The Modern Democratic Party, Adults Need Not Apply — Apparently

The left-wing blob and Democratic pundits and spokesmen have jumped on two recent issues which are closely related. Mr Paul in an interview according to the Democrat POV “wants” a hypothetical 40 y/old uninsured person needing long term medical care to die. Likewise Mr Bachmann is criticized for using unsubstantiated anecdotal claims in a discussion on goverment mandated immunizations.

One of the primary features of adulthood is that you make decisions and own the consequences, the fairy godmother (or your parents) is not going to be there to save your butt if you’re decision turns  out to be a bad mistake. The decision (in the case of the not getting insurance) might even be rational. You’re 40. You might be trying a new business venture and the decision to purchase for 8-12k/year medical insurance might be important for your cash flow. You reckon, from an actuarial standpoint, that there is a 1:100,000 chance of you needing that insurance per year. So you roll the dice figuring in 4 years or so you’ll either give up and be working for someone and getting insurance that way, or you’d strike success and be able to afford it. So you roll the dice and got snake eyes.

The Paul interviewer is offering a false choice. It isn’t “do you care or don’t you?” But instead, are you allowed to be an adult or aren’t you? He’s saying can you or can you not make that choice? Can you be an adult? Should an adult individual be allowed to make a choice which results in death? Can you ride a bike (with or without motor) without a helmet? Can you fly a plane you built and maintain yourself? Should hang gliding be allowed? Cliff diving? Scuba? Or (to borrow from the Bachmann example) can you decide for yourself or your children to not get vaccinated (ignore the irony that the a big bloc of vaccination avoiders are Southern Californian Democrats.

What I fail to grok is why Democrats are so firmly against adulthood. The cynical take is that the party in a large part is dependent for votes on a large somewhat non-adult dependent population. Keeping them in their non-adult dependency is required to keep those votes captive. That may be the motivation of the intelligentsia, but my intuition is that is not the motivation of those not entrenched in government. What I don’t understand is the motivation of the rest? Is it a TANSTAAFL fallacy? That the freedom to be an adult doesn’t restrict (for them) an choices that they would be likely to make so it doesn’t matter, so the rejection of adulthood is a free lunch in their view (ignoring that there is no free lunch). Is that it?  

Stupid Political Question

Would a serious Democrat primary challenge for President help or harm the incumbent?

Remember it would be a platform and forum in which the general election (non-primary) would be framed and the lack of that will mean now till late spring will be dominated by the GOP primary race for which there is no corresponding activity on the Democrat side.

On the other hand, he could lose.

Of Bachmann and Obama

From Best of the Web:

Both are “diversity” pioneers. Obama was the first serious black candidate for president. Bachmann, assuming she does not fade before the nominating contests begin, will be the first serious female candidate (putting aside the nepotist Hillary Clinton). That brings both of them a certain amount of deference from guilty white males. Yesterday Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday” opened an interview with Bachmann by offering a groveling apology for having asked her an unchivalrous question weeks ago.

Where the parallels get interesting, though, is in considering why her detractors regard Bachmann as “crazy.” Much of it comes down to religion. “Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts, and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians,” writes Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker. Lizza attributes to Bachmann “a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature.”

He does not mention that the man she seeks to challenge had a “spiritual mentor” who described AIDS as a racist U.S. government plot, said of 9/11 that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” published Hamas propaganda in the church newsletter, and thundered from the pulpit: “God damn America!” Obama’s mentor’s beliefs might have seemed normal in the faculty lounge or the offices of The New Yorker, but they were not commonly known to Christians, or even most secular Americans.

Comparisons between Bachmann and Obama while there are several, e.g., both were inexperienced on seeking office and both opposed raising the debt limit, are an odd comparison. This comparison is one that will likely be made primarily by Bachmann oponents, especially in the light of the poor showing by Mr Obama. It is however, a criticism limited to being made on the right as Obama supporters will be less likely to be enthusiastic in drawing parallels between Obama and Bachmann.

The 4th and Books

Well, for those of you can’t help but keep reading and reading and reading … some reading for the 4th.

  1. I haven’t but perused this, but Kass&Kass have a wonderful anthology on Marriage (Wing to Wing) and now they have a new one on what it means to be American. The same thing occurs with the marriage book, liberals are (often? typically?) allergic to reading books or anthologies collected by a someone who is thought conservative. And clearly this is a conservative tome, after all that’s why you have a Veteran’s day speech included by that arch-conservative John Kerry.
  2. One of my favorite US historians to read is David Hackett Fisher, two book by him should be on everyone’s shelf, Washington’s Crossing and Albion’s Seed.
  3. Mr Olson (no relation to my knowledge) points to Chesterton on Patriotism.
  4. A repeated theme over the years on patriotism on this blog is that for myself, I think the patriotic feelings we have for country are best described by the first chapters of the book of Ruth chapter 1.

A Question Regarding Ms Bachmann

I didn’t really follow the career and recent campaign of Ms Bachmann closely, it was not local and didn’t run across my radar. What I did garner was that the left, lumps her with Ms Palin, as a female unequipped and/or completely unsuited for public office. For a mild example, see this post. The left will claim that their outrage is not based on the fact that both are female, in the public eye, and do not (!) support abortion on demand. 

Both of these women had somewhat similar trajectories into politics. Both were mothers who got involved in their school board to right things they found wrong. In Ms Palin’s case, she found corruption and chasing the same (often against her own party) led to a seat in the governors mansion. Ms Bachmann, saw one of her children doing “coloring circles” in high school algebra and was outraged. More on her trajectory here, please read this and this … we’ll wait here. OK. You’re back? For both of these women, if they happened to be not against abortion, and were firmly on the left, then their narrative that brought them to the political stage would be championed as prime examples of how the best of mixing motherhood and public service. But … instead they are targets of outrage and venom from that same source. So ….

Here’s my question to the left, what’s your beef in particular with Ms Bachmann? Why is she seen by you as “completely unsuited” for office? 

Mr Wiener and Immaturity in High Offices

Those on the left, in the dozen or so instances which I came across, almost universally qualify their discussions of Mr Wiener’s recent passing out (exchanges of) PG-13 (and worse) photo’s of himself with a number of women. The qualification includes some sort of admission that “well, there’s nothing wrong with *that*). This is sort of a generic meme on the left. Whatever might be your fetish, it’s OK so long as its between consenting adults. How you know that the person with which you correspond over the Internet is anyone’s guess. However the premise itself is suspect.

Mr Wiener has been engaging in a electronic version of the guy in rubber galoshes in a raincoat whose fetish consists of exposing himself to women. If the public exposer used a defense that “he got consent” and “they women to whom he exposed himself told him they were of age” that doesn’t change the fact that this is nebishy behavior. And that is going to be the electoral poison that kills his career. Not there is a sexually tainted skeleton in his closet, but that his particular skeleton paints his character as one worthy of contempt.

Mr Clinton was a serial sexual offender, but his offense didn’t (apparently) paint him in the same corner as the raincoat wearing creep but as a powerful man with an out of control libido, both qualities that have tacit approval in some quarters. Commenter Boonton suggests that sexual hijinks in the future coming to light will have less and less impact. That may be, but those foibles and fetishes which come to light which paint you as immature at best or as weak or weird will not become more and more accepted.

It is not American puritan influence public sexual ethics that most obviously end Mr Wiener’s public career. It is the particulars and what picture they they, rightfully or not, paint of his character.

Obama and the “Is Really Smart Meme”

The discussion of whether or not Mr Obama is “smart” came up again in a conversation. I thought I’d lay out a few thoughts on that. Before I begin I want to emphasize that I don’t know whether or not he is smart or not. People say he is … and I think they have no real good way of knowing that. The reason I say I don’t know is that I don’t have the background or experience to judge whether or not largely because I really have no instincts or experience of lawyers who are or are not considered, in their field, smart. 

First of, let’s set some groundwork. When people are talking about Mr Obama being smart, what they are not talking about is that he is in the upper 50 percentile of intelligence in the US. Or at the very least that’s certainly not what I understand the term to mean. Some people who offer that Mr Obama is smart, point to academic credentials … attending Columbia, Harvard law, Harvard Law review chair and so on. Yet they also contend without torquing their brains with dissonance that Mr Bush (Yale, Harvard MBA, F-104 fighter pilot) is not. Now, I’ve attended the “Harvard of the Mid-West” (U of Chicago) and in my field there were fellow students who I felt at the time were not, well, very sharp. So mere attendance at a good school does not qualify one automatically as either smart or dumb. Regarding the Law review, I have no idea how one serves on that editorial board or chairs it … but it seems more akin to winning an election to class President than anything writing a brilliant paper or giving a talk like that noted in the next chapter. 

