Monday, February 28, 2011

Patriotism 2011

Anthony Maschek, an Iraq war veteran and former US Army staff sergeant, is also a freshman econ major at Columbia. He was hospitalized two years while recovering from 11 combat gunshot wounds.

Recently, Maschek spoke at a student meeting to support returning reserve officer training to Columbia after a 40-plus-year absence. New York Post columnist Bob McManus called the student response to Maschek’s remarks “disgraceful.” After Maschek said, "It doesn't matter how you feel about the war. It doesn't matter how you feel about fighting. There are bad men out there plotting to kill you," he was greeted with laughter, catcalls, and retorts about gay rights, economic justice, and America's overseas aggression.

The exchange prompted McManus to write:
the academy . . . hates the military and has for more than a generation. [It] institutionally began to sour on the military back when so many of its then-rising young stars were exploiting student deferments to dodge service in Vietnam. Their arguments were not dissimilar to what Maschek heard last week -- they weren't behaving badly, America was -- but deep in their souls many understood that better young men than they were dying in their stead half a world away, and that the only way personal peace could be found was in demonizing the military.
Don’t know McManus, but he’s hit the nail on the head. Vietnam was “the bad war,” in sharp contrast to the “Greatest Generation’s” World War II-- “the good war.” In a nutshell, World War II, heroes, Gold Star mothers, John F. Kennedy. Vietnam, cowards, anti-war parents, Bill Clinton. Because the elite did not want its sons turned into cannon fodder for a pointless cause, it turned on the patriotic America that still believed in duty and sacrifice. America hasn’t been the same since.

Listen to Peter Kirsanow, writing in the National Review:
elite classes . . . see little special about America: Senators take to the floor of the Senate to compare American soldiers to Nazis; a president bows to despots, apologizes for America, and remains agnostic about its exceptionalism; schoolbooks are scrubbed of the extraordinary sacrifices, accomplishments, heroism, and generosity of Americans, concentrating instead on the myriad failures and depredations — real and imagined — of this purportedly rapacious republic; Hollywood broadcasts to the world a picture of degenerate America and Americans, reinforcing the vilest propaganda and conspiracy theories of our enemies;

disparate schools and town councils order the removal of the American flag, lest it offend those convinced it represents little more than racist imperialism; our elite universities bar ROTC and military recruiters from campus, apparently oblivious to (or contemptuous of) the fact that the freedom to act childishly was bought at a steep price by those evil soldiers; politicians ignore the integrity of our borders as if American security and sovereignty are less important than an approving nod from the editorial board of the New York Times; elected officials in the enlightened regions of San Francisco refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

[All this] promotes division rather than encouraging unity.
And listen to James Piereson, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism, which qualifies him to write these thoughts:
the 1960s, in particular the assassination of President Kennedy, the urban riots, and the war in Vietnam, produced a psychological change among liberals and leftists toward American society and traditional ideals of reform and progress. [Previously], liberals viewed reform as an instrument of progress through which the ideals of liberty and justice might be more perfectly realized. But in response to these shattering events, liberals began to recast their idea of reform from an instrument of progress to one of punishment.

When liberals looked about, they did not see progress but rather blighted cities and ghettoes, a despoiled environment, discrimination against women and minorities, and a national government that coddled dictators in the name of anti-communism. The idea developed in their minds that instead of self-congratulation the nation deserved punishment and chastisement for its manifold failures to live up to its ideals. In this way reform liberalism gave way to "punitive liberalism" and . . . policies that [punished] the middle class for winning success at the expense of higher ideals[--]school busing, race and gender preferences, the coddling of criminals who were "victims of society," and a legal culture [believing] that every wrong can be remedied by a lawsuit. . .

a popular philosophy [under FDR through JFK thus became] a "vanguard" movement today with great support among experts, academics, journalists, and government workers but with far less support among voters whom these elites purport to serve and who increasingly must pay for the programs they propose. Liberalism has always relied upon its "vanguard" classes to supply it with new problems to solve and new programs for doing so. . . . What is different today is the extent to which . . . environmentalism, feminism, homosexual marriage, high taxes, and income redistribution are dissociated from the practical aspirations of the middle classes. The liberal vanguard once claimed to speak for the middle classes but most of the time no longer even pretends to do so.

liberalism exchanged its broad support among the middle classes for the security and political leverage it found in . . . influence over leading colleges and universities, major newspapers and broadcast outlets, public sector spokesmen, and public employee unions, which in combination can shape . . . the national political debate in the space between elections. . . [having] retreated into impregnable redoubts encircling the state from which positions it fights a defensive struggle against voter sentiment increasingly skeptical of its programs of high taxes and public spending.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Democrats’ White Collar Base

It’s why we increasingly hear about Republicans’ assault on the “middle class,” not the “working class.”

