The secular and radical movement of separatists and censors has spread even to the point of demanding banishment of Catholic priests from Catholic schools, if they fail to conform to the demands of popular culture.
Justin and Bob Plain talk about the pay differential between men and women.
George Radanovich in today’s Providence Journal:
The fact is, growth of government and the degradation of our culture are intertwined. We cannot reduce the welfare state without rebuilding the family and we cannot rebuild the family without reducing the ranks of fatherless children in our society.
History has proven that government is utterly incapable of reducing the ranks of the fatherless child. But, with its persuasive power, the private sector is.
If only there were a social institution that required very little action from government, except not to contradict it or make it impossible, and that helped create a social expectation that men would stay with the women with whom they had created, or with whom they might, create children. That might really help to reduce the total amount of hardship and misery in the world.
Friday’s discussion on Wingmen was about the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Spotlight on Spending report.
Responding to the state arts bureaucracy’s response to the Center’s spending report.
It appears that members of the Rhode Island media are digging into a report that found $225 million in cuts to the next state budget and focusing on two passing examples of past spending that aren’t even included in that total.
A New York Post editorial from a couple of weeks ago, about the problem of departing residents that New York state shares with Rhode Island, puts the problem well:
It’s not just taxes prompting migration to their shores, though certainly the lack of an income tax in either the Lone Star or Sunshine state has to be a large part of the attraction. These growing states are also creating jobs, and generally offer a lower cost of living. And as a general rule, human beings do not move away from opportunity.
“As a general rule, human beings do not move away from opportunity.”
The General Assembly can pour more money into failing public schools. It can layer on workforce training program after workforce training program. But even if every program does for its beneficiaries what it’s supposed to do, if there is no opportunity in Rhode Island, they will take their taxpayer-funded skill sets elsewhere.
The reality is that government officials like these programs because they give them something to do. They collect the taxes to pay for it all and keep control over how the programs operate, what they supply, and to whom they supply it.
Rhode Island is leading the region in blindly ignoring the unmistakable reality that it needs to rethink its priorities. We have to start trusting people to make their own way, rather than trusting politicians and special interests to allow some spare feed to scatter on the ground around them.
I have a somewhat miraculous view of literature. It seems more often than not to be the case that when I reach into the many boxes of books that I’ve inherited and pick out something to read, almost at random, it has a direct relevance to things I’d already been thinking about.
This time, it’s Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom (1941). Fewer than 100 pages in, I’ve already got notes for myriad essays scribbled in the margins, but the following quotation, I just had to share. It’s actually something Fromm quotes from Jacob Salwyn Schapiro’s doctoral dissertation Social reform and the Reformation (1909).
The time period described is the later part of the Middle Ages, as medieval society gave way:
Notwithstanding these evidences of prosperity, the condition of the peasantry was rapidly deteriorating. At the beginning of the sixteenth century very few indeed were independent proprietors of the land they cultivated, with representation in the local diets, which in the Middle Ages was a sign of class independence and equality. The vast majority were Hoerige, a class personally free but whose land was subject to dues, the individuals being liable to services according to agreement … It was the Hoerige who were the backbone of all the agrarian uprisings. This middle-class peasant, living in a semi-independent community near the estate of the lord, became aware that the increase of dues and services was transforming him into a state of practical serfdom, and the village common into a part of the lord’s manor.
Frankly, I don’t think I’ve read a better description of what’s happening right now in any modern punditry. All that’s required is to update the language and replace “Hoerige” with “productive class” and the lord with the government.
At a time in which the Left is rediscovering the joy of totalitarianism in the pages of Rolling Stone, when Occupy activists are attempting acts of terrorism, and the organs of the state are being turned against the president’s political enemies, it is worth keeping in mind who and what the Left is at its heart. The Left gets good PR, but it is not really about the minimum wage or Head Start or bigger school budgets. Its agenda is control and domination, and it has been known to endorse and use political violence to achieve those ends. When part of the Left’s corporate arm is happily contemplating the Terror, we should take note, and perhaps ask our progressive friends under which other circumstances execution without trial seems to them an admirable course of action.