20+ years ago, when I was in graduate school I attended a lecture at the U of Chicago Maths department by Edward Witten. Mr Witten is considered, almost universally, in the Physics (and mathematical Physics community) to be if not the very brightest then on the very short list of the brightest theoretical Physicists alive today. Now, I as a grad student was blown away by his talk … but the interesting thing was that my reading of the reaction by the math department reaction was that they had just witnessed a historic lecture, of the category of Riemann’s famous habilitation (Doctoral defense) lecture in which geometry was completely re-written as a theory of manifolds. This is what I mean by “recognizing” smart. Now Mr Witten is a special (easy) case, for he is on the upper/outer boundary. But the point of this little recollection is to offer that in Maths, Physics, and (as I noted in our conversation) in computer programming I feel qualified to judge “smart.” Now a person who does not know any higher mathematics, when they see a paper or talk by Mr Witten really has no way of judging whether he is smart or just confidently talking nonsensical jargon. In the same manner, I feel no expertise to judge whether a lawyer “doing his thing” is smart or just confidently spouting jargon. But the point is, in the Physics or Maths community there is a sense of who the “smart” people are and people within the field can judge that from their scholarly work. I would expect that much the same is true in the Constitutional law. 

So, when someone opines that Mr Obama is “smart” what that means for me is not that he is in the 60th IQ percentile in the US or some such twaddle (for then the Mr Bush/Ms Palin is dumb argument fails as well),  but that he, who was trained as a Constitutional lawyer, is or was regarded as one of the best and brightest in that field. Was he. I don’t think  that’s the case. Do I think he is smart. I don’t know, but I suspect …. that he is not or that he is now and has always been contending in a field (Politics) where such assessments are really quite meaningless.

Freedom and Right vs Left

It is apparently a self-conceit of progressives/liberals that they are friendlier to notions of liberty than are conservatives. While Libertarians (who are concerned with matters of liberty) disagree with that, today in a comment this was offered:

Name a liberty or freedom other than “the freedom to not be taxed” or “the freedom to screw over others” and progressives support it. (Guns is the only possible exception, but I’d argue that progressives who oppose gun rights generally throw it into the “freedom to screw over others” category.)

Just this week, I was inquiring at my daughter’s middle school whether I could get her excused (for the year) from gym class. She spends 20+ hours a week outside of school training at gymnastics and doesn’t lack one bit for physical exercise. What she does lack is time for homework. I had a nice chat with the school principle who informed me that he would love to do that, but state laws prevent that. It seems that somebody decided that there is a problem with childhood obesity and to help with that they’ve put a stop-gap to anyway of getting dismissed from gym class. He told me that another parent of a gymnast has been trying for 2 years to find a loophole unsuccessfully. Just another example of progressive nanny-state legislation snip snip snipping your freedom away. 

From the wiki article on “nanny state”:

For example, politically conservative or libertarian groups in the United States (especially those that support the free market and capitalism) object to excessive state action to protect people from the consequences of their actions by restricting citizen options.

Liberals on the other hand have used the term to describe the state as being excessive in its protections of businesses and the business class —protections ostensibly made against the public good, and the good of consumers. This usage applies to the international context as well, where the “public good” is used to refer to people in general, and where the state is viewed as being excessive in its protection of native business over foreign (rival) businesses

[Emphasis mine]

I’d point out I have not ever seen the liberal usage noted above, however the point in question in the above is that liberals in fact (as viewed by non-liberals) continually push state actions which prevent people from the consequences of their own (voluntary) actions. This is a restriction of freedom which does not fit into the “not to be taxed” or “screw others” category. The sorts of actions which this includes are countless and continually pushed and have been pushed more and more over the years. Apparently progressives (like JA who offered the above comment orginally) are not even aware that these sorts of regulations and laws are a restriction on our freedom. 

If you ask a Libertarian about the differences between the right and left regarding liberty they (and bloggers Shannon Love at Chicago Boyz and Timothy Sandefur at Freespace) who are both self-professed libertarians assert that while conservatives fall short of liberals regarding freedom in two categories of liberty (sexual and procreative) in all the other matters the left either falls short  or is the same (e.g., religion) and in both of their estimation when these were weighed together all in all the right was either more favorable for liberty than the left. 

Taxes and Wealth Inequalities

I ran across an interesting observation in Fault Lines by Raghuram Rajan (a U of Chicago economist who has the distinction of being on of the economists who clearly and unequivocally warned of and predicted the recession well in advance of its occurance). Anyhow, I thought this quote fragment was insightful when viewing the distinct difference between left and right regarding income inequality, from the beginning of Chapter Nine:

Not all forms of income inequality are economically harmful. Higher wages serve to reward the very talented and the hardworking, identify the jobs in the economy that need the most skills, and signal to the young the benefits of investing in their own human capital. A forced equalization of wages that disregards the marginal contributions of different workers will deaden incentives and lead to a misallocation of resources and effort. 

However, when the only pathways to high wages are seen to be birth, influence, luck, or cheating, wage differentials may not act as a spur to effort. Why bother when effort is not the route to rewards? Ineed, as the political economists Alberto Alesina and George-Marios Angeletos argue, perception in a democracy as to how high wages or wealth are obtained can create self-reinforcing patterns. If society believes people earn high wages as a result of their training and hard work, it is less willing to tax high earners, thereby ensuring they have strong incentives to acquire skills and exert effort. If society believes people earn high wages because of connectedness, chance, or crookedness, then it will tax incomes more heavily, and since few of the honest will then bother to work hard, only those with influence, the lucky, or the cheats will flourish. 

The left and right in the US are distinguished in part by their willingness (or lack thereof) to tax high earners. The left like to pretend that the middle class right is “duped” into wanting to lower taxes on the wealthy because they are just stupid when in reality what is going on is that the middle class believes that the wealthy got that way in the main part due to their training and hard work. One might also observe that the left’s willingness to punish the wealthy will have its own negative social repercussions as noted above as well. 

Mr Rajan also points out that the willingness to tax high earners is higher than it was in the past and the above observation might be a clue to why that might be, that is our perception of who the wealthy consist as well as how they got that way is moving. This is unfortunate. 

 

Two Perceptions of Matters from the Other Side

The first ‘perception’ is an observation of the Democrat elites allergic response to the Tea Party populism. The Tea Party gatherings, according to cricket racers accounts (polls), are as much as 40% . Even If you believe that the cricket racer might be shifting the numbers due to partisan bias in method or reporting … consider that even if the numbers of 2/5ths for you are not credible, to report as such, they are likely greater than a quarter. So, what reason is it that the elite on the left both deny the presence of Democrats in this movement and at the same time show considerable hostility towards it and their primary message? It seems likely that a primary reason is about intellectual turf. The Democrat elite self identify as being the party representing the interests of the common man against the big corporate and wealthy business interests in government. Thus when the common man, which is ontologically that which a populous rising contains, arrays itself against the Democrat elite that is a betrayal. In their naive view, populism should be primarily within their ranks, it should be an internal driving constituent driving force within their party. Them commoners are getting uppity. And inasmuch as they align themselves with the “other” party (which they identify as representing those big corporate and the wealthy) then that’s just plain wrong. This is then a likely cause of the Democrat elite’s allergy to the Tea Party, for populism should be within and supportive of them and, of course, should never primarily seek common ground with the other side.

Which brings me to the other consideration, Mr Obama in a recent speech noted that regarding tax increases for the wealthy that this “wasn’t in his (personal) best interest.” This is only half-true and the part that is true is uncharitable in its implicit assumptions. And the only reason for pointing that out, is that in my view, it is a notion shared by many if not most Democrats. First, let’s get the accuracy of this assertion out of the way. It is indeed against Mr Obama’s interest with respect to taxes to raise the taxes on the wealthy as he is one of those. But as a professional politician, inasmuch as he believes raising taxes on the wealthy raises tax income, more money for the government kitty is in Mr Obama’s direct interest. His “business” is government and more tax income directly aids his professional interest.

As for the uncharitable aspect of this observation this is more important. Because it is shared by those who share that opinion. Mr Obama is willing to support a measure which is against his personal best interest because he feels that measure is in the countries best interest, but … (and here’s the sting in the tail) he is unwilling to grant that motivation to those who oppose him, e.g., the Tea Party. The Tea Party gatherings are a populous movement and as such have dozens (or more) motivations for bringing people aboard, but the overriding motivation is cutting government size and spending. There is a direct parallel between those Mr Obama’s  “I support tax increases for the wealthy which is against my personal (short term) interest because it is in the countries best interest” and the Tea Party person who says “I support cutting government spending which is against my personal (short term) interest because it is in the countries best interest.” Democrats ascribe the first magnanimous statement to themselves but are too uncharitable to consider the same magnanimity to the other side. Consider for yourself how often you’ve heard the argument used by Democrats that these folks are “voting against their own interests.” Yep, that’s right. For exactly the same reason y’all do it if you’d have the graciousness to ascribe the same good motives to the other side. 

