Posts Tagged ‘socialism’

ELECTORAL PSYCHOSIS: OR THE HILLARUMP-TRILLARY SYNDROME

May 25, 2016

I came across an op-ed piece in our local newspaper recently by Eliot Cohen. His commentary boiled down to a call for a third-party candidate. He termed Hillary Clinton “easily the lesser evil” and posited that a third-party candidate would send her a message to “govern from the center.”

A bit later in the week I had a brief political sidebar with a patient (this seems to arise more often these days), and he expressed disgust with the current polarization and voiced a similar wish for more cooperation and a move to the center.

Now, I’ve been persistently perplexed by the rise to the top of two deeply flawed candidates who share at least one thing in common: They have the highest unfavorable ratings of the pack. So what would possess the American public to ostensibly rally around their least favored candidates? The call for a move to the center gelled a theory I’d been harboring.

But first, getting back to the patient, I inquired if he were $100,000 in debt, would he reduce his spending to neutral, “governing from the center,” as it were, or would he tighten his belt in an effort to climb the uphill road to fiscal recovery?

For decades now progressive Democrats and Republicans have doubled down on unprecedented “grow and spend” policies that have become so entrenched that much of the electorate cannot imagine a viable alternative. Many have adopted a similar personal fiscal policy, planning little for the future while enjoying the moment. The lines for $5 and $6 dollar Starbucks’ beverages grow even while we hear of increasing joblessness and a shrinking economy. The illusion of the status quo is buttressed by a growing welfare state supported by unprecedented borrowing, printing, and their associated campaign promises.

But the odd bird of an election we’re witnessing reflects an unease that’s starting to ripple across a growing segment of the country: a realization that things are not working. For many, the solution has taken the shape of a call for an outsider; someone who will do something—anything—differently. For some this “savior” takes the form of a blustering, fist-shaking, non-politician who talks a lot about “winning,” with populist catch-phrases in search of elusive policies and substance. For others, it’s the siren call of wealth redistribution, the indomitable phoenix of socialism and its comrade “social justice,” once again rising from the ashes even as the world watches its demise again…and again. And yet others crave a return to the only normal they can fathom after decades of intransigence, just a few more years of comforting printing and spending, and things will eventually work themselves out. This, even if the promises come from someone they don’t really trust…and who might be indicted. Finally, a growing but stunted group made an aborted attempt to place a voice that spoke to the only solution that makes sense: Shrinking government, reducing spending, stopping crony capitalism, and growing the private sector economy. But this messenger was tainted ideologically. Those on the left are conditioned to see this this viewpoint as espoused by narrow-minded bigots who love only corporate fat cats, and many in the center were put off by exhortations weighed down by right-to-life and other perceived religious undertones.

When faced with the knowledge that something must be done and the one obvious solution you’ve been told is evil, cognitive dissonance occurs, and the paradox creates…the Hillarump-Trillary Syndrome. Side effects include mini-riots at campaign stops and spending an inordinate amount of media time distracting oneself with the pros and cons of a minute fraction of the public’s right to choose which bathrooms they may enter.

A third party candidate? Americans have always been an exceptionally innovative people. Given time, I’m certain we can come up with a someone we like even less.

Advertisements

WHAT AM I WORTH?

April 9, 2013

Recently, mimimum wage workers in NYC went on strike for a higher salaries. They’re arguing that the current wage floor is incompatible with a sustainable economic existence. And arguments can be made that it has not kept pace with inflation. The larger and more appropriate questions we should be asking are, what should anyone’s wage be, who should decide, and based on what?

I’m in favor of a law that doubles my salary. And so are you. Heck, let’s double everyone’s salary. With the increased buyiing power we can pay off the debt, rev up the economy and have money to spare. OK, you see the absurdity of it. But I’m not trying to trivialize the plight of the low income earner, just point out the hazards of economics by decree. We can try to shift the balance by legislation, but where do we draw the line, and who gets to do  it?

