Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Further thoughts on Newtown

Since yesterday' post I came across two other interesting items. One is an article that appeared in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy:

The burden of proof rests on the proponents of the more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death mantra, especially since they argue public policy ought to be based on that mantra. To bear that burden would at the very least require showing that a large number of nations with more guns have more death and that nations that have imposed stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions in criminal violence (or suicide). But those correlations are not observed when a large number of nations are compared across the world.

And, lest we forget shortly before the Newton massacre another shooting occurred at a mall in Oregon where the shooter took his own life, just as the Newtown shooter did. However, there is an interesting twist that kept the Oregon incident from becoming as awful as the one in Newton: an armed citizen. According to The Examiner:

The shooter … was confronted with an armed citizen, at which time he ran away and shot himself. By the time police arrived on the scene, [the shooter] was already dead.

Interesting that this fact has managed to not surface in the media coverage, isn’t it? The paper above has the following in its last paragraph that touches on this tendency to bury inconvenient facts.

Over a decade ago, Professor Brandon Centerwall of the University of Washington undertook an extensive, statistically sophisticated study comparing areas in the United States and Canada to determine whether Canada’s more restrictive policies had better contained criminal violence. When he published his results it was with the admonition:
If you are surprised by [our] finding[s], so [are we]. [We] did not begin this research with any intent to “exonerate” handguns, but there it is—a negative finding, to be sure, but a negative finding is nevertheless a positive contribution. It directs us where not to aim public health resources.

Why do I bring this up in light of the Newtown tragedy? Am I committing the same error as those who immediately use the victims as fodder for a political cause? To be fair both sides of the gun control debate think they’re defending the best interests of everyone. I believe the “solution” proposed would not prevent other tragedies. We’re treating a symptom as opposed to trying to figure out the root cause and coming up with a solution (if there is one) that treats the source. To me banning guns is like removing mercury from a thermometer in hopes that it will make the fever go away. Banning guns will only make tragedies like Newtown more likely, as the evidence in the Kates-Mauser paper shows. And that in itself is a tragedy.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Way Forward by John Podhoretz, Commentary Magazine

Of all of the post-election post-mortems that I've read this one makes a lot of sense. « The Way Forward Commentary Magazine Especially this point.

Obama and his team let it be known in the spring of 2011 that they intended to raise and spend an unprecedented $1 billion—$250 million more than in 2008—without having to drop so much as a nickel on anything but the general election against the Republicans. This is probably the key to understanding why the Republican field in 2011 came down to the distressingly uncharismatic array of B-listers like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and a couple of ludicrous outliers who thought they had nothing to lose by running. A Republican senator explained it to me at the time: “That’s one billion dollars aimed like a laser-guided munition at the reputation of a single person.”

ROBERT JAMES BIDINOTTO: Understanding Mass Murder

This week's massacre at Newtown has set off the to be expected firestorm over gun control. I highly recommend this post, Understanding Mass Murder. Robert, a good college friend, spent a lot of time studying criminals as well as talking with the survivors of the crimes committed. He talks about the sense of power shooters like this. (I won't mention the name so as not to contribute to whatever legacy or infamy he was hoping for.)

You have to understand this to grasp that, for the mass killer, murder is an empowering event. He is playing God with other human lives, and gets a tremendous "rush" of power and control by treating other humans like playthings.

I think this is especially true when these massacres occur at an elementary school where the perpetrator know that the kids won’t be able to over-power him (and the teachers are unarmed).

I find it interesting how quickly gun control advocates capitalize on tragedies like this to clamor for more controls on guns. I hear precious little talk about what other factors (cultural, social, psychological, etc.) that lead up to this. Excuse me if I get a bit sarcastic but that would take too much time and thought … and rational argument with people who might not agree. Instead we’re urged to rush into taking action even if ultimately that action might not prevent another tragedy like Newtown. And that is the deeper tragedy that most people don’t see.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What's Wrong With Self-Help Books? - The Daily Beast

Megan McArdle has some interesting observations in What's Wrong With Self-Help Books? - The Daily Beast. If I can fairly summarize her thesis this attitude towards self-help books stems from intellectuals’ elitism: they are so intelligent and above it all that they don’t need to heed the pedestrian advice offered in these books. She could be right.