Words and Mind: Tax Cuts as Costs for Government

Tax cuts are often discussed in terms of budget impact with phrases like “paying for a tax cut” or as “costing money.” 

In a book I read years ago by a Microsoft engineer about projects development the phrase “idiot bit” was used. The context for that is that when a persons “flips your idiot bit” and you realize they’ve done or said something idiotic the conclusion that that person is not too sharp is a “sticky” conclusion. They may do half-a-dozen things that are insightful and highly innovative … but once you’ve internally labeled that person as “stupid” it takes a lot to reverse that conclusion. Now, anthropologically speaking, this might be in part due to the peculiarities of how perceptions of intelligence is socially valued within the Microsoft (and software) sub-culture … and perhaps as well that this sort of “sticky conclusion” might be generalizable to other sub-cultures and “sticky” conclusions centering around the things they value. 

Usage of the terminology like “paying for tax cuts” and “tax cuts costing money” is a red-flag which, for myself at least, flips a similar “sticky bit.” From a somewhat abstract accounting point of view there is a sort of peculiar logic to that sort of terminology. But usage of that term betrays a level of abstraction and a point of view about taxation and government spending which forgets that taxation is inherently a violence against person or family. Taxation is a necessary evil of government. But to think of less taxes as a “cost” on government is a reversal of what should be the normative point of view, that government and its spending itself is a cost which is paid for by taxes. 

For small government proponents, statements about tax cut as cost “flips” a sticky bit. This means that it is hard to escape categorizing the speaker as a person willfully riding down the road to serfdom and at best a socialist or fascist. 

Some Semi-Random Thoughts

  • It occurred to me a while ago that having noticed that Afghanistan has large reserves of untapped natural resources … that one solution to the social problem there is to let loose the dogs of greed instead of the dogs of war. That is, instead of trying namby-pamby nation building we try some old fashioned colonial exploitation. That is to say, don’t nation build and plan to leave, hire them to help us tap them resources. And make a pretty penny in the process as well.
  • The Administration and the Democrats seems determined to ignore the jobs thing. They offer another “big” financial fix package (well in advance of the return of the commission enacted to figure out the causes returns). Then when they have trouble passing the bill, decide at the 11th hour to “ask business leaders” what impact they think the bill will have. Hmm, clearly the effect on business was not very firm in their vision when they were fussing in their basements putting the bill together. They’re putting together a cap/trade bill to battle the putative effects of carbon emissions. Have they considered the impact on jobs? They’ve decided to fight to stop deep water drilling. Jobs? Nah. From the ’90s recessions started taking longer and longer to recover employment rates. In the 2001 recession it took 23 months to recover after a relatively quick recover on other fronts. If that trend continues … the job thing? Well, it’s likely to be sticking in the 10s for some time.
  • In Fault Lines, Mr Rajan points out that there is a connection between the more impersonal crueler business environment in the US compared the EU where business fail not infrequently, but that innovation is far more prevalent. This he links to the comparative safety nets in the states vs the EU as well. The Democrats would prefer big fat soft safety nets … forgetting there is a price. You lose the pace of  innovation that has enabled so much of the modern world. TANSTAAFL. You think those safety nets are nice and cool? There’s a price. A price many would rather not pay. 
  • In the WSJ yesterday there was a short piece which as an aside highlighted Mr Obama’s part in the 2007 McCain bi-partisan immigration bill. Mr Obama publicly supported the bill, but was instrumental in inserting pieces into the bill which killed it. It may be argued that this is good politics. It is however, fundamentally dishonest. That core dishonesty is a repeating theme with him. 

 

The New Testament and Dialectical Methods

This last weekend our N.T. class delivered homilies based on New Testament passages. I’m drawing on parts of one of the other student’s homilies for what follows.

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:23-17)

and take quick read of of the story of Jesus encounter with St. Photina Equal to the Apostles (who is known to the Western traditions as the Samaritan woman at the well) The passage is from John 8,  ESV here

Here’s the point. Look at the structure of the conversation between Jesus and the priests and elders. The elders when asked a question by Jesus when and discussed this among themselves and considered what answer is right or true but instead what would be the implications of their possible answers. Truth was not the consideration, but instead the rhetorical imperatives of trying to win the debate. Contrast with the conversation from John 8. St. Photina does not consider the ramifactions of her conclusions regarding the outcome of the encounter but instead looks only to the correctness of the statements being made.
Consider that comparison in the light of dialectic in the public square and for that matter in your own life, e.g., yourself. 

Stupid Presidential Tricks

Seven men have been selected by the President to head a “drilling commission” to investigate and recommend for the future of off-shore drilling. This article piqued my interest. It makes two claims, that these individuals have little to no engineering (scientific?) expertise regarding offshore drilling and that they have a definite bias against drilling, i.e., that the fix is already in by loading it with politicians and environmental activists. Go ahead, skim the linked article. I’ll wait. …. now that you’re back, here’s what I can find on the web so far about these individuals. It might be also noted that the President called this a “bi-partisan” commission. We’ll see how that plays out.

The Two chairmen:

  • Mr William Reilly (wiki) — Not a scientist nor engineer, he has a BA in history and a Harvard law degree. Was the head of the EPA under Democratic administrations and President of the World Wildlife Fund. Mr Reilly is a Democrat.
  • Mr Bob Graham (wiki) — Not a scientist nor engineer, he has a political science degree from U of Florida and a LLB (bachelors of Law) from Harvard. Was governor of Florida for a term and unsuccessfully ran in in the 2004 primary Presidential bid. He is a lifelong Democrat.

Our five members announced last week.

  • Frances G. Beinecke (no wiki entry, mukety relationships) — Has an MA from Yale in “environmental studies” (and yes the scare quotes shows my bias as a physicist). Has been on the NRDC for 35 years. She is an anti-nuclear activist. He inherited much wealth from her family ties. I’m guessing Democrat as the profile does not indicate.
  • Donald Boesch (no wiki, here is his auto-bio) — His publication list, Mr Boesch is a Professor at U of Maryland heading their Center for Environmental Studies. Political affiliation is not given. Wanna guess, uhm, Democrat.
  • Terry Garcia (no wiki, auto-bio) — VP of National Geographic, Mr Garcia has a BA in international studies from American University and a law degree from George Washington U. Google shows him on a list of contributors to Mr Obama’s campaign, uhm, so a likely Democrat again.
  • Cherry A. Murray (wiki) — is the first person on the list with any (real) engineering credentials, alas not in mechanical engineering but instead in optical data storage.  No political affiliation given. Wanna bet? 
  • Frances Ulmer (wiki) — BA from U of Wisconsin (Madison) in … (wait for it) … economics and political science. She is a career politician as a (suprise!) Democrat.
Now those who say Mr Obama is not a bald-faced liar will recall that he called this a “bi-partisan” commission who will serve as our experts in deep water drilling and engineering. How much more bald-faced does one have to get to get the title? 
I had begun this enterprise willing to entertain the notion that the WSJ editorial piece was a little dishonest, painting its picture too strongly. Yet looking into what I can find, the opposite is true. If anything it was too balanced and shy to call a spade a spade.  Mr Obama’s commission is nothing but a complete farce. There is one person only on the commission who might have some real hard unimpeachable scientific background (Ms Murray). Furthermore, his claims this is bi-partisan is a utter and shameful distortion to call this highly partisan committee with at least three lifelong Democratic career politicians, no Republicans as bi-partisan. It is not even an expert field for there is not one person with a shred of mining or drilling background not tp speak of even some mechanical engineering. Only Ms Murray is likely to have have taken any math beyond calculus and the only one to have used any applied or pure maths in the last 2 decades.

Our Security Strategy ?!

My weekend homework for blogging. This post has piqued my interest and I think it will focus in on a number of points which are crucial. Of particular interest there is a 50+ page paper by the White House highlighting and stating to Congress our current National Security Strategy. The first link in the linked piece is to a downloadable document which of primary interest. In reading a statement like that one has to read it twice to avoid falling into the Satan’s Hermeneutic trap. One should read this first adopting and trying to fit in and understand within the context of the writer what points he is trying to make and his argument. In that reading when one encounters points which are troubling or incomplete … it an exercise for the reader to supply possible and likely solutions which perhaps were either overlooked or assumed. This is the part of reading which is only typically done by and between sympathetic parties. The second reading is adversarial and is aimed at finding and highlighting the essential flaws in the understanding or thesis of the writer. Many of these points are made already in the piece linked and are a key point in why this document might be interesting. Why?