I periodically try to point out to progressive associates when their mode of thinking (at least as expressed publicly or personally to me) begins to take on the character of those who perpetrated the French Terror, pogroms, ethnic cleansings, and other atrocities. My impression is that they just don’t see the link. After all, isn’t the political right promoted at our left-wing-dominated universities and popular culture as the home of all things evil?
Of course, that they don’t see any similarities between their practices and beliefs and those of societies that have gone horribly wrong doesn’t exactly decrease the likelihood of our society following that path.
It’s well and good to spend some words attacking the premises of progressive policies and calling their supporters the intellectual progeny of slaveholders. But unless we’re willing to declare that we have no responsibility to each other, no Golden Rule, then we need an alternative approach.
Let’s start by defining (one, two) the economic universe as the total value that human beings attribute to existence, as measured by the maximum amount of productive effort that we could expend to live it fully. Some large portion of this total lays fallow, as economic “potential.” We can break this down again into smaller parts: Some of our potential is locked up in things we haven’t learned to do yet or psychological hang-ups we haven’t overcome; some of our potential we set aside for simple enjoyment, like hours spent in the yard tanning or simply conversing with loved ones.
The active economy, then, is what remains: the value that our society measures with money. (Remember that money is not value, of itself.)
The goal of social policy (in and out of government) ought to be the greatest possible realization of value from life. The active economy can be a good indicator — inasmuch as it shows how much people are motivated to work for things they value — but it’s not sufficient. Work is not the goal or the thing to be maximized.
Free-marketers often write and speak of the complexity of the economy, arguing that central planners can never have sufficient information, collected quickly enough, to guide an economy in a competent way. The conclusion is that we’re better off, as a practical matter, letting prices reflect value organically.
My framework, herein, not only compounds this complexity with all of the intangibles that make human existence valuable, but also makes central planning a moral presumption. The central planners aren’t only trying to balance the needs of the economy, they’re also presuming to pass judgment on what each person should find fulfilling in life, including to compromise it for some in the name of uncertain attempts to unlock the potential of others.
Let me pick up the thread by acknowledging a major difference between slavery and the minimum wage — namely, the fact that the wage earner keeps the profit from his or her own labor. In slavery, the seller takes some of the value at the time of purchase and the owner takes the rest over time.
Objectively, that may not be as big a distinction as it at first appears. One supposes that some enterprising slaveholders in history discovered that they received better work when their slaves were well cared for, which could be seen as a form of bartering, without the middle step of cash.
Still, the core beliefs and logic with which we approach a topic will affect the sorts of solutions we propose when we find the system requiring correction. In that context, I’d suggest that the progressive mindset puts low-income people in the same box as their intellectual predecessors once put slaves.
The reason — more explicit with a “living wage” — is that a minimum wage is set as the minimum value of a human being’s time, not as the minimum price of the task that he or she performs. Somebody other than the worker is setting that price, and the worker is not permitted to determine that he or she is willing to perform the task more cheaply.
Those acting with cynical political motivation are essentially selling the human agency of low-income workers for the profit of votes. Those of a more charitable bent receive their profit as good moral feeling.
This presumption has practical, actual economic effects, and I think it follows naturally that policies that aren’t correctly ordered toward human fulfillment will inevitably produce bad outcomes.
However, my point is that we come up with a much different prescription if we recognize human beings as the source of value in the economy, with the autonomy to determine their own priorities for their “kinetic” economic energy as well as the degree to and manner in which they unlock their own potential.
Last time around, I closed with the assertion that a world of machines churning out products would essentially have no “economy,” because machines are indifferent. There’s no entity to value what they’re doing. It’s not an economy; it’s a process.
Put a collection of machines in the woods and watch them sit there. Put a collection of people in the woods and watch civilization blossom. To the objection that highly advanced machines — “universal constructors” — could theoretically build a civilization from scratch, perhaps even with some sort of creativity, I’d suggest that somebody would have to set the machines in motion, programming them with initial purpose. The value, in other words, comes from the developers.