I also think there is a strain of anti-individualism and determinism behind this sentiment too. If I could put this attitude in words it would be: How dare you think that you can help yourself in this crazy, complicated world? It’s too complicated for you to grasp and you’re fighting a futile battle against over-powering forces. You need the advice of your superior intellectual elite and the solace of the collective. It takes a village to raise a child, doesn’t it? I believe we can affect the wisdom of the decisions we make and the path we chart by reading the advice of some authors then making our own well-informed choices. My goal isn’t to defend that position here. It would take a book (or books) to do that.

Do some (or many) self-help books over simplify? Sure! Are some based on anecdotal as opposed to scientific studies? Yep. Are some just plain wrong? Of course. I’m not saying you blindly accept anyone who manages to get published. There are good self-help and bad self-help books, just as there are good or bad books in philosophy, history, politics, economics, and so on. And we naturally tend to pick authors who share our basic beliefs. A Christian will tend to read books written by a Christian self-help author and avoid an atheist’s screed. And vice versa.

I’d love to be able to spell out criteria for choosing the wheat out of the chaff but I’d say if it can be done it’s a job for someone far smarter than me. Maybe it’s a job for one of our intellectual elite! Just kidding. My goal is here is to simply note this bias against self-help books and offer an observation on the reason behind it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Pinocchio Press -

This article covers the new "fact checking" cottage industry that has sprung up. The Pinocchio Press -

Also be sure to check out PolitiFact Bias and Sublime Bloviations.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Totally Normal Blog: We Are All Pauline Kael Now by Michael Prescott

Michael Prescott talks about how we tend to select our sources of information that favors our opinions in The Totally Normal Blog: We Are All Pauline Kael Now. Recommended reading.

Here is what I posted in response:

Michael, I heartily agree. I know that despite my goal of being as objective as possible (no easy task given our nature!) I naturally gravitate to blogs and web sites with which I agree. Part of it is limited time. Part of it is having a limited ability (and desire) to stomach what the other side is saying. When you talk about the bubbles we build I saw a skit Bill Maher (who I can take in small doses) put on his show in which he had someone representing a typical conservative sitting inside a bubble while he hurled “facts” that the conservative couldn’t hear. I wish I could remember an example but don’t. Must be my built-in defense mechanism. ;-) Maher’s goal was to show how conservatives isolate themselves from uncomfortable facts. I’ve heard similar accusations from the right about the left.

This is a little off topic but I think a lot of this non-communication is caused by people talking at different conceptual levels. For instance, for Objectivists and libertarians the individual is their foundation. Conservatives talk more about families and tradition. Liberals talk more about it taking a village to raise a child.

As an example of this building your own bubble trend I recently learned about an iPad app called Zite which feeds stories to you in different categories such as politics, science, and psychology. You can vote on which stories or sources you like or dislike. As you vote on the stories Zite refines what it sends to you. After installing it I've tried to avoid completely shutting down sites like Salon, Slate, and others precisely to see what the other side is saying if for no other reason than to see what arguments (such as they are) that they’re using.

So I'd say there are positives and negatives with having the ability to find sources of information to your liking. On the one hand it helps break the monopoly the mainstream new media has had on doling out information to us. On the other it becomes too easy, as you said, to build a bubble that shields facts that might not neatly fit your favored explanatory model (to coin an awkward term).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Unseen Class War That Could Decide The Presidential Election |

I was not aware of this web site until it was referred to in another blog I read frequently. (I forgot which one!) This analysis touches on the class war that is surely going to be a factor in the upcoming presidential election. 