  • One fundamental flaw pointed out is Mr Obama’s tendency to academic modes of practice. That is talking the correct talk, but lacking follow through and any serious commitment to the same.
  • Another flaw is Mr Obama’s (and his administration’s) lack of general expertise in executive positions. For example, in the linked piece note Mr Levy has noted an implicit (or even explicit) assumption of mercantilism as a working and useful economic model for today’s economy. Now it is highly likely that his economic team advising him on matters of national and international economic affairs wouldn’t make that sort of mistake. Apparently however, there is nobody who might easily catching those sorts of mistakes in the room when overall security strategies are being crafted. 
  • In Mr Obama’s numerous foreign addresses there seemed to be a number of flaws and defenders pointed out that an over-arching strategy was in play but never offered any suggestions what that strategy might be. Well, this document should give us that. Why for example, does is he so short with our allies. Why the verbal appeasement and praise for our putative enemies? This document should clear that up.

Anyhow, I’m not diving into flaws or other points yet. I haven’t read the paper … even once and I’m going to read it twice … and take notes. My discussion will follow at the tail end of the weekend.

Healthcare/Welfare and the Great Mistakes of the 20th Century

From F.A Hayek The Road to Serfdom Chapter 2:

To allay these suspicions and to harness to its cart the strongest of all political motives — the craving for freedom — socialism began increasingly to make use of the promise of a “new freedom.” The coming of socialism was to be the leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. It was to bring “economic freedom,” without which the political freedom already gained was “not worth having.” Only socialism was capable of effecting the consummation of the age-long struggle for freedom, in which the attainment of political freedom was but the first step.

The subtle change in meaning to which the word “freedom” was subjected in order that this argument should sound plausible is important. To the great apostles of political freedom the word had meant freedom from coercion, freedom from the arbitrary power of other men, release from the ties which left the individual no choice but obedience to the orders of a superior to whom he was attached. The new freedom promised, however, was to be the freedom from necessity, release from the compulsion of circumstances which inevitably limit the range of choice of all of us, although for some very much more than for others. Before man could be truly free, the “despotism of physical want” had to be broken, the “restraints of the economic system” relaxed.

Hmm. There is not just a little similarity with these arguments and the arguments posed for healthcare. Democrats argue that healthcare is not socialism. Pedantically speaking that may be correct. But that is, in part, just a technicality. There are parallels here.

Military and Budget

Recently, in the number of comment trails for which I am not quite managing to keep up, a point of disagreement arose between commenter JA and myself regarding the size of the military budget. For the purposes of the discussion below, I will concede right off that the assumptions I’m making about the opposite point of view is one which is understood by me as a stock (or not uncommon) liberal/progressive position on this matter and it may or may not coincide with JA’s particular views.

One of the current dogmas on the progressive/liberal left is that military spending is far too great. They will enjoin and welcome in today’s depressed economy any sort of broken window ala Bastiat, transposing ditches, repairing roads which don’t urgently or presently need repair, beautifying rarely used parks, or spending great sums on underused airports but if that money is spent on military resources, well now, that’s going far beyond the pale.

The current budget has four large parts which make up about 75% of the budget. These parts four parts are to a first order roughly equal. The other three parts along side the military expenditures are social security, payroll security, and healthcare. The opinions expressed here by myself regarding government/state involvement in actuarial activities and the need to be careful about keeping incentives in order are likely well known. Thus the salient objection that the military budget is too large in comparison to the other three large expenditures would normally be contested here with an eye to the point of view that the other three are not part of what a government should be engaged and therefore eliminated entirely. However, let’s set that aside and inspect for a moment the question of the size of the military budget and whether it is too large or too small. Continue reading →

So, I had this Idea

I’m going to form a union (if the “union exemption” for taxes on healthcare gets passed). Some features of my new union:

  1. The dues will amount to the price of your employer’s healthcare, which we will pay for on their behalf … but get that nice loophole thing.
  2. Management is welcome to join.
  3. We will not take up any wage/workplace or other similar issues.
  4. We will not collectively bargain with management, our truck is not with them, but with regulatory burdens.
  5. Will will take full advantage of government tax shelters and perks for unions. 
  6. We will dissolve immediately when it is no longer advantageous to exist.

Seems like these simple steps will set the course in motion. Whaddya think? We have Blue Dog dems, RINOs (DINOs?) why not tea party unions.

Are there other perks and benefits to unionising that I don’t know about? I’ve spent so many years despising unions that I hadn’t realized all those reprehensible government perks to buy votes can and should be subverted and used by the rest of us.

Ideology and the Constitution: Take 2

Commenter Boonton kindly and helpfully remarked that yesterday’s post was clear as mud. What follows is an attempt to clarify and expand on what I was trying to say.

In the book (Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More) that I was reading on the recent travels over break, I came across this passage (the first link is an Amazon book link, the second to a chapter provided on-line by the publisher … which you can likely also buy it from, but they won’t put any change in my tip-jar). :D 

One of the central contradictions of socialism is a version of what Claude Lefort called a general paradox within the ideology of modernity: the split between ideological enunciation (which reflects the theoretical ideals of the Enlightenment) and ideological rule (manifest in the practical concerns of the modern state’s political authority). The paradox, that we will call “Lefort’s paradox,” lies in the fact that ideological rule must be “abstracted from any question concerning its origins,” thus remaining outside of ideological enunciation and, as a result, rendering that enunciation deficient. In other words, to fulfill its political function of reproducing power, the ideological discourse must claim to represent an “objective truth” that exists outside of it; however, the external nature of this “objective truth” renders the ideological discourse inherently lacking in the means to describe it in total, which can ultimately undermine this discourse’s legitimacy and the power that it supports.

First, order of business then is to unpack this a little. The Lefort paradox is sort of a political analogue to Gödel’s incompleteness. It is (the author and presumably Mr Lefort) an observed quality common to ideological regimes. What it claims is that there is a operational split between “enunciation” and “rule”. The enunciation comprises the principles and philosophical grounding that forms the basis of the regime. For example, the Soviet regime was based on Marxist principles and dogmas. The rule then is then the implementation. The point is once a regime is established those involved in the regime can no longer actively question and modify the enunciation.  The ancillary point is that as a result of this paradox ideological regimes are fundamentally unstable. They are rigid because of this separation and unable to adapt in a changing world and circumstance. The book noted above makes a direct connection with the instability of the Soviet state with this paradox. It is a feature of ideologically based regimes.

Continue reading →

Ideology, a Paradox, and the US Constitution

In the book (Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More)I was reading on the recent travels over break, I came across this passage (the first link is an amazon book link, the second to a chapter provided on-line by the publisher … which you can likely also buy it from, but they won’t put any change in my tip-jar). 😀

One of the central contradictions of socialism is a version of what Claude Lefort called a general paradox within the ideology of modernity: the split between ideological enunciation (which reflects the theoretical ideals of the Enlightenment) and ideological rule (manifest in the practical concerns of the modern state’s political authority). The paradox, that we will call “Lefort’s paradox,” lies in the fact that ideological rule must be “abstracted from any question concerning its origins,” thus remaining outside of ideological enunciation and, as a result, rendering that enunciation deficient. In other words, to fulfill its political function of reproducing power, the ideological discourse must claim to represent an “objective truth” that exists outside of it; however, the external nature of this “objective truth” renders the ideological discourse inherently lacking in the means to describe it in total, which can ultimately undermine this discourse’s legitimacy and the power that it supports.

Now, there are intellectual currents that would claim the governing ideology of the Western democracies and specifically the US is market capitalism, which some shoehorn to fit the definition of a ideology. Yet, I think that the state set up by the founders is non-ideological … or at least it should be but very often isn’t.

The government as Constitutionally set up (and as well by the Declaration that preceded it) is, as I see it, non-ideological. It provides a framework within which ideologies can co-exist. The Constitution sets up regulations and restrictions on the federal government which are routinely ignored by Congress, the SCOTUS, and the President. But, the point is if they chose not to ignore the Constitution (for example all rights not enumerated in the Constitution are not available to the Federal government) then some states (or small municipalities if given that freedom) could in fact become socialist, technocratic, theocratic or whatever they chose.

Universal healthcare is an ideological construct. It makes ideological assumptions about choice and freedom and government responsibility which fit within a “ideological enunciation”. It’s implementation will be direct violence to the intent and content of the Constitution. The right for me to choose to have health insurance (or more specifically to not have the same) is not enumerated in the Constitution, therefore by the 10th amendment this is a right not permitted for Congress to abridge.

So, if you’re for universal healthcare and specfically the bill being pushed in Congress now … you should be ashamed of yourself, it’s an un-Constitutional travesty.

Considering the TSA and the Anti-Martyr Problem

Well, the TSA objective of making transportation safe is back on the front-burner. Now the TSA screening is a poor seive. It is a largely static target and is very costly, the largest cost of course is in the lost time that travellers endure in negotiating long security lines. Furthermore, it is likely that much of their efforts are counter-productive. For example, making box-cutters freely available and common on flights would make it harder, not easier, for a terrorist or terrorists to hijack a flight. The “rules” of engagement with those who would interfere with the operation and direction of airplane do not get time to negotiate or to “make demands” known like they might do in the 20th century. Once a person is identified as hostile (a prospective anti-martyr) that person is quickly neutralized by his fellow passengers. The age of passive passengers has past once the 9/11 event occurred.

