 2 – For starters, a $50 million payoff for one movie is hardly typical, of Downey or of Hollywood.  But what if there was a follow-up question.  What if Professor Mankiw had asked, “but do you think that Downey should pay a higher tax rate on this fortune than you (the reader) pay on what you earn?”  What if Professor Mankiw had asked, “do you (the reader) think that the producer – whose name you do not even know and who will take home more than Downey – should be paid what he will take home?  And do you think that he should pay a higher tax rate on HIS earnings?”  Maybe the answers to these questions will be different.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mankiw on Economic Inequality: Part I

N. Gregory Mankiw, professor of Economics at Harvard, and author of THE Economics 101 college textbook, wrote a piece for The New York Times published on February 15th, 2014, called “Yes, the Wealthy Can Be Deserving.”  What follows is my open reply to his article, which you should read (click on the title link) before reading my reply.

But what became clear writing this reply is that there is such fundamental confusion regarding the issue of economic inequality that I must deal with the confusion – first.

One: There are those who would frame the debate as “Economic Inequality vs. Economic Equality: which is preferable.”  This is deliberately deceptive, as there is no one whom I have ever encountered who urges economic equality – perfect equality, Utopian Socialism, or even garden variety socialism – as the remedy to the problem of economic inequality.  If you can show me anyone in the Inequality debate who preaches this kind of economic equality – what Paul Ryan calls equality of outcomes – show me, and I will apologize publicly and alter my position accordingly.

Two: Congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, likes to frame the debate as “equality of outcome vs. equality of opportunity.”  This would be a very compelling argument if he could point to any Republican efforts in the past several decades to promote equality of opportunity among Americans who clearly NEVER have had any such thing.  Once again, if you believe that I am mistaken, show me, and I will apologize publicly and alter my position accordingly.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The National Debt

This is the first of many blogs on this subject.  And the reason I know I will post on the subject again is the widespread misunderstanding of what should be easy stuff.

The National Debt is the sum of all annual Deficits minus the sum of all annual Surpluses plus Interest on the Balance.   Debt = Deficits – Surpluses + Interest.

What the Interest part should tell us – now that the Debt is at $17 Trillion – is that we should work to CUT the Debt, as Interest payments are beyond starting to get serious.  Even at only 1% interest, the annual cost of Interest on the Debt is $170 Billion.  When interest rates begin to creep up – as they surely must – the Interest hit will become $300 Billion or $500 Billion or $700 Billion, every year.  The current low figure – $170 Billion – costs every man, woman and child $535 / year in taxes, or a family of four $2140.  Not chump change, for the nation's credit card interest.

But here is the meat of this brief post: the Deficit part of the equation is NOT equal to government spending.  The Deficit is spending that is not paid for; that is – government spending less tax collections.  In the same way, your credit card "deficit" for the month is not what you BOUGHT this month; it is what you bought that you don't want to pay for.

Those who refuse to raise taxes are not serious about the National Debt.  You can’t curse the Debt and demand lower taxes in the same brain.  If this is not clear I have failed to make a very easy point.  The National Debt is a) government spending b) that we refuse to pay for.

OK, so why does this happen to us?  Because while we all like to buy stuff and pay for it with plastic, no one likes to pay his credit card bill every month.  It’s easy to spend, but it’s way less easy to pay for what we bought.  Similarly, no one likes to pay taxes.  And no one ever got elected on a platform of raising your taxes, even if it was necessary to pay for what you already bought.

Paying down the National Debt requires surpluses, and surpluses are the result of government taking in more money in taxes than it spends on government programs.  That sound OK with you?  The government taxing more than it needs this year?  No?  Well, then, stop bitching about the Debt, because you don't really give a shit.

If this puzzles you, please re-read, as I have done the best I know how to try to explain it.  The National Debt is to a great degree the inevitable result of having a democracy and liking to buy stuff and not liking to pay for it.