The Unseen Class War That Could Decide The Presidential Election |

Maverick Philosopher: The 'You Didn't Build That' Speech Revisited: Wieseltier Says Romney and Ryan are Lying

Maverick Philosopher provides a good analysis of Obama's now infamous "you didn't build that" comment. His defenders claim he was quoted out of context, that the "that" he referred to is not the enterprise the business person created but to the infrastructure we all rely upon. This analysis addresses both interpretations.

Maverick Philosopher: The 'You Didn't Build That' Speech Revisited: Wieseltier Says Romney and Ryan are Lying

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Elizabeth Warren and China

This article in Reason does a nice job analyzing the flaws in Elizabeth Warren’s comparison of how much China spends on their infrastructure versus ours. There are a couple links below showing an example of a Chinese ghost city, an entire city that was built by the Chinese government which is unoccupied and likely to stay that way. Just what we need here, right?

Actually she does us a favor in showing how government can build an infrastructure -- which she says businesses need in order to exist – that no one uses. This is the reverse of Frederic Bastiat’s analysis of the broken window fallacy in which he refutes the claim that destroying things actually is good because it creates work for those who can rebuild what was destroyed. See more here: My point is the opposite: The Chinese government built entire cities for which there was no need. As a result the resources spent on these projects are not available for other projects for which there might be a legitimate need. As Bastiat noted we focus on what can be seen – the brand spanking new but empty city – and not what can’t be seen – the lost opportunities to meet the real needs and wants of people as well as the wasted resources.

This brings me back to Warren’s and Obama’s rant about businesses being unable to do their thing without a strong infrastructure. What strikes me is the indignation both of them exuded. Maybe I missed something but I don’t recall seeing business owners running around claiming they built their enterprises without any assistance. To me both Warren and Obama set up a straw man to advance their case for higher taxes and reveal their deep seated antipathy for business and capitalism.

In China we have examples in these ghost cities of infrastructure being provided that no one is willing or able to use. More importantly it reveals what happens in a country that with a government that doesn’t recognize or protect individual rights. It says a lot that Warren proudly holds up China as an example to which we’re supposed to emulate.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

You Didn't Build That: Two Analyses

I like how Maverick Philosopher dissects Obama's remarks on "you didn't build that." Maverick Philosopher: Who Built the Internet? Obama's Straw Man Fallacy

Ari Armstrong's analysis also touches on the motivation behind Obama's argument.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

King Barack I vs. the American Gospel of Success By Robert Tracinski

I like this analysis byRobert Tracinski. It covers a lot of ground and I agree with the points he makes.

King Barack I vs. the American Gospel of Success

Over the years I've met several business owners who have created their enterprises from nothing. One is a college friend of my wife who spent years scrimping and saving, working insane hours without knowing whether or not her business was going to succeed or not. Finally over. Here's the business to take off and eventually was bought out by a much larger organization. Our friend was asked to stay on and help continue managing the business the sheep built. But for years we saw very little of her because she was working 18 hour days six and seven days a week.

I also recall meeting a fellow while working on account where he and some of his coworkers bought the plant that was being sold by the parent company. They scraped together enough money by mortgaging their homes to buy the plant. There were no guarantees either business was going to survive. And if the businesses had failed the guys who bought the plant I mentioned above could have easily lost their homes.

Why tell the stories to uphold liberal friends of mine live in the area and indicate how much these people put on the line and how many hours they work I get to look of disbelief as if they are saying, “How could that possibly be?” In fact when one friend almost comes out and says it's not possible anybody could work harder than him. I'm not saying he doesn't work hard but I also know he engages in a lot of activities such as biking, tennis, hiking etc. that our friend I mentioned above had to completely abandon in order to build her business. I don't begrudge her the money she made. But I do sense resentment from our friends.

Obama talks about how people who have succeeded in creating and building their business are basically not smarter than the rest of us or haven't worked harder than the rest of us (although I would dispute that). He conveniently ignores one point that distinguishes people who have succeeded in creating their own businesses: they have taken risks that other people have not taken or are not willing to take.