“Democrats rely on unions to help turn out the minority vote. Labor remains Democrats' only institutional bridge into the white middle and working class, men in particular. But [t]he shift in labor's membership from the private to the public sector also shifted it from majority blue collar to majority white collar. Between 1983 and 2010, the share of union members who worked in white-collar jobs, as defined by BLS, increased from 38% to 54%. The most likely member of a union is no longer a factory worker but a schoolteacher. . . Teachers alone constitute nearly a third of public sector union jobs.”

-- David Paul Kuhn, “RealClearPolitics” 2.27.11

Government Unions v. Taxpayers

Quote without comment:

"The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don't generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money. When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers."

--James Sherk, Heritage Foundation

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Teachers' Unions Becoming Unpopular

Quote without Comment:

"the union’s leadership seems not to have considered. . . that public sentiment around budgets and public employees has shifted in a fundamental way. . . over the last 10 years or so, most American workers have come to expect less by way of benefits and security from their employers. And with political consensus building toward some kind of public-school reform, teachers’ unions in particular have lost credibility with the public. 46% percent of voters in a poll conducted by Stanford and the Associated Press last September said teachers’ unions deserved either 'a great deal' or 'a lot' of blame for the problems of public schools."

--Matt Bai, New York Times Magazine, 2.27.11

Friday, February 25, 2011

Re: Revolution or Counterrevolution?

Bill Schneider or Charles Krauthammer?

Krauthammer today comes down on my side, maintaining that Republican actions are revolutionary:
At the federal level, President Obama's budget makes clear that Democrats are determined to do nothing about the debt crisis, while House Republicans have announced . . . their April budget will actually propose real entitlement reform.

Simultaneously, in Wisconsin and other states, Republican governors are taking on unsustainable, fiscally ruinous pension and health-care obligations, while Democrats are full-throated in support of the public-employee unions crying, "Hell, no."

A choice, not an echo: Democrats desperately defending the status quo; Republicans charging the barricades. [emphasis added]

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Revolution or Counterrevolution?

the opinion-forming class is in love with words: to adapt WH Auden, it

worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives.

--Janet Daley, Telegraph (U.K.)

Here’s the best definition of “revolution” I found:

rev·o·lu·tion--activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation.

And for “counterrevolution”:

coun·ter·rev·o·lu·tion--a movement to counteract revolutionary trends.

Bill Schneider, the former CNN political analyst and interpreter of polls, writing in “Politico” described House GOP budget-cutting last week in these loaded terms:
The House Republican majority acted out a revenge fantasy against President Barack Obama and the Democrats in retaliation for what they see as the left-wing ideological aggression of the last two years. They are the counter- revolution [against t]he Democrats['] liberal revolution. [emphasis added]
OK. Never mind the words “out a revenge fantasy,” which form a prejudicial phrase Schneider could have dropped without losing anything but emotion. My interest is in Schneider’s references to “revolution” and “counterrevolution.”

My last two posts use “revolution” to describe what the Republicans are attempting in Washington and the states: overturning the “good government” domination of our economy that has prevailed since New Deal times—for eight long decades. Any effort in 2011 to call Democrat-led Big Government status quo a “revolution” strikes me as odd.

Schneider’s column, however, does just that. I suspect certain words are important to Schneider and his friends. Two nights ago on the “Daily Show,” Jon Stewart mocked Wisconsin union demonstrators’ efforts to compare themselves to Egyptian revolutionaries. Folks trying to hold onto privileges threatened by a recent state election just aren’t Cairo protesters risking their lives to topple a dictator, Stewart said.

But Schneider apparently wants to hold the word “revolution” for the left. He wants the word, even though it’s only been a decade since liberals, squeamish about having Democrats identified as the party of “red states,” gave away the color of revolution to Republicans and grabbed blue for themselves.