Government interference creates odd inequities that we’ve come to accept as a way of life. While we all see the value of having everyone working at greater than subsistence wages, the government, in its meddlesome ways, does much more than that. Let me give an example from my personal experience: Recently, I fielded three after-hours calls over a short period of time. I generated zero income from this, as the government, through Medicare, has kept costs down by deciding this over-the-telephone work is not reimbursable; this has extended to other insurers and has become the standard. Howerve, if you were to get on the phone with your accountant or tax lawyer, the meter would be running, and you would receive a bill for a not insubstantial hourly rate. Their time is, apparently, infinitely more valuable than mine. Ironically, their jobs are artificial, existing only because of, you guessed it, government meddling. If we didn’t have the arcane and ridiculously complex tax code our ruling class spends much of its time tweaking and finessing to assuage special interests and to give the appearance of actual work, rather than doing something they were hired to (like making a budget), there would be no tax lawyers or accountants. Now, I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me, nor is that the purpose of this rant, only to illustrate the hazards of government legislation when it comes to the marketplace.

So what should I be paid? How should my worth be detemined? And yours for that matter? In a socialist system the government decides by fiat. We all know how well that works. In a true democracy, the people decide. Of course, the largest number of people are making less than the fewest wealthy, so they run the risk of succumbing to the temptation of taking what isn’t theirs (often using altruistic slogans as cover) and degenerating into socialism (as aptly illustrated by the old saw that democracy is two wolves and a sheep meeting to decide what’s for lunch). Our Founding Fathers tried to navigate their way around this pool of quagmire by devising a democratic republic. But they recognized it would only work for as long as morality held sway over avarice. So, if not government, and not the people, then who? I submit: The marketplace. The value of goods and services can only be fairly determined there. The more we meddle with it, the more distorted and absurd it becomes.

Ultimately, the question of the right minimum wage falls into the same nebulous territory as how  much welfare and unemployment we should grant. Liberals will argue that more defines us as compassionate and libertarians will argue that the law of unintended consequences mandates a hands-off policy, with conservatives somewhere in the middle. I like to park in the middle.

Keep the safety net low, the playing field clean, and let the marketplace do its thing. Its can be a harsh taskmaster, but ultimately it’s the only umpire I trust.

THE WORLD AFTER CAPITALISM

February 4, 2013

The current slow, inexorable drift toward progressivism, or “socialism light,” will end—eventually. As I (and Charles Krauthammer) have said, something unsustainable will continue until it can no longer be sustained. Based on our fiscal behavior, we may not get to see the full evolution and implosion, though. It took about 70 years for the Soviet Union to fall and I don’t think our quasi-capitalist economy will last long enough in light of current circumstances.

Even before the bust in 2007, however, I anticipated an inevitable drop in our standard of living. Ignoring the debt (something we’ve always been adept at), we still face the challenge of competing in a global economy with an uneven playing field. Americans have hard-fought rules that prohibit unfair practices and exploitation (i.e., minimum wage laws and safety standards to name a couple) that increase the cost of production here relative to the international workplace. While there has been some effort to discourage domestic consumption of goods from foreign “sweatshops,” it’s clear from the migration of jobs overseas that the benefits of  lower prices are being offset by fewer workers here earning enough to purchase them. I don’t see an easy way out of this conundrum until our standard of living falls and that of the international worker rises, a homogenization of wages, so to speak. And that will take time.

There is another elephant in the room. As a fan of science fiction, I often speculated on the effect technology would have on the economy. Already we’ve seen examples of consumer items that can be made cheaply and last for years—or decades—for a fraction of what it would cost to produce the technology they replace. A good example of this is the LED lightbulb. While the price hasn’t fallen enough for most of us to shell out the tens of dollars per bulb to replace our incandescents and fluorescents yet, it illustrates the principle. If you make something without built-in obsolescence, you either have to charge a lot of money, regardless of what the cost of production is after R&D and overhead are recouped, or you go out of business. And more and more of the manufacturing can be done robotically, so the employment opportunities keep diminishing. There may have to be an entirely new economic model to deal with this. A fascinating three-part article dealing with the interplay of technology and jobs can be found here.

I’ve also tried to speculate how this new economic model might be implemented. Perhaps the greater scope and number of service-related and software-related jobs would absorb some of the slack. Still, with less work and more free time, more leisure-, music- and art-related industries will crop up. The problem is figuring out how the distribution of wealth will be adjudicated. In unfettered capitalism it’s decided by the marketplace, a system that, eventually, reliably defines worth. It also has the benefit of conforming with the natural human desire to be rewarded proportionally to one’s effort (although arguably we’re in the current mess because too many have come to feel entitled to rewards for little or no effort). Socialism goes against the grain of human nature; hence its ultimate, inevitable failure as the takers outstrip the producers. The Star-Trek saga regales us with a world of plenty without money, but they never make it clear just how this worked. They imply a gratifying change in human behavior that, idealistic as it is, I don’t see coming in the next 400-600 years (sorry, Captain). Good and evil, the yin and yang of our nature, in the aggregate hasn’t really changed much over the past 10,000 years. We’ve just found ways to devise more efficient means to self-destruct.