He also conveniently forgets to mention the fact that the same people who created businesses from nothing did so from a vision of what they wanted to create.

If polled I would assume that the majority of business owners would agree with Obama's general point that it would not have been possible for them to create their business without the foundation of the infrastructure provided by local and federal taxes. To me this is the equivalent of saying we all need soil in order to grow crops. But it still takes someone with initiative, vision, and willingness to take risks to plant their seeds in the soil and spend the time and effort and sweat it takes for the seeds to grow. All this without a guarantee that their seeds will actually sprout.

Think Tough Gun Laws Keep Europeans Safe? Think Again by John Lott

This article by John Lott from 2010 talks about the five worst mass shootings in history. It is interesting to note that three of the five occurred in Germany, which according to Lott has the strictest gun control regulations in all of Europe.

Think Tough Gun Laws Keep Europeans Safe? Think Again... | Fox News

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Interesting advice for Romney

While I don't agree with Bruce Gabrielle's claim that the Romney campaign is "on the ropes" I like his advice.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Obamacare: Crony Corporatism At Its Worst

I wondered why it would take such a 2000+-page monstrosity of a bill to "cure" the ills of our healthcare system. Wouldn't it be easier to come up with something that does not disrupt what 90% of the Americans have for health insurance and deal directly with those people who do not have it? I'm thinking of something similar to what used to be called food stamps. Maybe they would be called med stamps! Or do what they do in Switzerland: provide a direct subsidy to people who cannot afford health insurance or if the cost of the insurance exceeds a certain percent of their income. One possible explanation is that Obamacare gives our wise government bureaucrats complete control over a large sector of our economy. I'm sure there's some of that motivating the drive to develop such a complicated mess of legislation.

I also figured it had to be the result of the unholy alliance we have between government and big business. (This relationship is often referred to as crony capitalism, however I prefer the term crony corporatism.) The post below by Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute confirms this suspicion by providing some background on the birth (or should we say failed abortion?) of Obama care. Be sure to check out the link that Mitchell provides in his post to an article that appeared in the Washington Examiner.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Thoughts on the Supreme Court Decision on Obamacare

I do not plan to provide lengthy commentary on last week’s Supreme ruling on the constitutionality of the healthcare act. Many other folks with whom I agree have spoken on the subject. However I will make a prediction: five years from now our situation with healthcare will be no better, if not worse, than it is today. And that will spur further calls for even more government intervention into the healthcare sector to "fix" the problems. This despite the fact that government has been involved in healthcare for at least 100 years in a series of actions, each of which has caused even further disruptions.
The first link from the Ludwig von Mises Institute provides an extensive list of links to various articles and studies on the effect of government's role on healthcare and how will we have now is not anywhere close to a free market in healthcare.

The first link in the list is an article by Murray Rothbard summarizes the history of the government’s intervention in healthcare since around 1910.

The Heritage Foundation collection of pictures and charts captures the key features of Obamacare. Http://

Robert Bidinotto identifies the collectivist premises that support the Supreme Court ruling and provides a link to his analysis of why conservatives continually lose the moral battle in these battles against the left. I strongly recommend reading both the article on his blog as well as the link to his article on “Up From Conservatism.

Meanwhile neo-neocon provides some interesting thoughts.

And finally for a counter to the moral argument Obamacare proponents unleash on anyone who dares to oppose their “noble” cause check out Dr. Paul Hsieh’s article.

The only way Americans can protect their long-term access to quality medical care is by demanding that the government respect their freedom and individual rights. Any system of “universal” health care necessarily requires a bureaucracy to control who can receive what services and when — if only to control costs. The medical rationing in Canada and the UK are typical results. In these countries, far from being a “right,” health care becomes just another privilege to be dispensed at the discretion of the bureaucrats.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Socialist or Fascist - Thomas Sowell - Townhall Conservative Columnists

Thomas Sowell makes a distinction that many conservative commentators miss when they accuse Obama of being a socialist or a communist.