No, calling Democrats “counterrevolutionary” just won’t do; not at all, not with Madison protesters coming across as quite privileged in a high unemployment economy. So Schneider attempts to argue that Obamacare, the accompanying huge increase in government spending and debt, and the expanded federal regulation of business and Wall Street we’ve seen in the last two years isn’t what we thought it was—the culmination of Democrats’ 80-year effort to complete the New Deal. No, instead, it’s a new revolution, and the Republican effort to overturn 80 years of growing government domination of our economy is really a counterrevolution to get us back to 2008.

Maybe words become important when you no longer control the underlying actions. In any case, it’s actions that will determine whether the current Republican (counter)revolution succeeds or fails.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Revolution Begins: Budget-cutter Paul Ryan (R-WI)

"The growing profile of the [debt] issue has given Republicans an opportunity to cast President Obama as a weak leader, unwilling or unable to confront the tough issues."

--Jeff Zeleny, New York Times

And Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan is the GOP figure most likely to take the budget-cutting leadership role from the president. I said on Tuesday that “in a headline-grabbing statement,” House budget chair Ryan had promised Republicans will offer entitlement cuts. I was wrong; the statement didn’t make headlines. Nevertheless, Ryan is emerging as the nation's budget leader partly because he’s willing to take on entitlement sacred cows, including Medicare.

Ryan recently told the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot:
The [White House] fiscal strategy is to hang on to all the government we've grown, and [hope] rhetoric will get us through the moment. . . keep the gains of the last two years in place—the bump up in discretionary spending, the creation of [the health care] entitlements—to lock in their gains, bank their wins, and then hang on through the rest of this year. And they believe they have the flourishing rhetorical skills to navigate the politics in the meantime.

we're the growth party. . . do we reform government, reform our entitlement programs, get these programs that were written in the 20th century to work in the 21st century, and have pro-growth policies to help our businesses that make us internationally competitive? That's growth. What austerity is, what pain is, is doing nothing, staying on the path we're on. And then having our own debt crisis and having our own European kind of fix where you're cutting everything and raising taxes.
According to Gigot,
Ryan figures the 2012 contest could turn into a "realignment election," in which voters declare which party's vision they prefer and give that party control of the entire government. [Ryan] thinks his party needs to offer such a choice because if Obama wins a second term, his health-care reform won't be repealed and will set the U.S. on Europe's path of excessive debt and shrunken destiny, perhaps irretrievably.
The “New Deal” has become America’s “Old Order.” And the “old order” is at its crisis point, fighting with all it has to hold onto the America of “good government,” of New Deal, Fair Deal, New Frontier, Great Society, the America of Obama, of the largest peacetime deficit ever, of overwhelming, historic debt, and of the new underfunded entitlement—Obamacare.

The revolution against this “old order” is underway. We cannot yet know whether it will succeed or fail.

Revolution Begins: Madison WI

The elite cannot rule alone. To hold power, a large share of the masses must acquiesce to the elite's authority. In America, Democrats have held the high ground since siding with the working class in the Depression (1929-40), and making government America’s positive agent of change. But Democrats’ inability to fix the economy in 2009-10, when the party held all the levers of power, broke the “good government” shield that protected America’s elite from popular disaffection.

Now government stands naked, exposed to the public as out for itself, exploiting the taxpaying population, and unable to better voters’ lives in return. Nowhere is this changed reality more starkly on display than in Madison, Wisconsin, where government workers call in “sick” to their workplaces so that they can demonstrate around the state capitol in a desperate effort to hang on to their privileged status, as they battle a duly-elected Republican government.

The nation is fixed on Madison’s struggle, and will be changed by the outcome:

“There is a growing sense that public-sector unions are not battling for better, safer workplaces. They're not battling unscrupulous employers. They're battling ... the common good.”

--Editorial, Chicago Tribune

“It is a crucial moment for the country and the Democratic Party. Will the latter align itself against the former? Is the co-dependency between organized labor and the Democratic Party to be the demise of both?”

--Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

“We are witnessing the logical conclusion of the Democratic Party's philosophy, and it is this: Your tax dollars exist to make public sector unions happy. When we run out of other people's money to pay for those contracts and promises (most of which are negotiated outside of public view, often between union officials and the politicians that union officials helped elect), then we just need to raise taxes to cover a shortfall that is obviously Wall Street's fault.”

--Matt Welch, Reason

“public sector unions and government employees are the last great citadel of the Blue Model and what we see in Madison is a way of life fighting for survival in the last ditch. We should not be surprised that the battle is fierce, the tactics ruthless, the polarization intense. . .