However TSA has a purpose. It is visible and reactive. It can take the appearance of being the primary and front line defence in a strategy to identify and interdict prospective anti-martyrs. War and espionage (to which this anti-martyr interdiction campaign is related) is in part one of misdirection. To that end, the TSA screeners take a very public and obvious role. They (might) be the public and obvious strategy which is a counterfeit. If indeed the TSA plays such a role, we as the voting public will not know that for as soon as it is common and public knowledge that the TSA is a large noisy feint … then their will be an outcry to remove it and an alternate deception will be harder to enact. Continue reading →

Church and State: Exodus and the Modern Ideologies

Well, one benefit of excess time in airports and planes … is I’m getting some sleeping and a lot of reading done. I’ve finished the new uncensored In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and  The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century by Chantal Delsol. The latter of these books pointedly demonstrates that the political and moral philosophies which led to the great human tragedies of the 20th century have not been abandoned. The former highlights life in the maw of one of those tragedies, that being life the “first circle” in Stalin’s gulag hell. Ms Delsol writes (pg 165-6):

The equality of collectivism was a fetish, and now hman rights have been reinvented as a fetish. The twenty-first century wil have to destroy idolized images of the Good just as the ancient iconoclasts destroyed images of God — not that they stopped believing, but they rightly saw these descriptions of God as diminishments that threatened his transcendence. The idolaters in the book of Exodus (20:4-5) prefigure the modern ideologies in the sacralization of the immanent. The texts in the Old Testament on the prohibition of idols, and Kant’s writings on the human ignorance of the Good, stigmatize certain permanent temptations of human thinking, ones that returned in full force in the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century. We have yet to call them into question.

[…]

It is, however, difficult to see how the destruction of idols could be accomplished without openness toward the spiritual. The suppression of spiritual referents is precisely what conferred on secular referents their abusive status as absolutes. The return of spiritual referents alone would make possible the destruction of idols: idolatry cannot be avoided except through the recognition of transcendence.

It might be noted, that while Ms Delsol’s essay certainly indicates she is friendly to and appreciative of the Christian religious tradition, to my reading she does not present herself as a member of it. It is also interesting that I flagged this page to note … and with myself being an iconodule.

Nobel Nuttery

Mr Obama has won a Nobel Peace prize. One reaction, from the left reads:

Of course the Republicans are going to freak out. Our guy wins a Nobel Peace Prize after 9 months in office, primarily for tinkering with the worst excesses of the wars their guy started. That’s humiliating. Humiliated Republicans lash out, news at eleven.

Hmm. Lash out? With remarks like this?

We appreciate his effort for peace which he just initiates and we have to wait for the result.

Isn’t it a bit premature for him to get the prize? We are not sure how it will affect his mindset.

or this?

Does Obama deserve The Prize? Has he done anything to warrant it? Does giving it to so young a man, in the infancy of his Presidency, devalue all those who worked long and hard to earn it? Or does it not matter at all, because the Nobel is such a political prize anyway (as anybody who has read Irving Wallace’s The Prize will know), given to Yasser Arafat and Menachem Begin?

or this?

This may well turn out to be the watershed year in the decline of Nobel Prizes. What were the committee members eating or smoking?

President Obama may well deserve this award in years to come. But not at this time. He has just begun his strive and is yet to leave a mark on world peace.

Oh, wait. Those weren’t conservative wingnuts at all. That was a collection of South East Asian blog reactions. Try Egypt.

There is a point here. The “conservative” bloggers  and “Republicans” are “lashing” out in exactly the same way as, it seems, is the rest of the world with at best, a collective “huh, wtf?” And if you don’t find that sort of reaction reasonable and ordinary … I suggest you need to dial the tension down your partisan wig and let some blood flow return to your little grey cells.

Links+

Well, I’ve a little time tonight, having got my post out. So … a little links+remarks? See if I can’t stir the discussion pot a little.

  1. Jim Anderson wonders if stochastic methods are used for pitch selection. Which begs the question, how much are stochastic methods used in any strategy situations. In war, other sports involving strategy, and politics? It seems to me that if a primary objective is not being out-guessed by the opponent that explicitly relying on a random element to aid in strategic selection would be good.
    I frequently tell my kids that a coin toss is an excellent method of helping you make a decision if you cannot choose between two alternatives which to you seem equal. After you flip, if you don’t like the choice tells you of course … you should of course go with what you want to do and not be ruled by the coin. The coin in that case has demonstrated to you an unconscious preference. But if you’re OK with the coin … go with it. Your time agonizing over a decision is time not wasted any longer.
  2. A question asked, that Mr Obama should answer. He has a healthcare plan, but it’s secret. He has a plan to a nuclear free-world, but it’s secret. But that latter part needs to be outlined a little more explicitly especially as Iran is moving closer to a device of their own. Actually regarding his healthcare non-plan, he has posted of course on the White House site a thing which some call “a plan.” However it is not actually a plan. It is a list of criteria. Maths people talk of solutions for problems needing a demonstration of existence and uniqueness. For Mr Obama’s criteria there is a missing demonstration of existence (and uniqueness is not a requirement). His critics of course offer that existence is not possible given that particular set of criteria. Given that is a primary objection, the missing demonstration is problematic. The same holds true for his nuclear free plan. More here regarding nuclear Iran.
  3. Land reform. Land ownership and property rights are a vexing problem for much of the world. We in America forget that we went through not a little time of tribulation in the 19th century over land reform.
  4. As a father of two teenage (well, technically my youngest hits the big 13 in December) … I’m hoping this suggestion is wrong and furthermore is not a model which they will find need to follow. Fortunately Hollywood is not the source of all social narratives and examples. Actually seeing how often they get the narratives and a realistic description on film of the religious America wrong, it is likely that the situation may not be as dire as the it seems.
  5. Well, prison rape is indeed a problem. However, I’d offer that anyone who actually makes a claim to be Christian that hoping that rapists get raped in prison is not a problem, in that it isn’t for what we hope (for anyone). Hammurrabi is right out, no eye for an eye. We hope for only for repentance. 

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Lev Tolstoy and Mr Obama

One of the themes in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (of many) concerns the ability of great leaders to control the vicissitudes of fortune. In this manner, Napoleon is seen as not, as so many regarded him at the time, as a master of his fate and controller of his and many other’s destinies. But instead he was just the highest chip in the froth. That it was not his will that drove France to Empire and thereby pushing he and they willy nilly to disaster in the Russian snows (giving us Mr Minard’s completely amazing graph as well). Now Lev Tolstoy may have offered that a Higher Power determined the course of history. Alternatively in this modern era, one might instead propose that aggregate behaviour of the crowds might be the driving force.

Mr Obama is the head of our state. But he is likely less in control of events than we pretend. Now it is true that like, Mr Kerry, Mr Obama has been striving for the Presidency much of his adult life. While I find this personally distasteful ambition, I cannot project my personal animosity for the seeking for power on others. There may actually be admirable aspects to ambition even if they are a far cry from my personal makeup. Continue reading →

On Looking Into the Poland/Czech US/Russia/Iran ABM Matter

Iran is judged today to be a up and coming mad-as-a-hatter soon-to-be nuclear regime with some short and medium range missile capabilities. Back in 2007 the Bush administration had wrangled some ABM bases in Poland with Radar in the Czech Republic which were at that time designed to knock down long range missiles, of which Iran had none, but of course Russia had (and has) plenty. Russia took umbrage to this and rightfully so, just look at a map, unless you have a much much bigger monitor than I do, you don’t see Poland or the CR on that map at all.

Mr Obama it turns out has been not well served by the conservative current events blogs … although his speeches and on this in fact do have some glaring omissions, in the light of which the conservative commentary does make more sense … but only in the light of those omissions. Here is the text from the Obama speech, although I don’t know how accurately this reflects his actual remarks or whether it has been changed to reflect better in the light of later remarks, i.e., Mr Gates this weekend). This was also released on the same day by WH to the press to accompany the speech. The disservice by the conservative press is that this is touted as a withdrawal of a program, which fails to mention that another is proposed in its place. On the other hand, it is also not mentioned that this plan which is put in its place is likely a paper dragon, i.e., worse than useless. Continue reading →

On Government

James Hanley at Positive Liberty reflects on recent experience with lawyers and the law:

Despite the mythology surrounding our adversarial system of justice, it is a terrible way to pursue the truth. I already knew that, but it became ever more clear to me that one of the primary duties of the lawyer is to obscure the truth, to hide and dissemble about all facts that are not conducive to his case.

and

But I think there is a difference in incentives in our occupations. A lawyer, at least in certain fields, can be quite well-rewarded for purposefuly obfuscating the facts. And while for academics it can be rewarding to unintentionally obfuscate the truth, as long as enough others are also fooled, purposefully obscuring it can be treated as a serious offense.