There’s a point, in this line of as-yet imaginary “what ifs,” at which it would become difficult to make the distinction between mankind and machines. At that point, however, we must step away from logic and into theology.
Suffice it for now to say that at the definitional core of economics are beings (human beings) able to unlock their own economic potential, or to decide not to do so.
That principle is central to the evil of slavery. Even where, in history, slaves have been treated as well as paid servants might expect to be, we rightly recoil from the notion that they were no better than work animals or machines. They had no choice whether to work or what to do for work.
(If one were inclined to branch into an uncomfortable topic, it would be possible to begin making the case that there’s ultimately no separation between “fiscal” and “social” issues. My reasoning, above, applies at the biological level. A random cell placed in a womb will “sit there.” An embryo in the same environment will become a human being unless prevented from doing so.)
To return to the topic with which this series began, the irony is that those who proclaim the compassion of welfare, minimum wage, and such inevitably wind up conceiving of human beings in the same way as slave owners.
Jason Becker poses some questions to Justin on tax policy, government services, and the migration of Rhode Islanders.
Jason Becker poses some questions to Justin on tax policy, government services, and the migration of Rhode Islanders.
By way of something light-hearted at the end of a snowy day, and because it seems to fit in the same series as a post from yesterday that’s generated some conversation, I found this comment from Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michael interesting:
Republicans are easier for us than Democrats. Democrats tend to take it personally; Republicans think it’s funny.
To the extent that such a blanket statement is true, I’d propose that there are two reasons. First, Democrats and liberals are used to media types being on their side, so they feel like they must have done something wrong to be targeted for humor, while Republicans and conservatives are used to being presented as the enemy, so they’ve had to develop some level of distance from what the media types say about them.
Second, and probably more important, progressives and Democrats tend (more than conservatives and Republicans) to see everything as political — as part of the ideological war. So, when they’re the butt of jokes, it’s not something occurring in a realm of life outside of the political-ideological identities, but a weakening of their armor in the public battle.
It’s a little bit far afield of our usual content, here, but I’m fascinated by this chart (via Instapundit) which shows that, for most of the Swedish population, as a wife earns a higher share of household income, the likelihood of divorce goes up. The exception is for the wealthiest couples who have an even-distribution of their fortunes.
Inasmuch as the data comes from another country, I’m hesitant to extrapolate from my American experience, which is that divorces generally initiate with the wife, not the husband, with or without some bad act (like infidelity) on the husband’s part. It seems the researchers agree:
Researchers Guiping Li and Andres Vikat bring up a possible explanation for this trend. While there’s a considerable financial risk for a stay-at-home wife to get a divorce, “a wife who enjoys higher earnings than her husband has a lower economic threshold to leave an unhappy marriage.”
This makes the astonishingly sexist assumption that only men can create “unhappy marriages.” Otherwise, it isn’t actually women whom society saddles with a mandate to remain with bad husbands, but men whom society prevents from leaving bad wives.
If the data were all about options, one would expect the highest frequency of divorces to be among wealthier couples with equivalent incomes, because you’d be nearing twice the number of people “with options” than at either end of the spectrum. Instead, when women rely on the income of their husbands, the couple is more likely to stay together, whereas when it is the husband who relies on his wife’s income, the marriage is at higher risk.
I see two possibilities, here: Either insecure Swedish men can’t stand a role of financial subordinacy or Swedish women don’t feel as much obligation to men whom they support. Of course, a combination could be the case, but the researcher’s phrasing it in terms of women’s options gives some indication of which dynamic they feel is stronger.
My post, yesterday, on the error of obsessing over the fluid measuring stick of a capitalist economy (money) was quick and abstract, so I’ll swing a bit in the other direction for a few posts.
Suppose a technological innovation comes around that enables a business to radically lower production costs. To keep it tangible, think of fully automated fast-food restaurants or grocery stores with robots that stock the shelves.