“to reduce the costs of doing business in this country and make both capital and labor more attractive[, reduce] the ‘friction’ in our system. That means dramatically restructuring government, the legal system and the educational and health care systems.

“The culture of bureaucratic legalism will have to disappear. . . the only way forward for the United States is to unleash the full transformational power of information technology in the knowledge and service industries even if this entails (as it surely will) the destruction of the current institutional, bureaucratic and guild-based systems on which we currently rely.”

--Walter Russell Mead, The American Interest

“At bottom, this is the unions versus the people. . . With state budgets in crisis and the Democratic machinery already in all-out campaign mode, war has already been declared -- and if the unions win, the people lose.”

--Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chris Christie on the Radar

"Leadership today in America has to be about doing the big things and being courageous."

--Gov. Chris Christie, 2.16.11

Chris Christie came to Washington today, spoke to a packed audience at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and left people wondering why he wouldn’t run for president next year. The first question he got following his speech was about running, and he responded:
Well, that took a long time, didn't it? I threatened to commit suicide, I did. I said, “What do I have to do short of suicide to convince people I'm not running?” Apparently I have to actually commit suicide to convince people I'm not running.
According to reporter Scott Conroy, Christie added there was an opportunity to mount a successful presidential campaign, but opportunity alone was not a good enough reason to run, he simply was not up for it, and he had made a commitment to his New Jersey constituents. "My wife would kill me," he added.

First-string Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza, who was also at the event, said Christie’s speech “had all the traditional markers of someone eyeing national office.” Cillizza believes “there is a slot for an tea party economic conservative in the [GOP] field” and “Christie is the most obvious person” to “fill that spot.”

I have argued that Christie’s “the man,” and also that he has months before he must commit to running.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Obama’s failed budget. . .

and what to do about it.

Calling Obama’s budget “disastrous,” the Atlantic’s Megan McArdle writes:
it's time to panic. This deficit is $700 billion higher than the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] projected in August 2009, of which $500 billion is lower tax revenues, and $200 billion is new spending. It's also $500 billion less revenue and $100 billion more spending than the CBO was expecting as late as August of last year, thanks to the extension of the Bush tax cuts. For all that I keep hearing about deficit reduction and PAYGO rules, somehow those "fiscally responsible" Democrats have given us the largest peacetime deficit in history, one that keeps growing beyond all expectations. . . Unless politicians get serious about deficit reduction right now. . . they're going to tax-cut-and-spend us straight into the poorhouse.
The National Review’s Yuval Levin describes Obama’s budget as “a political calculation that voters do not want to face the coming debt crisis, and so it would be bad politics to force them to do so.” But whatever the politics, Levin believes the substantive result is:
a willful blindness that makes for a budget . . . completely detached from reality. No entitlement reform, no tax reform, no significant spending reform, indeed no meaningful change of direction of any sort — the budget does nothing to lessen the burdens with which we now stand to saddle the rising generation, and which will stifle growth and prosperity along the way. . . The president appears to have decided to spend the next two years pretending there is no problem to solve, and therefore that Republican proposals to rein in spending are just mean-spirited cuts offered up for kicks. This is, above all, an appalling failure of leadership.
Levin believes its now “up to Republicans” to propose “a gradual course correction” on the budget, and explain to voters “why it is sensible, responsible, and essential.”

Levin’s advice to Republicans is cautious. Naturally, the party is tired of being burned by the interest groups and voters hurt by “mean spirited” GOP budget cuts.

But George Will, in a recent column on GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, indirectly pointed out how Republicans can capture the high ground on debt reduction: make freedom from debt a moral issue. Will praised Santorum, who was defeated in his 2006 senate re-election bid and saw his career seemingly ended, for building his presidential campaign around quasi-religious truths:
Santorum does not ignore economic issues, but as a relentless ethicist, he recasts those as moral issues: "What is European socialism but modern-day monarchy that 'takes care' of the people?" He is, of course, correct that America's debt crisis is, at bottom, symptomatic of a failure of self-control, a fundamental moral failing.
Perhaps this is a key to turning around the country on the debt question—make debt about failed self-control. It’s a virtue families meeting around their kitchen tables well understand.