I think Mr Hanley hits on an important point here. In an adversarial system of justice nobody involved is interested in discovering the truth, they are all interested in winning.

Chantal Delsol in Icarus Fallen has a chapter on Democracy, in which she locates doubting Democracy as something of a third rail in our culture. She writes:

So it is that contemporary democracy has become the only cornerstone considered to be untouchable. Lacking the inquisitorial methods that it condemns, it practices its own brand of intolerance through verbal ostracism. Whoever dares to criticize finds himself either scorned for weak or backward reasoning, or accused of barbarity, relegated to the darkness, and placed in the company of our historic enemies. All of which clearly demonstrates the sacralization of democratic thinking: its adversaries are doomed to ruination, diminshed by moral condemnation, and deprived of the right to take issue. The sacred is precisely that against which contradiction kills the contradictor.

(as an aside, I’m uncertain whether I understand what she’s saying in that last sentence, but I don’t think it consonant with a Christian meaning of sacred.) But getting back to the matter of hand. If the problem with an adversarial system of justice is that it is not optimized to find truth, but instead to provide an arena in which a noetic gladiatorial event transpires. An event not to find any underlying truth, i.e., did he do it, or who is right. It doesn’t help that the playing field itself is uneven, having been set by another gladiatorial event, the jousting for favor of elected officials who themselves are jousting for approval of the electorate. In our short American history, we have had the practice of electing to high office those military leaders who are successful (who run) after a war. While these men very often are very poor Presidents, the reason might be that leading civilians is as similar to leading soldiers as is herding cats and herding dogs. However, one of the main reasons on which their electoral success is based is that the test which they passed, leading men successfully, is seen a better test of their fitness to lead the state than rhetorical brilliance in the public forum, debating skills, or finding a good team to run a campaign.

Democracy, Ms Delsol suggests, is a system designed to optimize happiness. (As another aside, this might explain why a common flawed misreading of happiness as related to pleasure underlies the regretful decisions being made by our nominally democratic government today.) However this raises two important questions. The first is one I’ve asked before, namely, “Is our electoral process one which might reasonably expected to winnow out and discover a good leader?” This is related to Mr Hanley’s observation that our legal system is not one designed of fit to find truth, and that if it does occasionally find truth that discovery is more accidental than not. I’d offer, just as our conflict based judicial process is not one which is designed to find truth, I’d offer neither is our electoral procedure one which is designed to find good leaders. A second question arises from the observation of Ms Delsol’s of what is being optimized that is, “What should in fact be optimized by government?” If you are considering the fitness of various forms of the state and how government might best be constructed, it surely prior to engaging on that enterprise, one should consider what is it that should be maximized by our design?

I’d like to offer a non-intuitive stab at an answer to the second question. I would offer that the thing which government should optimize is just authority. If I define the just authority of a state that authority which is freely granted by the people, then good government is a “straightforward” min-max problem. Maximize authority with a minimum of coercion. Straightforward is in scare quotes because the solution is almost certainly not crystal clear nor straightforward. In this view, Libertarians have it half right. Minimizing coercion is a key ingredient to government. But they also have it exactly half wrong, in that minimizing state authority is getting it exactly backwards. Authority should in fact be maximized …within the condition that coercion be minimal. A totalitarian state maximizes coercion and authority. In an ideal government, any and every act by the government performed would be seen by its citizens as within the authority they granted. Unlike a minimal authority state, it would also fill the roles expected of the state in accord with the desires of its people. It would be free to do anything it wished because it would not wish to do anything that its people did not desire.

What sorts of tentative suggestions might one make toward a system of government that tries to min/max coercion and authority. Two factors come to mind. One, the subsidiarity arises as a important factor a large state, where large regional and micro-regional differences exist regarding expectations of how far the authority of government and its role extends. If you are trying for a min/max solution the flexibility of local adjustments can find a tighter solution than a single global one. Secondly, the forms of government which are considered normally on the playing field, oligarchy, monarchy, democracy and republic are forms which were developed centuries ago. How might information technologies and the ease of transportation in the modern era permit new forms to be imagined (and tested)?

On The Commodity Known as Healthcare

“We want you to engage honestly on the issues in this debate on healthcare” … “but if you oppose the healthcare bill, you are a racist.”

“This healthcare bill will not raise taxes or deficits at all” … but Mr Wilson is “officially” reprimanded for accusing the “One” of lying and an apology is demanded (although it was already tendered within hours of the speech) … this in a bill the CBO flat out says will raise spending and for a bill which specifically includes new taxes.

We’re not going to have any death-panels … We want this instead. It’s not a panel, it’s a formula.

So, let’s attempt some more rational discussions on healthcare. Hopefully, some progressives will be able, unlike the President, to engage in actual debate that isn’t accompanied by poisoning the well.

An eminent not-so-directly politically connected (Nobel winning) economist has an interesting offering here. He concludes:

Why is it that although the average age of onset of disabilities has been delayed by ten years, and that these disabilities have become milder than they used to be, the share of GDP spent on health is rising? One factor is the increase in the proportion of the population that is elderly. However, such changes in age structure account for a minor part of rising expenditures, on the order of 10 percent.

The main factor is that the long-term income elasticity of the demand for healthcare is 1.6—for every 1 percent increase in a family’s income, the family wants to increase its expenditures on healthcare by 1.6 percent. This is not a new trend. Between 1875 and 1995, the share of family income spent on food, clothing, and shelter declined from 87 percent to just 30 percent, despite the fact that we eat more food, own more clothes, and have better and larger homes today than we had in 1875. All of this has been made possible by the growth in the productivity of traditional commodities. In the last quarter of the 19th century, it took 1,700 hours of labor to purchase the annual food supply for a family. Today it requires just 260 hours, and it is likely that by 2040, a family’s food supply will be purchased with about 160 hours of labor.12

Consequently, there is no need to suppress the demand for healthcare. Expenditures on healthcare are driven by demand, which is spurred by income and by advances in biotechnology that make health interventions increasingly effective. Just as electricity and manufacturing were the industries that stimulated the growth of the rest of the economy at the beginning of the 20th century, healthcare is the growth industry of the 21st century. It is a leading sector, which means that expenditures on healthcare will pull forward a wide array of other industries including manufacturing, education, financial services, communications, and construction. [Ed: Emphasis mine]

So, my argument all along has been that if you want to increase the availability of healthcare and to increase the quality you need to encourage and advance ways of making the healthcare product we consume today an easier and more available commodity. That will take a radical restructuring and a heavy reliance on automation which is not available today. Entrenching the current system in heavier and ever more layers of bureaucratic burdens is exactly the wrong way to go about reshaping healthcare for the future. Regulation is not the means by which innovation is found. The only innovation heavy regulation and control achieves are innovative ways to get around said innovations.

All of the industrial commodities and consumable items today which have been reduced in price over the past decades have achieved their price reduction via automation. From the humble tractor to automated robotic lines and CAD/CAM processes. Computer automation and information technology are going to be a big part of the innovations that we will need in order for the price to drop by an order of magnitude or more. We are famously told that since the mid-80s the capabilities of biotechnology have been increasing exponentially faster than our computing power (Moore’s Law). Much of the computer industry derived its innovations from very small scale startups and single individuals. Yet it is impossible to imagine a single individual or small group in today’s regulatory environment getting a new drug, therapy, or diagnostic device to market. If it is impossible to imagine … it won’t happen. If Congress gets its hands on managing (and likely micro-managing) healthcare for the nation, innovation will require an act of Congress.

Congress can fix healthcare. By taking its hands off, letting go. By simply burning the as many regulations as it can and lighting the a fire of innovation into the field. Put cost and accountability and choice in the hands of the consumer. Release restrictions and let the market reward successful innovation.

Of Tea Parties and Politics

The Tree of Liberty. Don’t Tread on Me.

The left today sees these as threatening. They only see the tree of liberty in the context of Jefferson’s quote about the blood of patriots. They see the NRA connections of the right combined with that quote and trees in abundance on poster as tantamount to assault, i.e., a direct armed threat in the legal sense. However that is not really tenable.

When one puts this symbolism in a historical context the threat to the established Democratic party rule is purely electoral. Look at the results of a little historical research. In David Hackett Fisher’s book Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding Ideas one finds copious examples of liberty trees, bells, snakes and the like … which are to be now found in the tea party posters. They are not hinting at violence but instead are unconsciously (and likely consciously in some cases) tapping the collective visual signs and symbols of our American heritage. While these symbols trace to the revolutionary period, which understandably makes the party in power nervous. They are not exclusively from that period, nor were (historically) used to tie back to that era. That it is to say they are no long primarily tied to revolution and overthrow but are in fact national symbols tied to freedom and liberty. To restate, they are primarily American symbols of freedom and liberty.