So, in the world after capitalism, I haven’t a clue as to what will grow in its place. Perhaps some hybrid that will better fit a changing world. The only certainty is that there will be hard workers struggling to keep what they earn and thieves and socialists (in some view two sides of the same coin) trying to take what they don’t.

There’s a certain comfort in predictability, isn’t there?

A MENAGERIE OF THOUGHTS

November 19, 2012

Now that the election’s behind us we know that the net ideology of the voting public has changed. The pundits tell us it’s a demographic shift, and they are probably right. To me it was truly astonishing that more than half the country’s electorate looks at the same abysmal economic performance and is convinced that no change in leadership is needed. Considering Romney’s clearly superior credentials in the area we’re most in dire need of fixing—the economy—it surprised me even more.

In speaking to my liberal friends (yes, I do have them) they paint a picture of a Republican party that is frighteningly Neanderthal with respect to social issues. That belief, in association with a woeful lack of understanding of the seriousness of the economy’s failings (in my opinion) led them to reenlist Obama. But I believe that another, less cerebral motivation brought many others to the polls—the addiction to government handouts. I don’t think that the majority that reelected the once and future president are laggards; there are now just enough to move us from a net center-right to a center-left nation. The old saw about democracy being two wolves and a sheep meeting to decide what’s for dinner is coming to pass.

The term democracy has been bandied about so much that people forget we’re supposed to be a democratic republic. It was not our Founding Fathers’ intention to create a democracy—they recognized that democracy slowly morphs into socialism which, history has taught us (or has tried to), slowly morphs into nonexistence. Producers will only work harder for non-producers for a finite period.

Most liberals are neither lazy nor of evil intent, just as most conservatives are not really heartless Neanderthal money-mongers. And now the left has another four years of a standard-bearer who will continue to make promises and raise taxes in an earnest but ineffectual quest to “give everyone a fair chance.” But the land of opportunity wasn’t built on a foundation of equality of outcome, only equality of opportunity.

I hope we don’t strangle the goose lays the golden egg in a noose of good intentions.

THE TORNADO EXPRESS

June 11, 2012

We’re at a crossroads—or, rather a switch track. Capitalism, the powerful engine of our economy, is losing steam.

First, we’re choking the fuel line. The engine runs off a fuel known as competition. The marketplace is the oxygen that allows the fuel to burn. Anti-monopoly laws were put in place to protect this, but have progressively eroded due to corruption of the public sector by the private sector. The former, motivated by votes (the currency of power), has formed an unholy alliance with the latter, motivated by greed. So where the ruling class should be legislating more, it is doing less.

Second, we’re trying to get the engine to climb a four percent grade. Unlike a real train, capitalism, like a tornado, forges its own path, sparing some and taking down others. However, the critical difference is that the process isn’t random—it rewards success and smites failure. It can be a brutal taskmaster. So the government tries to apply the brakes, its munificent side trying to soften the highs in an effort to mitigate the devastating lows, while its corrupt side, to buy votes, chooses winners and losers. Unfortunately, crony capitalism is inherently more foolish than the real thing, and repeatedly falls victim to the unforgiving Law of Unintended Consequences.

On paper, socialism sounds better. Equality of outcomes, utopia, as extolled in John Lennon’s classic song, “Imagine.” The problem is it only works as advertised when we have a community with a pervasive, powerful work ethic and universal good will. Socialism pointedly ignores the reality of human nature, which is as noble as it is vile. Hence, it always fails.

Capitalism has had a longer, much more wildly successful run than socialism. It’s been so effective that it’s even found an awkward home in China, thriving well enough to turn this anti-American dictatorship into our creditor. The capitalist economy can be cruel and unforgiving, magnanimous and gentle, much like the human spirit. It is also failing, because of the slow erosion of the principles that have guided it to the pinnacle of its success. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution we legislated to inject a little justice into a system we could see favored some unfairly as the expense of others. It seemed to work, so we piled more and more of the same on top, until the engine was pulling much more than it could handle. So where the ruling class should now be legislating less, it is doing more. At the same time, social justice ideologues have tried to stand in the engine’s way in an attempt to derail it.