It bothers me a little when conservatives call Barack Obama a "socialist." He certainly is an enemy of the free market, and wants politicians and bureaucrats to make the fundamental decisions about the economy. But that does not mean that he wants government ownership of the means of production, which has long been a standard definition of socialism.

What President Obama has been pushing for, and moving toward, is more insidious: government control of the economy, while leaving ownership in private hands. That way, politicians get to call the shots but, when their bright ideas lead to disaster, they can always blame those who own businesses in the private sector.

One of the reasons why both pro-Obama and anti-Obama observers may be reluctant to see him as fascist is that both tend to accept the prevailing notion that fascism is on the political right, while it is obvious that Obama is on the political left.

I agree with him on this. He also correctly identifies fascism to the political left, not the right as most people do. However he doesn’t specifically mention how some folks like libertarians lay out the axis of the political spectrum with collectivism on the left and individualism on the right. A fascistic dictatorship, even if it favors business, still is a form of collectivism. The following definition provided in Wikipedia clearly shows the collectivist nature of fascism in which the individual is subjugated to the needs of the nation.

Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek rejuvenation of their nation based on commitment to an organic national community where its individuals are united together as one people in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood through a totalitarian single-party state that seeks the mass mobilization of a nation through discipline, indoctrination, physical training, and eugenics.

Getting back to Sowell’s piece he makes a couple of key points.

Politically, it is heads-I-win when things go right, and tails-you-lose when things go wrong. This is far preferable, from Obama's point of view, since it gives him a variety of scapegoats for all his failed policies, without having to use President Bush as a scapegoat all the time.

Government ownership of the means of production means that politicians also own the consequences of their policies, and have to face responsibility when those consequences are disastrous -- something that Barack Obama avoids like the plague.

Thus the Obama administration can arbitrarily force insurance companies to cover the children of their customers until the children are 26 years old. Obviously, this creates favorable publicity for President Obama. But if this and other government edicts cause insurance premiums to rise, then that is something that can be blamed on the "greed" of the insurance companies.

This might seem like an issue of semantics but I don’t believe it is. I hold that incorrectly identifying Obama’s political position harms the credibility of the person making this claim. A knowledgeable opponent would have cause to ignore the comment because it shows ignorance at worst or sloppy thinking at best. It also incorrectly pits the right as being purely pro-business regardless of its relationship to government (i.e., the right supports big business cronyism while the left is protecting us little folk who need the help of our enlightened politicians to fight for our rights against the juggernaut of big business and the rich.)

Over time the left has done a good job of usurping certain terms in our language. An example is their term “right wing dictatorship” which can be safely uttered and no one challenges it. If we accept this designation we’re faced with the choice of a dictatorship of the proletariat on the left fighting the dictatorship of the bourgeois on the right. The individual is conveniently ignored in this spectrum.

Monday, May 7, 2012

If I wanted the truth to fail

This article by Holly Munson in the Huffington Post talks about a video by a group called Free Market America which has received over 1,000,000 hits on YouTube. She compares it to an essay by E. L. Doctorow titled Unexceptionalism: A Primer. As Munson summarizes both:

The video opens with a grave-faced narrator: "If I wanted America to fail, to follow, not lead ... I'd start with energy." He then outlines a litany of objectives, such as using public schools to teach schoolchildren that people are causing global warming. The ominous kicker at the end: "If I wanted America to fail, I -- I suppose I wouldn't change a thing."

Then, this Sunday, the New York Times published an op-ed by writer E.L. Doctorow titled "Unexceptionalism: A Primer." The essay begins: "To achieve unexceptionalism, the political ideal that would render the United States indistinguishable from the impoverished, traditionally undemocratic, brutal or catatonic countries of the world, do the following" -- followed by step-by-step instructions, such as, "If you're a justice of the Supreme Court, decide that the police ... have the absolute authority to strip-search any person whom they, for whatever reason, put under arrest." The finale: "With this ruling, the reduction of America to unexceptionalism is complete."
Munson closes her article with a section titled The Analysis.

