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!