The next election, I think, will define our net values as a nation. Will we be switching the Tornado Express onto a track leading into miles of uncharted territory, or over a cliff?

THE COLOR POLITIC

June 4, 2012

Disregarding the radical fringe on either side of the political aisle, there is large segment of the electorate that is thoughtful, reasonable and informed that sees the world through different colored lenses.

This may be a “duh” moment, but for me it was starkly highlighted again yesterday during a polite but sometimes spirited family debate. My brother is intelligent, well-read and politically savvy. Although only a couple of years my senior, his interest in things politic antedated mine by many years—I remember a poster of then-presidential candidate John Kennedy hanging on our bedroom wall when I was in grade school.

During this highly unpublicized telephone debate he presented his arguments and I mine, neither of us expecting to convert the other. We had common ground on a few important points, agreeing that crony capitalism had to stop and Wall Street fraud must be more effectively policed. We agreed that a reboot of botched anti-monopoly regulation is sorely needed, and tax reform is long overdue. But when I told him that I believed the coming election is, to quote commentator Dennis Prager, a plebiscite on the nation’s ideology, he strongly disagreed. Instead, he began to attack Romney’s record and suggested I spend more time reading analysts willing to call both sides to task.

I don’t disagree that a balance of views is important; in fact, it’s the hallmark of a free society. But I submit that it’s not a question of defending Romney against Obama, or the bad behavior of any Republican against his or her Democratic counterpart. There are sinners in both camps. For me, it’s a question of a belief system—one based on the values that founded the nation versus a progressive agenda that leads us down the path that Europe is following, a road that veers left through a pass called social justice and opens on the cold moraine of frank socialism.

So my brother and others who share his views will continue to see the world as bluish green, and I as greenish blue, despite maps looking to define the country as blue or red. We see the same things and yet we don’t.

One of us must be color blind.

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE

May 28, 2012

One hundred sixty-six dollars. It’s not a lot of money. That’s the fine the IRS levied on a colleague who was off on his tax estimate by $11,000. Seems fair, doesn’t it? Oh, did I forget to mention?—he overpaid. They did return the money, minus the penalty. They did not return the interest they earned on the float, although, knowing the government, it probably evaporated on a bad green industry investment.

It’s not a lot of money, but speaks volumes on the state of the ruling class and the ruled—what we’ve become willing to accept as expected behavior. Our Founding Fathers, having felt the yoke of tyrannical government, did their best to restrain it with a series of prohibitions known as the Constitution. As government has grown, and grown, it has slowly pushed the limits on these constraints. Other countries, ruled by dictators that make whatever laws suit them, run things like the Mafia with a false veneer of legality, since there is no law but their own. In this country, stretching the envelope of the law of the land’s limitations takes creativity, and time. With each small gain in government power over individual liberty there is a period of adjustment by we the people, then acceptance, and it becomes the new norm, paving the way for the next abrogation of the intended constraint of power. The change is invisible to those that have been born and raised under the new paradigm, no longer indoctrinated in the principles of liberty and self-reliance, but in the values of social justice, environmentalism and equality. Not equality of opportunity, as the Founders had intended, but equality of outcomes. If this sounds very similar to Marxist philosophy, you’re getting the picture. Funny, though, how the ruling class in these socialist nations, as in our own, seems to be exempt. Freedom for the U.S. government has become freedom to run Ponzi schemes, engage in insider trading, and spend others’ money like, if you’ll forgive the cliché, drunken sailors.

When President Obama was elected, the new First Lady famously said that it was the first time in her life that she felt proud of our country. Over the last few years I’ve felt, for the first time, doubt of my pride in our country. My love of the values that made us a unique, shining star in the world is undimmed. I worry we may be drifting further and further from these cherished beliefs, approaching the point of no return. Too many have given their lives over the years to protect these principles to idly accept this.

Something to think about, especially this weekend. May you all have a peaceful, wonderful Memorial Day.

PLAYING THE GAME

May 21, 2012

A dinner conversation with friends last night veered into the realm of things economic, and my wife and I brought up the topic of bankruptcy. The small development where we live has its own well and water company and we received notice that a local grower had filed for bankruptcy, leaving a moderately large unpaid water bill. It is unclear how much, if any, of these funds will be recovered. The owner that filed for bankruptcy, as I understand it, has three other relate companies that are solvent, and he is otherwise not under financial duress. This businessman and family are well respected members of the community with unsullied reputations. The magnitude of the loss to individuals in our community is not large, on the order of several hundred dollars per household, so it’s more the principle of the issue than economic hardship that piqued our angst.