So what should we make of the arguments made by Free Market America and Doctorow? Are they contributing to the lack of civility in public discourse by demonizing the opponent? Or are they thoughtful arguments, articulated in an effective, albeit emotionally manipulative, way?”

There is room to argue that these are valid exercises in satire.

The problem is that when someone equates a particular policy position with The Destruction of America As We Know It, or equates those who hold that position as evil (and/or stupid), they disregard the fact that reasonable people can disagree, and that their opponents probably have decidedly non-sinister reasons for believing what they do.

It's also worth pointing out that both parties are guilty of this -- it's something we all need to work on.
I agree that many people find it much easier to demonize their political opponents rather than carefully, objectively analyzing their positions. Given the name of this blog you can probably guess which way I lean. However I also believe that a video or an editorial essay (or political commercials) are not appropriate vehicles for well constructed arguments. There is a legitimate place for passionate polemics and there is a place for probing debates and detailed analysis. (For the later check out publications by the Cato Institute and Brookings Institute.) I’m concerned that equating the two methods of spreading one's message smuggles in the solipsism of saying no one is right nor wrong. In the process incorrect or unfounded beliefs get treated as equivalent to well-founded ones. The truth gets lost in the process. And we lose.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How I Learned Not to Deny Climate Change by By Robert Tracinski

For an interesting take on the global warming controversy (excuse me, I used the wrong term: climate change) check out this article. How I Learned Not to Deny Climate Change

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The News Media as Instructors not Reporters

This post from Ace of Spades HQ starts out with how the Washington Post buried a story about how Obamacare actually is going to increase the deficit, not lower it as was originally claimed. Further down Ace makes an interesting distinction about the role that the news media establishment believes they are fulfilling. His observations mesh with comments I’ve posted earlier about the Ruling Class. Ace’s analysis implicitly touches on the abandonment of any pretense of being objective. In our post-modern world these folks believe the truth is what they want it to be, especially if they believe it serves an end they feel is moral and justified. Just don’t ask them to objectively defend this position because, you know, objectivity is such a 20th century, out-of-fashion notion!
This story sums up everything that is wrong with the media, and why it is dying -- and why it should die.

The media is no longer in the information business.

They are in the instruction business.

This is an important distinction.

If you're in the information business, your stock in trade is information. You have no particular concern about how that information will be received, or interpreted, or used for making political arguments. That's not your business-- you are in the business of data, not Narrative and not the internal contents of your readers' minds.

You are not your readers' minders, nor their tutors: You stand equal to them. They are citizens are you are citizens; you have no special insight into The Truth, and they no special disadvantage in discovering The Truth.

Now, if you're in the Instruction business, things are quite different. You stand not as an equal with your readers, but as a Teacher. And, worse yet, they are Children in need of your guidance.

You cannot just offer information willy-nilly to children. …

You must be protective of Children, who are, in final analysis, incompetent (legally as well as actually) individual who need to be told what to think and how to think. You cannot give them license to think whatever they like, for they are not mature enough for that.

They haven't yet learned the skill of thinking.

Thus, everything you tell a child must be with rounded corner and soft padding. Children are dangerous, after all, to themselves and others, if not properly minded at every moment.

Why do people -- and not just strong partisans, but most anyone who isn't a diehard liberal partisan -- hate the media?

Because of this, this belief of the media that we wish or need their Instruction in ordering our lives and ordering our thoughts.

But they are determined to do just that.

This isn't even restricted to news -- the media's strong belief that it is the Thin Black and White Line between semi-retarded barbarians from Idiocracy and civilization is present in films and fictions, too.

Every goddamned movie is a children's movie, with a soporofic, corporate-approved Moral (don't hate strangers; be yourself!).