It would also help to clear away fog surrounding the question of entitlements, usually thought of as social security and Medicare. Entitlements can’t keep growing, for they are at the heart of our rising debt. Yet every Republican effort to touch social security and Medicare has cost the party dearly.
Dick Morris, the former Clinton advisor now a rabid Republican, has taught us that Obama’s deficit growth came from a rapid runup in discretionary, non-defense spending and in welfare entitlements like Medicaid and food stamps, not from social security and Medicare gains (see chart). Domestic spending increased by $200 billion in the two Obama years. And Medicaid, food stamps and other welfare entitlements jumped by $140 billion over the same period. That’s $340 billion a year Republicans could cut from the debt, without touching $1 of social security or Medicare!

Regarding entitlements, House budget chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), in a headline-grabbing statement, said today that if Obama won’t lead on entitlement reform, House Republicans will. Ryan promised that the budget he puts together in April will include entitlement cuts.

Perhaps Will and Morris have shown how Ryan can deliver on the promise of entitlement reform without killing Republican re-election chances—go after big domestic spending and welfare cuts, and do so using the moral imperative of reducing debt.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The West in Relative Decline

Arguing that “The West no longer is the mirror in which the rest of the world sees the future,” commentator Michael Wesley
writes in the Australian:
Politics and the markets seem increasingly at loggerheads in Western societies. It's like a bad marriage: government and business realise each needs the other to survive, but each increasingly regards the other with mistrust and contempt. Politics has overwhelmed policy. . . governments [seem unable] to design and implement big and necessary reforms. We saw it . . . last year [in Australia], in the US, Japan and Europe.
Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, in London’s Financial Times uses different evidence to make the same point :
Before [the Western financial] crisis Asian policymakers deferred towards their Western counterparts. . . The enormous blunders since committed by the US and Europe mean deference has been replaced by disquiet. . . Asia’s concern is that the world will soon come to grief if both the US and Europe fail to make fundamental readjustments. . . We . . . need altered attitudes that accept Asians as equals. . . What truly frightens many Asians is that Western leaders are still unwilling to tell their populations the hard truth – that the world has changed.
We know the world’s balance of power is undergoing a monumental shift. Just look at this chart:
And at this one:
The combination of capitalism and democracy this blog fervently advocates is at the heart of Western thought. Here’s hoping the two have become universal enough to carry on as Western supremacy declines.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Egypt Polls Show Shocking Results

Mark Mellman is a pollster for and a consultant to several prominent Democrats. He has dug up disturbing results from recent polls soliciting Egyptian opinion:

➢ A World Public Opinion (WPO) poll [found that] only 39% believe Egyptian democracy should be “based on universal principles of democracy that apply in all countries.” A 60% majority prefer that the country be governed by a “form of democracy that is unique for Islamic countries.”

➢ Two-thirds of Egyptians told Gallup they wanted Islamic law to be the only source of law, compared to 13% in blatantly theocratic Iran. Hence the strong support for strict Islamic standards and punishments among Egyptians. Pew found 54% supporting segregation of men and women in the workplace, 82% favoring stoning for adulterers and 84% backing the death penalty for Islamic apostates.

➢ 75% favor investing a body of “senior religious scholars” with “the power to overturn laws when it believes they are contrary to the Quran,” according to the WPO poll. Only 23% took the traditional democratic position that “if laws are passed by democratically elected officials, and consistent with the constitution, they should not be subject to veto by religious scholars.”

➢ 69% see the [extremist Muslim] Brotherhood as supportive of “democracy,” at least in the theocratic way the Brotherhood and most Egyptians define it. That’s[why] 64% of Egyptians held a positive view of the Muslim Brotherhood in the WPO poll.

Such poll results underlie the fears of observers like Charles Krauthammer, who wrote:
our paramount moral and strategic interest in Egypt is real democracy in which power does not devolve to those who believe in one man, one vote, one time. That would be Egypt's fate should the Muslim Brotherhood prevail. That was the fate of Gaza, now under the brutal thumb of Hamas, a Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

You Saw It Here First

David Brooks, on January 27, published his take on Obama’s State of the Union. He used an imagined dialog between “Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Burke,” both conservatives, to discuss the bad and good of Obama’s speech. Brooks had Hamilton saying, “The Republicans accuse him of being a socialist, but, the fact is, he’s Mr. Status Quo.”

“Mr. Status Quo.” The day before, I published a blog entry on the same Obama speech titled “Status Quo.”