As a strong proponent of capitalism, it bothered me (when the effects of the wine had worn off)  that I found myself coming down on the side of, if not the reinstitution of debtor prison, a rethinking of the corporate/bankruptcy paradigm. When considering such matters in the sober light of reason, three things need to be borne in mind:

  1. John Adams’ statement, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” applies equally well to the institution of capitalism. Capitalism ultimately can be no better than the people practicing it, and regulations will always be woefully inadequate when trying to legislate morality.
  2. Perfect is the enemy of good. Debtor prisons may have, to an extent, deterred scurrilous behavior, but the consensus was that it trapped more well-meaning but unfortunate souls and had more unwanted economic repercussions than the benefits afforded.
  3. Watch out for the law of unintended consequences. If we did ever decide to abolish the concept of corporations as legal entities separate from their human owners and relegate the right to bankruptcy protection to the trash bin of human error, like the aforementioned debtors’ prison, the ripple effect would likely augment to an economic tsunami. While such a change might deter rogues from using the system in legal, but arguably immoral, ways, it would simultaneously stifle risk-taking and economic growth, and make us noncompetitive in a world economy.

Capitalism isn’t perfect; it’s just the most perfect system we’ve been able to devise, and it can ultimately be no better than its practitioners. In a global marketplace, assuring that players will, in the aggregate, be upstanding citizens is a monumental, perhaps insurmountable, task. I’ve argued in the past that socialism is inherently flawed, and capitalism is not, but can be corrupted. Proponents of the former ideology may say I’m being intellectually dishonest. But I have two things on my side: history, and human nature.

I maintain that socialism is a losing game, and capitalism is ours to lose, depending on how we game it.

WHY POOR?

August 14, 2011

Before proposing solutions it’s important to ask the question as to why people are poor. No, I’m not having a California “d-uh” moment. Sure, people are poor for lack of money and/or possessions of value. But as a layperson with only a single college course on the economy under my belt (perhaps a plus, considering the track record of the “experts”), I’ve struggled to dissect out the various factors that makes one person or group poverty-stricken as opposed to another.

On the simplest, and individual, level, if someone is unproductive due to laziness or disability, it’s easily understandable how they would be indigent. But there are many hard-working, physically robust individuals in that camp as well. Clearly, skills that are widely available in the marketplace will command lower compensation, assuming a market-driven economy.

But nations are made up of diverse peoples; clearly a nation can’t be categorized as “lazy” or “disabled.” So why are some wealthy, while others are not? Nations are macrocosms of the human traits that built them. An abundance or scarcity of desirable natural resources is equivalent on the national level to the God-given abilities of the individual, or lack thereof. But this explains only part of the picture. Mexico has abundant natural resources and hard workers, but is a third-world nation abutting a (hopefully not erstwhile) economic powerhouse. Japan has few natural resources and has been a dominant player for years, despite being defeated in a World War. “Laziness” has a national equivalent in the form of government and the values of the ruling class. In the financially sickest nations you can find the greatest degree of corruption. Whether it be a dictatorship that keeps most of the wealth sequestered at the expense of the people, or a less power-centric entity that is riddled with corruption from top to bottom, the outcome is the same: no infrastructure, no middle class; a “lazy” economy.

A knee-jerk attempt by those of good heart to fix this  is the call for “social justice.” In its purest form, it’s called socialism. It’s been tried over and over and always fails. Why? It’s based on a faulty premise of guaranteed equality of status rather than equality of opportunity (the principle upon which our nation was based, although many have forgotten this). It is human nature to want and expect remuneration to track effort, and the maxim “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs” runs counter to that. The needs invariably exceed the ability to meet them and the economic system, and with it the society, fails.

Capitalism, on the other hand, perfectly aligns incentives, fueling productivity. It is the best system devised, self-correcting, and clearly smarter than the rulers trying to manipulate it. Then why is capitalism heading into a tailspin? Once again, corruption. An inherently bad system such as socialism will always fail, and saddled with corruption it does so more quickly (the Soviet Union made it 70 years). Unfortunately, even a good paradigm such as capitalism can be corrupted to extinction—it just takes longer. Knowing how it is being corrupted is the key to finding the solutions, not moving backwards to an inherently flawed system such as socialism.

Next rant: Getting the bugs out.