Economics has a sort of parallel to kinetic and potential energy in physics. Automation has huge potential to be profitable, but it comes at a cost of large kinetic use of money as an initial investment. (There are also human factors, such as many business owners’ liking the fact that their organizations support families — that is, their employees make the business more valuable to them — but we’ll put that aside for now.) To the degree that the government increases the “kinetic” cost of employees through public assistance and minimum wages, the “potential” benefit of automation becomes a better investment in comparison.
Once the investment is made, though, a large number of lower-wage jobs are eliminated and a handful of higher-wage, more-technical jobs are created.
The gap is filled with machines, which simply do what they’re built to do, unlike people, who are masters of their own “kinetics” and “potentials” when it comes to economic behavior. A machine can be made more efficient, but it’s just a tool. It can make a business more valuable, as a thing, but it can’t impart additional value to the economy. Only beings with free will can do that.
So, after this technological change, there are two separate equations: A business (thing) with products that have the same kinetic value to the economy, and a workforce (people) including many whose economic energy is now mostly potential, with only the consumer’s kinetic output enabled by government subsidies.
As Byron York points out, a U.S. president who’s beginning the launch of a (breathtakingly cynical) “inequality agenda” probably doesn’t want the fact that he turned his wife’s 50th birthday party at the White House into a lavish Hollywood-style gala for 500 A-listers to get much play in the news:
… the White House apparently did not want to see photos of the First Lady’s glittery gala circulating around the Internet. So it imposed a strict rule: No cell phones. “Guests were told not to bring cellphones with them, and there was a cellphone check-in area for those who did,” reported the Chicago Tribune. “Signs at the party told guests: No cellphones, no social media.” People magazine added: “Guests had been greeted by a ‘cell phone check’ table where they deposited their camera phones on arrival and it was understood that this was not an occasion for Tweeting party photos or Facebooking details.” The publications cited sources who insisted on anonymity for fear of White House reprisal.
This is the sort of thing that ought to turn Americans’ minds back to the reasons for the founding of their country, if not the French Revolution. It’s the sort of thing that ought to drive home the reality that one can have integrity or support Obama, but not both.
But the party is just an emblem of the Obama administration’s approach to ruling. Quite a bit more serious, for example, is Greta Van Susteren’s claim that the White House initiated a broad, subversive campaign to stop Fox News from reporting on Benghazi. (This was after, of course, it targeted one of Fox’s reporters as if he were a spy… for the American people, I guess.)
If the American electorate doesn’t force a change of direction, future presidents are only going to get worse, and there aren’t that many steps between where we are and where we ought all to dread to go.
The government’s constant drum beat that it needs more resources and authority to shape the lives of its people is nakedly offensive.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama Era has dragged the United States out of the top 10 list of countries that are economically free, and that ought to be unacceptable to Americans. As Terry Miller writes:
For 20 years, the index has measured a nation’s commitment to free enterprise on a scale of 0 to 100 by evaluating 10 categories, including fiscal soundness, government size and property rights. These commitments have powerful effects: Countries achieving higher levels of economic freedom consistently and measurably outperform others in economic growth, long-term prosperity and social progress. Botswana, for example, has made gains through low tax rates and political stability.
Those losing freedom, on the other hand, risk economic stagnation, high unemployment and deteriorating social conditions. For instance, heavy-handed government intervention in Brazil’s economy continues to limit mobility and fuel a sense of injustice.
Specifically what has changed in the United States is important to consider, and for that purpose, see the interactive chart from Heritage that allows you to visualize up to three countries versus the average, overall and by category of freedom. (I found it useful to compare the United States with Canada and Mexico.)
For the cronyism file, note that the United States has not slipped much when it comes to business freedom or trade freedom. Where we’re losing ground are areas of taxes and government spending, as well as financial, monetary, and investment freedom. Most disturbing, though, might be the decline in the two freedoms in the category of “rule of law”: property rights and corruption.
Coming across this index the day that the Obama-administration FBI lets it be known that (surprise! surprise!) it doesn’t foresee criminal charges in the case of the Obama-administration IRS’s targeting of conservatives is almost too appropriate.
The index is a view from high up, but it appears that we’re losing ground in the very areas that make it possible for families to forge their own futures and to advance, bringing the economy with them.