If Democrats today are nervous at the thought of liberty and freedom, that is a depressing and unfortunate turn of events. That 30% of this country is so enamoured of statist solutions that ideas of liberty and personal independence scares them.

The November 12th tea party is an political opportunity for those who might capitalize on it. The size of the gatherings alone indicate a large groundswell support. The Democratic party has been long tied to bigger and more intrusive government. The GOP has paid lip service and one might argue recently paid heavily at the polls for their hypocrisy in that matter regarding smaller government. Democrats have argued that people pay lip service themselves to liberty but “really want” the comfortable entitlements that they promote. Yet the tea party movement and the GOP electoral defeats in 2008 might indicate that this is not the case. There are a goodly number of people that really want less from the Feds. It remains to be seen if any number GOP candidates with both seize this opportunity in campaign rhetoric and more importantly follow through once in office.

Of Clunkers and Windows

Sunday, while riding, I had an entrepreneurial idea which I’m also almost certain occurred in abundance in the cash-for-clunkers boondogle.  This enterprise would most likely be best employed by a car dealer, perhaps one who put his bottom line ahead of his “patriotic duty.” Imagine a car dealer has a potential customer who wants to buy a new car, yet has no clunker to turn in. Here is a way in which that most of that $4.5k windfall could aid that person in buying a new car. He follows the following steps:

  1. The initial ingredient is a person (person A), willing to buy a car with the help of $3.5k cash-for-clunker money in the absence of said clunker.
  2. First, locate a person (B) who owns a qualifying “clunker”, i.e., not-so-good gas mileage and has owned it for two years.
  3. Offer that person an exchange/upgrade car + $1000, which of might be used toward the purchase of said “upgraded” clunker.
  4. That same said person is “lent” the money is then (on the books at least) used purchase the new car that the person A wants and is purchasing. 
  5. Person B then “sells” car A (for a song and as agreed) to person A.
  6. Person A drives off with his car, which cost $3.5k less than negotiated originally.
  7. Person B drives off with a “new” used car. His original “clunker” is then turned to sand.
  8. The car dealer makes his commission on two cars (one used and one new).

If you don’t think this occurred with some frequency over the summer, you haven’t noticed that this is America … the land ruled by enterprising hucksters. The $1k/$3.5k split of course is illustrative and would vary in proportion as the market dictated. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to defend this practice … or suggest how/why it is not possible given the current law. While it certainly violates the spirit of the law, I’m pretty sure a half-way competent lawyer could see a way to making it fit the letter of the law.

The Cash-for-clunkers hornswoggle has educated Americans in a practical lesson in Bastiat’s Parable of the Broken Window. This paradox/parable is one which the Keynsian’s would like to whitewash with talk of multipliers and other such nonsense, but the essential argument is largely untouched by that rhetoric, i.e., for the multiplier to be considered it is essential that the hidden costs implicit in their multiplier be ignored. The parable as recounted in the wiki piece above, excerpted is:

Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James Goodfellow, when his careless son happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact, that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation—”It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?”

Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.

Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier’s trade—that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs—I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, “Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented

This is the problem with the clunker. The taxed money which will be extracted from the public will not be able to be used for the various purposes to which they would have used those monies for, instead it is taken and used in this way. Very often that same said clunker gets just a few mpg more than the car it replaced, which then is scrapped … and the energy costs of production will take many years to recoup … so the net energy/pollution equation is likely for almost a decade … a loss in many if not most cases. Furthermore today, in the wake of cash-for-clunkers, we hear that the used car market is not difficult right now. The price of used cars is up and the availability of cars is down. There are few cars available … due to so many having been having silicate added to their engines. One might ask which whether the used car vs new car consumer is better or worse off financially relatively speaking in order to review who has been helped and who has been harmed by this policy.

On the Left and Overseas Conflict

One of the rising mini-blog storms in the right (and responses on the left) that arose today is about the silence on the left regarding the troops and low level conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (and perhaps Pakistan). The default notion that arises here is that this lack of response that this reflects how much that the left was anti-Bush and the conflict was just a proxy for that animus. There may be some truth to this accusation, however I think that is not the whole or even the larger part of it. For while it is true that the anti-war propaganda and general energy/excitement that is present now has pretty much vanished, it is also true that the small government, e.g., tea party, sentiments that have and had been strong on the right vanished during much of the Bush tenure.

Ronald Reagan, I think, coined the “11th commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of your own party”, which is largely at play here. A corollary of this commandment is that while one does not speak ill of the doings by those in your party that you disagree with … one’s defense of the same is usually tepid or absent as well. For example, on my part, while I did not really soundly thrash Mr Bush for expanding Medicare entitlements … I did not defend it one bit either. I was silent. Likewise, we see the left, while they are silent as Mr Obama expands operations in Afghanistan (and likely delays withdrawal in Northern Iraq) neither will they, I suspect, leap to his defense against those who would speak against this. Likewise on Medicare and now the two COIN operations, criticism does largely not arise from the other party, which is in general agreement with those moves (even if they might criticize implementation details). The criticism arises more from non-party aligned people further to the right or left (or in the case of Medicare … the Libertarian fringe movement).

Industry Sans Management and the Healthcare Debate

In a short exchange discussing my incomprehension of a leftist blogger’s claim that management was unnecessary. I have come up with a possible answer as to why a person might consider this reasonable and it ties in with notions of why the left might find government healthcare more palatable than the right. The offending quote, as a reminder was as follows:

It quickly became clear that I was the only person even remotely on the left. And it wasn’t simply that the others disagreed with me; they couldn’t even understand me. I remember us discussing a scene in Invisible Man where a factory worker brags he’s so indispensable that when he was out sick the boss drove to his house and begged him to come back, agreeing to put him in charge. When I suggested Ellison might be implying that labor, not management, ought to run workplaces, the other students (and the teacher) didn’t just disagree—they found the idea incomprehensible. How could you run a factory without managers?

As I pointed out in my original essay a realistic business that employs more than two to five people requires management. Many firms, HR service companies and general contracting firms for example, in fact are nothing but management. One way out is the model implemented by the Leninist implementation of Marxism, i.e., the state solution. Government, somehow, is seen as the organ supplying the management functions. A kinder, more modern, way of phrasing that term is that the left prefers statist solutions. Mr Swartz, I suggest, doesn’t suggest that management not occur. But instead prefers that all of management, namely HR, sales, procurement, and capital management be done by the state. This, I suggest, was why he discovered, he was the only one “remotely” on the left. Most on the left I presume in the US would balk at having the state take up all of these roles for all private industry. The eastern bloc experiment showed that giving that much power to a state, ignoring the asymmetries of the locus of information, and removing personal incentives to personally garner the fruits of one’s labour was a recipe for disaster.

Public healthcare moves us further in this direction, increasing the power of the state, ignoring asymmetric of information pools, and lessens the already too weak personal incentives in the medical industry complex replacing it with even weaker political incentives (which it might be added in actuarial situations never reliably calculate risk always preferring diminish risk to lessen costs today pushing the burden of the payment to the future). Public healthcare is not, by definition, socialism nor communism. It is an explicitly a big government, statist, solution, and shares that feature with the assumption of management by government noted above.

The “public option” version being touted by the Democrats right now isn’t even single payer. However, it is disingenuous to argue that is ultimately what many of them, including the President desire and in fact likely feel that this step will move them closer to their goal. The “keeping the private insurance companies honest” rhetoric is merely cover for what, I suspect, is their aim and the likely result. That is that the public healthcare option, which will receive much of its funding from a levy on private contributions to healthcare, will be in a position to provide unfair competition that will ultimately force the private healthcare industry out of the market and to eliminate them and thus arrive at single payer via acquisition of a monopoly.

Ultimately, if there is to be a solution to the healthcare cost situation it is my belief that it will in fact require large scale changes in how healthcare is provided. Increased bureaucratic and state involvement is not the route which will lead to more flexible and innovative approaches to how medicine is practised. Instead it will more likely entrench those practises which are now in place. Right now, medical insurance and practise is heavily regulated as it is, which in turn stifles innovation itself. It is unclear how cementing and fixing the processes more tightly to bureaucratic reigns will spur innovation, which should be a primary goal.

An Uncomprehending Look at the Far Left

Mr Swartz is on the (far) left, which he thinks should be a larger plurality. In this post expressing that sentiment he writes:

It quickly became clear that I was the only person even remotely on the left. And it wasn’t simply that the others disagreed with me; they couldn’t even understand me. I remember us discussing a scene in Invisible Man where a factory worker brags he’s so indispensable that when he was out sick the boss drove to his house and begged him to come back, agreeing to put him in charge. When I suggested Ellison might be implying that labor, not management, ought to run workplaces, the other students (and the teacher) didn’t just disagree—they found the idea incomprehensible. How could you run a factory without managers?

