Jobs and employment data allow different interpretations and come back (as every issue around here seems to do) to competing political philosophies.
Maybe it’s just that the NBC 10 Wingmen segment is sitting me face to face with one on a weekly basis, but it has seemed like a certain refrain has become more common in the responses of Rhode Island progressives to conservative ideas: “The people of Rhode Island disagree with you.”
By way of evidence, they cite the makeup of the state’s legislative and executive branches, 90% and 100% Democrat, respectively. Throw in the federal delegation for another 100% blue block (not to be confused with Blu Blockers).
There are two obvious problems with this bit of non-argument. First, it confuses ideology and principle with partisanship. The majority in Rhode Island disagrees with conservatives on some things and agrees with us on others, yet somehow, that mixture doesn’t translate into a mixed-party State House. Rather, there are progressive Democrats, and there are conservative Democrats.
Second, it treats popularity as an argument. Even if every Rhode Islander disagreed with a person’s policy suggestions, that doesn’t mean that those suggestions are wrong or are not the wisest thing that the state could do, in a particular instance.
A third problem emerges with a poll that Bryant University’s Hassenfeld Institute released, this week, finding that 82% of Rhode Islanders would grade their legislators negatively for effectiveness. It should be noted, of course, that “effectiveness” doesn’t necessarily mean a difference of opinions. After all, RI progressives still manage to keep a straight face when calling the legislators “conservative.”
Still, the results suggest it’s mistaken to equate the output of the legislature, or even the elections, with the views of the population. In that respect, the poll results only reinforce what could be inferred from the low turnout for elections.
The emerging question — which is beginning to cross the threshold from private conversations to public speculation — is whether we’re living under a legitimate representative democracy. It sure does seem as if the public is tuned out and hopeless, sensing that nothing can be changed through civic processes.
That’s a dangerous place to be, if so, and reaffirming the rule of law and promise of democracy should be the very highest priority.
Representative Raymond Hull’s legislation to make business decisions for Cox Communications is a fine example of why Rhode Islanders are suffering.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has released some interesting poll results regarding people’s impressions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA; aka ObamaCare; aka destroyer of American healthcare; aka stepping stone to socialized medicine). The Providence Journal‘s Felice Freyer tweeted the poll by highlighting the suggestion that “those most likely to enroll in Obamacare don’t mind limited choice of providers, latest Kaiser poll finds.”
By “those most likely,” she means people who are “uninsured or purchase own insurance,” and I think it layers in an erroneous assumption about their emotions to say that they “don’t mind limited choice.” What they actually say is that they would “rather have… a plan that costs less money but has a more limited range of doctors and hospitals” than one “that costs more money but allows [them] to see a broader range of doctors and hospitals.”
That’s quite a different statement than reported, and it ought to raise questions about the presumptions underlying ObamaCare. When it became obvious that President Obama brazenly lied to the American people about being able to keep their plans and doctors, his partisans and progressives took up the talking point that just a few people on “substandard” plans were not being permitted to keep them.
But to people who chose those plans out of the available options — who determined that at this particular time in their lives, having money for other purposes outweighed having more-comprehensive insurance — the plans weren’t “substandard.” It looks like a majority of health-exchange users are inclined to make the same decision, to the degree that the government allows it.
This conclusion ties in with the chart that I think actually ought to be the headline about the poll. About two-thirds of the way down the page, we find that the uninsureds’ opinion of the ACA has swung dramatically since November, from 39% unfavorable and 36% favorable to 56% unfavorable and 22% favorable.
For some of them, at least, the government is not allowing the options that they would want, which might be cheaper plans that fall below the “standards” of our incompetent superstar president.
Three clicks starting here will bring you to a very disturbing video shot by an Oklahoma woman as she stood a few yards away from her motionless husband while the police officers who apparently killed him accidentally based on a misunderstanding pretend he’s fine. From her distance she continues to try to draw some response from him. “Please, somebody tell me he’s alive.”
At this link is the latest development in the case of Justina Pelletier. What the public knows, it discovers in pieces, around a court-imposed gag order, but it appears that when a young teenage girl who’d been receiving successful treatment at Tufts hospital in Connecticut for a debilitating, even deadly, disorder followed her doctor to Boston Children’s Hospital, some other doctor decided her problem was psychological, and the State of Massachusetts decided that her parents’ following Tufts’ advice amounted to child abuse. The parents have had only brief visits with their daughter for a year, and the child is now going into foster care, not receiving the treatment that she needs.
Last week, I came across an account by a San Francisco techie who called 911 on behalf of somebody he passed in the street and found himself naked in solitary confinement overnight after a series of (let’s call them) aggressive misunderstandings by police and corrections officers.
I don’t relate these anecdotes to argue that government employees are necessarily any more prone to error and overreach than anybody else. But three lessons should be drawn.
- Working in government certainly doesn’t make people any less prone to error, overreach, and affronts. For a stark indication, consider the suggestion that “the physical sexual abuse of students in [public] schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.”
- The nature of government, with its powers to confiscate property, imprison or even kill people, or otherwise render them helpless, is such that a wise society would severely limit its activities.
- It’s reasonable to fear that access to such powers will attract people who want the ability to render others helpless, for one reason or another.
Josh Barro’s willingness to break a few eggs for the minimum wage omelet raises questions about the Congressional Budget Office’s economic assumptions.
It’s becoming a regular theme of Rhode Island government that when the rules don’t produce the outcome that the politically powerful want (even if only not efficiently enough), they change the rules. Another step in that direction is coming in the name of the “Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund”:
Rhode Island cities and towns would not have to seek voter approval for certain projects financed through the state’s newly created “Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund,” under legislation the state House of Representatives is set to vote on next Tuesday. …
[House spokesman Larry] Berman stressed that the measure, if approved, would only affect projects financed through the road and bridge fund and that cities and towns would be limited to borrowing only up to 5 percent of their most recent budgets before they’d have to seek voter approval.