Even movies for adults. Especially movies for adults.

This is called "being responsible." It's also called "being condescending" and "making infantile, bad art," but they prefer "being responsible."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Causes of Health Care and Health Insurance Inflation in Excess of General Inflation by Logan Darrow Clements

This chart does a nice job showing the complicated mess we have for health care in the U.S. and vividly shows that what we have is far from a free market in health care. Even in chart form the complexity of our system numbs the mind! Take two aspirin before reading it!

How Deval Patrick Gutted Romneycare's Market-Oriented Health Reforms by Avik Roy

This article in Forbes on what happened in Massachusetts after Romney care bill passed is enlightening given that this subject most likely will be hotly debated during the upcoming Presidential election.

Here is a key quote.

And while Democrats have sought to credit (or blame) Romney for the passage of Obamacare, it is more accurate to say that the federal Affordable Care Act is modeled after the Democratically implemented version of the Massachusetts law, as opposed to the one that Romney had sought.

Read the rest of the article for the grisly details.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reflections on Inequality

This short essay by Robert A. Levy, chairman of the Cato Institute, nicely captures in a very few words key libertarian counter-points to the Occupy Wall Street stance on inequality.

Israeli president Shimon Peres reminds us: "By and large, those in the world who placed freedom above equality have done better by equality than those who placed equality above freedom have done by freedom." That observation, apparently lost on the Occupy Wall Street crowd, has a moral component as well: It is more just to reward effort, even if it cannot be proven to benefit the least affluent, than it is to reward the least affluent, even if they exert little effort to improve their status. Moral superiority does not entail punishing the industrious wealthy to sustain the indolent poor.
Further, the top 1 percent of income earners — persons earning more than $343,000 in 2009 — paid 38 percent of income taxes. And that doesn't reflect the nondeductibility of capital losses, the tax on illusory gains due to inflation, and the double tax paid indirectly by shareholders on corporate profits before they're distributed or impounded in stock prices. By contrast, according to the Committee on Joint Taxation, more than half of American households paid zero income taxes. Those numbers are astonishing. Even persons who embrace progressive taxation are hard-pressed to argue that the tax code is insufficiently discriminatory. How far must progressivity extend to satisfy the left's notion of fairness?
Read the whole thing. It’s only seven paragraphs long!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Science Asks: Why Can't We All Just Get Along? - The Atlantic

I've been eagerly awaiting the publication of Jonathan Haidt's new book, The Righteous Mind, which I plan on reviewing here (one of these days). In the meantime here is a good summary of Haidt's approach. Science Asks: Why Can't We All Just Get Along? - The Atlantic

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Why liberals can't understand conservatives – Telegraph Blogs

Why liberals can't understand conservatives – Telegraph Blogs

This article touches on ideas that will be discussed in Jonathan Haidt's soon to be released book, The Righteous Mind. I am looking forward to reading it and reviewing it here. In the meantime Ed West gives a nice preview.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review - Reckless Endangerment:How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon Review

After the financial collapse as I expected a flood of books swept the market to explain why it happened. Some were written by people on the right and some by people on the left. If you’re interested in reading a book that explains how the housing bubble burst and, more important, how it was inflated in the first place from a non-ideological source I recommend Reckless Endangerment. The authors do a good job of detailing how the people within Fannie Mae cooked the books and used various means to ensure folks who normally wouldn’t qualify for loans got them. It also details how some within government, both Republicans and Democrats, defended Fannie Mae.

Gretchen Morgenson, the lead author, is a business reporter and writes the Fair Game column in The New York Times. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her coverage of Wall Street. Her co-author, Joshua Rosner is a partner at Graham Fisher & Co., an independent research consultancy.

Morgenson and Rosner report how Barney Frank and Chris Dodd vigorously defended Fannie/Freddie against various people who questioned the economic wisdom of what they were doing.