Monday, February 07, 2011

Super Bowl Audience Gets Democrats’ Take on History

Yesterday’s Super Bowl opened (see video) with a filmed tribute that over the video's first half, tied America’s history to the game. Michael Douglas, a Democrat who portrayed an upstanding liberal president in Aaron Sorkin’s “The American President” (1995), narrated the intro. Sorkin later turned “The American President” into the Emmy-winning “West Wing” (1999-2006), starring Martin Sheen in the Michael Douglas role and featuring a Rahm Emanuel-like character (Emanuel from Clinton's White House later became Obama’s chief of staff). Sorkin raised money for Obama in 2008 and made at least one commercial for John Kerry in 2004.

Lori Keith Douglas, who produced the Douglas intro, has no apparent relationship to Michael Douglas, but worked with Douglas’ wife Catherine Zeta-Jones on “The Rebound” (2009). Lori Douglas was a producer of the anti-Iraq War HBO movie “Taking Chance” (2009), nominated for an Emmy and for a Golden Globe.

With such a liberal Democratic and Hollywood pedigree, it’s hardly surprising the intro’s “one-minute” history is decidedly Democratic. Excluding Democrat Douglas, whose words overlay the video, the 33 history clips include 6 of Kennedys, Roosevelt, and Obama, and 1 of Reagan. The 9/11 coverage shows rescue workers raising the flag, but nothing of Bush 43 and his bullhorn. In fact, there is no Bush 43 or Bush 41 anywhere, and no Iraq or Afghanistan or Kuwait or war on terror. But of course Katrina is present, Bush’s permanent albatross.

There are 6 clips of history associated with Roosevelt—depression and war—6 more clips associated with African Americans and civil rights (certainly appropriate given black domination of professional football), and 2 relating to women’s drive for equality. These two sets cover standard Democratic themes. The clip “Why?” with John Lennon’s picture seems anti-gun, a past liberal cause. Less partisan clips show immigrants arriving in New York, the Berlin Wall going down, the Challenger shuttle prior to blow-up (part of the “struggle” narrative—nothing of Reagan’s much-praised post-Challenger speech), and astronauts on the Moon.

Taken together, what does the intro say? To me, it tells us that under the leadership of mostly Democrats, we struggled to overcome depression, war, segregation, and male chauvinism. Now, narrator Douglas says, we have a “chance for one night to believe.”

Believe what?

My answer: believe that in spite of what “they” constantly do to disrupt our “dream,” America can return to the Roosevelt-initiated drive toward full equality, toward the day when wealth is more equitably distributed, when we have no poor and everyone is middle class. We come together for something bigger than a game. We come together to take care of each other, especially looking out for our poor and black (11 clips, counting Katrina, out of the non-presidential 26).

That’s my take. Judge for yourself. Hollywood does these visuals well.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith — one of the founders of modern economics — recognized clearly that a poor distribution of wealth could undermine the free market system, noting that: “The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful and … neglect persons of poor and mean condition…is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.” This was over 250 years ago. In today’s world, these problems are magnified under the lens of globalization.

--Dominique Strauss-Kahn,
Managing Director, International Monetary Fund

Smith isn’t around to defend himself, having died 220 years ago. Instead, Peter Foster of Canada’s Financial Post, on Smith’s behalf, takes on Strauss-Kahn. Never mind that the corrupt “rich” that Smith targeted weren’t entrepreneurs, but rather “aristocrats who lived off the backs of agricultural peasants.” Foster points out that the concept of government-engineered wealth redistribution
was utterly alien both to Smith’s political times and his own moral inclinations. Smith lived in an age of personal responsibility. . . The key to improvement was the universal desire to “better one’s condition” under a regime of secure property rights and minimal government. The division of labour, free trade, and the “natural order” of the market would do the rest.