As always, it’s helpful to rephrase the bill in direct, descriptive terms of what it does: It will allow agents inside town and city governments to commit taxpayers to paying up to 5% of their annual budgets, plus interest, in additional debt. This just isn’t right, and it shouldn’t be allowed (and it wouldn’t be allowed if Rhode Islanders were paying any attention).
What’s more, legislators know it. That’s why they’re already planning to amend the bill so that it applies only to loans taken out this fiscal year… for now. This nod to the notion that town and city governments shouldn’t be allowed to take money out of people’s pockets is insufficient; it would be a minor matter — difficult to catch — when the legislature returns in the future to amend the law to include another year, and then another, and then to take the time limit out entirely.
The Ninth Circuit says that California’s requirement that “good cause” be shown in order to obtain a concealed carry firearms permit is unconstitutional. Rhode Island law requires “a proper showing of need”, when trying to obtain a concealed carry permit from the Attorney General.
Rejected alternate title: “It’s Not a Right, if it Depends on Some Guy in Sarasota”.
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.
Bob Plain admits that progressives believe government is about taking money from you to fund their priorities, including a special tax on guns.
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.
Pondering of a Sunday afternoon, I find myself recalling this part of a comment from Dan:
… imagine that the reverse were true, with Anchor Rising finding itself in a perpetually depressed conservative state hemorrhaging young talent as sympathetic right-wing candidates – endorsed by the AR staff – were overwhelmingly reelected season after season while nothing ever changed for the better. Imagine the cognitive dissonance progressives must feel every day waking up in Rhode Island and winning political victory after victory as the state falls further and further behind nationally.
It isn’t merely ideological fidelity that leads me to think this wouldn’t be the case with the Anchor Rising contributors. I don’t know if it’s true of every single one of us, but there’s a strong strain of having once held different views, among conservatives of our stripe. I know I once held every opposite opinion from those I now proclaim.
We’re conservatives, that is, because the evidence of reality has led us here. We’re also kind of counter-cultural types, disinclined to toe a party line just because it’s our party. So, if hypothetical conservative policies were failing Rhode Island as badly as actual progressive policies are failing Rhode Island, we’d be reevaluating our policy beliefs and realigning politically with people who might fix what’s broken.
I’m sure there are analogues on the Rhode Island Left. They’re just kind of difficult to find.
GoLocalProv’s Kate Nagle cites RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse in her article, today, on talk of raising the minimum wage. As the Center’s report from last spring suggests, a minimum wage of $10.10 would destroy an estimated 3,466 Rhode Island jobs, and it wouldn’t affect the demographic that the politicians promote:
… 24,846 Rhode Islanders currently have jobs that pay them at a rate of $8.25 per hour or less. The “typical” profile … is of a white non-Hispanic high-school graduate, 21-years-old or younger and with no college experience, who lives with his or her parents and works 20-34 hours per week.
The Providence Journal’s PolitiFact crew contacted us a couple of months ago to fact-check that claim, but we haven’t heard anything since. (It doesn’t take much cynicism to think they’ve found other topics more interesting that didn’t require them to give the Center a “True.”)
But the economics aren’t really the key concern of most politicians. Rather, they want to say to a large group of people, “I will give you stuff.” Or, more accurately, “I will make other people give you their stuff.”
The part about 3,466 people losing their jobs kind of disrupts the narrative.
Politicians have internalized as a moral given that this redistribution is allowed and appropriate. We’ve permitted them to conclude that they have a right to take our stuff away, or force us to give it away.
The only question, then, is whether you’re in the disfavored group that ends up giving more than you get back. One suspects that individual answers to that question help explain who’s leaving our state and region for other states and who’s coming here from other countries.
For the people making the top-down decisions — politicians and bureaucrats — the most relevant question isn’t whether this flow is good for the economy, but rather, whether it transforms the population into one that will vote for them and their massive budgets.
So — hypothetically — we’ve got the entire grocery store industry fully automated, and the question is to where the extra profits will flow. With a large displaced workforce supported by unemployment and welfare, the government has alleviated some of the demand-side pressure on prices by handing out the money to keep paying current prices on food.
But pressure on prices can come from the other direction: competition.
A grocery store that simply divvies up its greater profits among a few executives and stakeholders will be at a competitive disadvantage to one that passes much of the savings on to consumers. That displaced workforce still has only limited income, so a store that can save the average family $50 a week will draw shoppers far and wide.
If that doesn’t happen, then something in the system is preventing it. In an industry like health care, it’s easy to see that regulations and mandates make entry and innovation difficult. In an industry like heavy construction, unionization keeps the largest area of cost (labor) fixed. In other areas, licensing and other hoops create the blockage and minimum wages and benefits keep up the cost of labor without unions.
The great bulk of these complications begin with or are exacerbated by government. That makes sense, too.
Established businesses, labor unions, and other special interests are already organized and powerful. Therefore, they are better able to influence the democratic and not-so-democratic processes of government.
Government, which progressives like to see as a counterbalance to private power, simply comes into line with it and amplifies its reach. A managed economy — with both direct decisions of government and public-private efforts to move the economy toward the upper crust’s vision of the future — inevitably favors the powerful and influential.
They limit competition and also ensure that there are mechanisms (including loopholes) that keep them from bearing an equal share of the burden of the income redistribution that keeps their prices up.
The Providence Chamber of Commerce joins those who think of government revenue first.
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.