It’s not a perfect book but it details the greed that drove the key participants within these organizations. It’s ironic because the only time I recall the media or liberals use the word greed was to chastise Wall Street’s role, not those within government and the Government Sponsored Enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As the authors say:

We found that this was a crisis that crept up, building almost imperceptibly over the past two decades. More disturbing, it was the result of actions taken by people at the height of power in both the public and private sectors, people who continue, even now, to hold sway in the corridors of Washington and Wall Street.
Reckless Endangerment is a story of what happens when unfettered risk taking, with an eye to huge personal paydays, gains the upper hand in corporate executive suites and on Wall Street trading floors. It is a story of the consequences of regulators who are captured by the institutions they are charged with regulating. And it is story of what happens when Washington decides, in its infinite wisdom, that every living, breathing citizen should own a home.
They don’t use these terms but Reckless Endangerment exams the perils of crony capitalism. I’d also reverse their order of cause and effect: government policies to encourage home ownership lead to the formation of GSEs which blend the private and public sectors.

Reckless Endangerment shows that the seeds were set several decades before 2008. The change in the tax code in 1986 eliminated the interest deduction on debt except for mortgages thus setting the stage for making housing “Americans’ most favored asset.” Then in 1994 President Clinton launched the National Partners in Homeownership, a private-public cooperative with one goal: raising the numbers of homeowners across America. As they point out this cooperative had a problematic feature: it teamed regulators with the organizations they were supposed to be policing.

The book then shifts to the role of James Johnson who took over Fannie Mae and began relaxing loan underwriting standards. In addition the executive pay structure changed. “Compensation became tied almost solely to earnings growth.”

[CBO study revealed that] the companies passed on to borrowers only about two thirds of the billions in benefits they received. Fannie and Freddie kept $2.1 billion for themselves and their shareholders. … [It became clear] how Fannie Mae could pay its executives as much as they did. Equally evident: Holding on to so much of its subsidy let Fannie Mae fund its elaborate self-preservation scheme, make its massive charitable contributions, pay for it extensive ‘political outreach,’ and hire academics to write favorable studies about its role in the mortgage market.
Federal investigators later found that you could predict what Fannie’s earnings-per-share would be at year-end, almost to the penny, if you knew the maximum earnings-per-share bonus payout target set by management at the beginning of the year.
Towards the end of the book Morgenson comments on the attempt to “fix” the earliest abuses by passing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. “The irony of having two of the nation’s most strident defenders of Fannie Mae sponsoring the new reform act was lost on few of those who knew the sordid Fannie story.”

While Reckless Endangerment nicely reports on the shenanigans of those in government, the GSEs and on Wall Street it suffers from a lack of a clear understanding of free market economics. Nor does it address the philosophical premises that support the efforts to expand home ownership. For a nice analysis with a philosophical explanation check out Altruism: The Moral Root of the Financial Crisis by Richard M. Salsman. I would add that those who pushed for home ownership did indeed justify it by pointing out that people who normally couldn’t afford homes now could but a number of those advocates obviously had purely self-promoting reasons for doing so such as the Fannie Mae execs who reaped huge bonuses for their “selfless” work. So you end up with deadly recipe for disaster: altruistic justification for bad policies, profit taking by those who administered the GSEs, politicians who made political hay with their support, financiers who sold derivatives that rested on an inherently faulty foundation, regulators and financial rating agencies who turned a blind eye and finally (as covered in the book) academics who cooked their numbers in their analyses to hide the flaws.

I’d like to say we (speaking collectively) learned a lesson from all of this but based on the passage of the Dodd-Frank bill plus other more recent developments I’m afraid we’re no better off than we were before the 2008 crash. In other words Reckless Endangerment continues.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bad-Faith Journalism -

Bad-Faith Journalism -

This article by James Taranto touches on PolitiFact's "fact checking" and how some on the Left respond with violent ad hominem attacks to PolitiFact's occasional conclusion in which they actually agree with a comment on the Right. The nerve!