And thereby it becomes clear why the left which Mr Swartz envisions is so small … it’s because the ideas he holds are so, well, wrong in a very obvious way.

Imagine as Mr Swartz suggests a “factory without managers.” How might that proceed. Well, consider that factory entirely consisting of managers. Somebody of course has to procure raw materials … and a good price would be nice. So one or more of the workers, depending on the size of the plant, isn’t on the plant floor, he’s making calls and finding suppliers. Somebody (or more people again depending on the plant size) has to manage the cash-flow: ingoing, outgoing, and arranging for lines of credit. People will have to locate buyers, find markets, locate new ways of the products produced at the factory to be used. Some people will need to tool up for new product, decide “build or buy” on new property for expansion and arrange for the, uhm, capital as is necessary.  Additionally some of those workers will need to arrange for the hiring of new workers, assist during health emergencies, and could even help plan retirement plans. Others will need to do engineering or basic science work to figure out new and better ways to manufacture whatever it is this factory produces. These roles, oddly enough, are indispensable. They all  in fact take quite a bit of hard work. Additionally many of these roles take more expertise and background training than an unskilled labourer requires, which cost that person time and money in order to acquire. A plant manufacturing “stuff” if it is real actually depends on these sorts of services. We have a name for those people in those roles, that name for people watching the supply chain, doing sales, managing capital and doing HR services are what we call management. Oddly enough the idea is in fact incomprehensible. It is in fact impossible to run a factory without managers in a actual real world situation.

So it seems this is the sort of leftist who finds it sad that factories which don’t actually sell their product, acquire raw materials, and so on … are not seen as realistic. Or to put it another way, I find it completely incomprehensible that Mr Swartz figures on running a factory without people performing the jobs and roles noted above. Who will do this? How and why? There must be a standard answer in his repertoire. What might that be?

My commenter JA scoffs at my idea that those the communist sympathizers and the sympathies held by the left in the mid to late 80s didn’t suddenly have an epiphany and decide that everything they believed was wrong. That they instead have softened their rhetoric and acquired camouflage. Part of his difficulty with that sort of notion is that Mr Obama is of this generation and himself being somewhat younger and one of the “non left lefties” that Mr Swartz complains realize that the socialist/communist dreams of the 80s left has not been inherited by the younger left.

Private Healthcare = Your Money

It seems progressives have it ingrained that private healthcare insurance are not healthcare services or products that I’ve purchased. This is a lie. It is the essential lie that is wrecking the current debate on healthcare. From Tuesday’s comments here are to remarks to this assertion which I take as typical:

Actually you’ve ‘paid for’ a bet. You’ve betted that you will require certain expensive healthcare over the term of your policy. Your insurance company has bet that you will not. If it wins, they keep your premiums and make a profit. If you win, they pay for your healthcare.

and

As Boonton points out, you haven’t purchased healthcare per se, but healthcare coverage. And I’m not sure who “on the left” “forget” that.

Let me start with a little analogy.

Two men are neighbours. Their families both regularly have a Saturday evening barbecue at which sometimes they chat. One day they both start remarking on a very large boulder uphill of their properties. The way it is propped up it looks like it could hit one or the other of their houses. One of them suggests that every Saturday each one will put $20 a kitty. When (and if) erosion or other processes loosen the huge rock to crack into one of their houses … thy guy whose house is hit gets whatever was in the pot.

Imagine that rock was above a town … and the town agreed to a similar deal … and that contributions were fixed, contributors were voluntary, and that only contributors would be splitting the funds collected funds when the rock released. And that the funds getting large enough needed to hire an accountant to manage those funds … and that some rules needed to be established to apportion that sum in a equitable manner when rock caused damage to various houses in differing degrees. And voila … one has established an insurance company (not healthcare … but that is a distinction without difference).

This essentially the “bet” in the first quoted remark above or the “coverage” vs “product” in the second. What is the status of that money. When the person who’s house is struck has to pay for repairs … is that paid for with his money? It seems obvious that the answer to that is yes, he is paying with his money.

Healthcare coverage today is quite expensive. I don’t have the figures [note: I might ask at my employer for a rough estimate of what our companies healthcare costs per month run.] but I’m guessing offhand that $6k to $12k per year easily is being put to my healthcare insurance for my family of four. The first objection insists that this is a “bet” (which is an odd way to put actuarial calculations). Actuarial evolution is the means by which insurance companies make money. But the amount above the co-pay for medical services and medicines that are purchased on my families behalf is money from the “kitty” above. It is mine. It comes from my participation in the pool. The quantity that must be put in is related directly to mathematical statistical models of our population and our behaviour. Yet it is my money in exactly the same way that the money that money belonged the gentleman above with the damaged house. The movement from the two men to the town is pretty clear. When the money is spent is it still money belonging to and deriving directly from the people benefiting. That there is a “bet” involved is an unimportant detail. That this is “coverage” vs “payment” is a syntactic dodge.

Calling the health insurance that a person earns and receives as on of the means of  remuneration for services rendered to an employer not a thing for which he has bought and paid is rhetorical thievery. The left will tell you today that these actuarial services are stealing from you. They will also deny that the private insurance company benefits are your money. And furthermore, that replacing these with greater government efficiencies will save incredible amounts. One wonders at the naivete at that sort of thinking. Greater. Government. Efficiencies. From what planet do these people originate? Medicare is a public healthcare program. There are private companies that exist solely for the purpose of navigating the arcane and Kafkan intricacies of Medicare paperwork on your behalf. Yep. More efficient indeed. Savings indeed. Mr Obama is indeed a great politician, that is if the term ‘great’ is a measure of the size and frequency of the the lies you tell.

An Upside to Obama-care

So Mr Obama wants a national healthcare plan. The right opposes this and the left is doing it’s best to shut down debate and shunt discussion aside, because the objections are strong and many. However, the right might be using the wrong tactic. Perhaps the best tactic is to embrace the dark-side.

Mr Obama points out that with a National Healthcare plan that people like himself, i.e., the wealthy, would as he did for his grandmother still be able to pay for the care of their loved ones directly out of their pocket. Yet this is very problematic for his vision of nationalized healthcare. For it provides the essential loophole the rest of us need.

The rest of us, that is the normal working stiffs while on the first glance don’t have the wherewithall to have the ready cash to pay for emergency healthcare do in fact have the same. For, we are currently paying for all of our healthcare. The solution goes something like this:

  1. An enterprising group of ordinary middle class people, who realize they can’t pay for emergency medical care which isn’t or is poorly covered by government coverage (or for example to skip to the head of the queue like the wealthy will be doing) will do what free people have done from the start. They’ll organize (an activity oddly enough Contitutionally protected).
  2. By organizing in groups, collectively people can, uhm, spread their risk. Each will make monthly contributions to a collective pool, managed financially by a small number of administrators, who will figure costs, apportion and manage benefits, and invest funds. In fact there is a word for such organizations, they were formerly known and health care insurance companies. You might even find employers adding supplemental health care as a benefit to attract qualified, skilled, and attentive labor. I’d even go so far as to suggest that health care companies currently in place might jump at this market.
  3. Mr Obama suggested that you can keep your current insurance. But this is not in fact what will occur. Your current insurance will magically transmute itself to be just supplemental insurance. If Mr Obama and the left decides this is dirty pool, it will become black market dirty pool, and I for one see know reasonable argument for why a person could not participate in such a market. If Mr Obama can use his ready cash … any schmoe should be able to join a risk pool to effectively do the same.
  4. There is in fact a big fat plus to this plan. Supplemental insurance of this sort and in this market is completely (so far as I know) unregulated. It’s new unplowed ground. Unregulated health care markets are in fact exactly what Mr Obama thinks his plan is avoiding and also (not?) oddly enough exactly what I happen to think the health care market needs. Health care needs wild wooly unregulated markets to spur innovation. The unanticipated unregualted supplemental insurance market might provide at least a small sampling of this very thing.
  5. Thus perhaps the best thing for the right to do is cede the healthcare proposal but fight for realistic cost controls and appraisals. That the taxes for this boondogle will not get out of hand, which will in turn cause the government insurance to cover and provide for in actuallity very little in the way of health care in the absence of supplemental income. This is actually what the right argues for, very minimal bare coverage for all and abillity to pay provides the caps on health care for the rest.

So the only stumbling block for this argument is one I don’t see as of yet. Is there any argument that would prevent supplemental insurance from springing up? Realistically I don’t see any difference between Mr Obama paying for his grandmother’s care and a group of people, in free association, collecting to provide the same and spreading the risk.