most bizarre . . . is the suggestion that [Smith] might be more concerned about . . . inequality than the actual condition of the current “poor.” Smith . . . noted that even the poor people of his own day, thanks to the unacknowledged wonders of the Invisible Hand, lived better than had kings of previous times. That’s because they had access — via work — to coats, shoes, kitchen utensils and the odd sack of oatmeal.
Today’s “poor” make Strauss-Kahn’s hijacking of Smith’s poor even more bizarre:
of Americans officially designated as “poor,” 99% have electricity, running water, flush toilets and a refrigerator; 95% have a television, 88% a telephone, 71% a car and 70% air-conditioning. Cornelius Vanderbilt had none of these.
And globally,
in 2005, compared with 1955, the average human being . . . earned three times as much money (corrected for inflation), ate one-third more calories of food, buried one-third as many of her children and could expect to live one-third longer.… She was more likely to be literate and to have finished school. She was more likely to own a telephone, a flush toilet, a refrigerator and a bicycle.… It is, by any standard, an astonishing human achievement.
In the same vein, the Hoover Institution’s Thomas Sowell recently dug into one of the progressives favorite statistical sets, the one showing how much wealth the top 20% of American households possess, compared to the bottom 20%. Sowell brought out two points I’d never heard before:
in the top 20% of households there are 64 million people, in the bottom 20% there are 39 million people. So we are comparing apples and oranges from the beginning. If you talk in terms of people who work, there are more heads of households that work in the top 5% than there are in the bottom 20%. So how big of an injustice is it that people who work have more money than people who don’t work?
Strauss-Kahn, Europe, talk about equality of results. In the U.S., as with Adam Smith, it’s traditionally been about equality of opportunity. Here's hoping that’s the America in our future.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Where have all the men gone?

Replaced by government, everyone.

if government's growth is left unchecked . . . we will transform our social safety net into a hammock.

--Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), 1.26.11

The safety net has become a hammock.

--Gerry Garibaldi, City Journal, Winter 2010-11

Garibaldi, a teacher at an urban Connecticut high school, has a lot to say about single girls having babies:
In our society, perversely, we celebrate the unwed mother as a heroic figure, like a fireman or a police officer. . . In today’s urban high school, there is no shame or social ostracism when girls become pregnant. . . Connecticut is among the most generous of the states to out-of-wedlock mothers. Teenage girls . . . qualify for . . . medical coverage when they become pregnant . . . medical insurance for the family; child care; Section 8 housing subsidies; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; cash assistance. If you need to get to an appointment, state-sponsored dial-a-ride is available.
Yet, Garibaldi has found these statistics for single-parent children:
From the FBI: 63% of all suicides are individuals from single-parent households. From the Centers for Disease Control: 75% of adolescents in chemical-dependency hospitals come from single-parent households. From the Children’s Defense Fund: more than half of all youths incarcerated for criminal acts come from single-parent households.
And from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton’s ongoing work on “fragile families” (a project that in politically-correct terms, suggests there may still be a man around):

➢ Almost three-fourths of African American children and just over half of Hispanic children are born to unmarried parents, and whites are quickly catching up -- so much so that the proportion of white children born to unmarried parents today (29%) is actually higher than it was for blacks in the mid-1960's.

➢ Unmarried parents are more likely to have started parenting in their teens; are more likely to be poor; are more likely to suffer from depression; and are disproportionately African American or Hispanic. . . nearly 40% of fathers who have children outside of marriage have been incarcerated at some point in their lifetime. . . likely an undercount.

➢ most unmarried parents do not stay together. The[ir] children experience high levels of instability and complexity. Only 35% of unmarried couples are still living together five years after the birth of their child. . . single mothers . . . engage in harsher parenting practices and fewer literacy activities with their children than stably married mothers.

On teen pregnancy, we should note two important facts. First, teen pregnancy rates have been falling since 1991, except for an upsurge in 2006 and 2007, and are at their lowest levels in 70 years, with experts attributing the fall to increased use of contraception, pregnancy prevention messages, and use of “alternate intimacies.” Second, the U.S. teenage birthrate still leads the developed world, a major public health concern.

This blog earlier discussed the many problems facing black males.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Healthy Stock Market x3

Just two weeks ago, we reported the stock market moving into healthy territory for the first time in the FOX Index's 2.5 year history. The Index defines “healthy” as 15,800, a total formed from adding a Dow of 12,000, an S&P 500 of 1,300, and a NASDAQ of 2,500. Two weeks ago, a NASDAQ of 2,755, or 255 over its healthy minimum of 2,500, pushed the FOX Index’s three-number total to 15,835, +35 healthy, even though the Dow and S&P 500 still had not hit their healthy minimums.

Yesterday, the Dow passed its “healthy” total of 12,000. It did so for the first time since June 2008 (the FOX Index began in August 2008), closing at 12,040. The S&P 500 closed at 1,308, exceeding its healthy minimum of 1,300, and doing so for the first time since August 2008. The Dow and S&P closings are both important milestones. The NASDAQ finished at 2,751, bringing the FOX Index total to 16,099, or 299 above the FOX Index healthy minimum (see chart).

Analysts attributed the stock market’s strong showing yesterday to positive manufacturing industry reports, both at home and abroad.