Conservative Squabbles Over WHICH New Tax

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute writes in City Journal about two competing proposals whose Democratic sponsors claim will improve the labor market. One proposal, by Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), is to redistribute $1 trillion over the next decade via the Earned Income Tax Credit to people who earn less than some amount he deems too little. Cass, focusing on the fact that this plan appears to support such workers, labels this measure as the "Support" view of government policy regarding low-paying jobs. The other proposal is deemed the "Penalize" view by Cass for reasons that will soon become obvious. Bernie Sanders wants to "Stop BEZOS", i.e., Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies. Sanders would redistribute money directly looted from corporations for every cent of government benefits any of its employees receive. Khanna supports both plans, but look at what Cass, a conservative, has to say about them:

Tails, we lose, tails, we lose. (Image via Pixabay.)
Khanna's two proposals -- providing a government benefit to low-wage workers and punishing employers whose workers receive government benefits -- represent contradictory poles in the national debate over how to strengthen a labor market whose lower end has seen stagnating wages for decades. In the first view, employers play a constructive and irreplaceable role by connecting less-skilled workers with productive work. Low-wage jobs are by no means ideal, but the low wage reflects the job's economic value, not a corporate plot to extract outsize profits. The jobs represent for some people their best opportunity to participate in the economy, and for many more the crucial first step onto an economic ladder that can lead higher. Either way, jobs are important to society, and we want them to be available. [bold added]
Looting money from some Americans to give to others and ... looting money from some Americans to give to others are the two poles of a debate? If so, there is no real debate and we are merely squabbling over details. Unfortunately, Cass apparently mistakes this for a real debate and even chooses a "side":
As the Right joins the Left in recognizing the need to address the labor market's shortcomings [!], the fight will evolve [sic] from whether to do something toward what to do. Expect this "Support vs. Penalize" battle to move from within Ro Khanna's head to the forefront of our national debate -- and pray that the coherent side wins.
If you are a fellow student of Ayn Rand, you may find that the above reminds you of any number of the false dichotomies that run through the most of the philosophies that influence our culture -- and that Rand debunked. But here's a passage from Rand that Cass has helped me recall and that I find particularly troubling:
For many decades, the leftists have been propagating the false dichotomy that the choice confronting the world is only: communism or fascism -- a dictatorship of the left or of an alleged right -- with the possibility of a free society, of capitalism, dismissed and obliterated, as if it had never existed. (The Objectivist, June 1968)
This article has been written by a senior member of a highly respected think tank, and there is no mention of the real alternative, which is: for the government to stop looting the productive, indirectly ("support") or directly ("penalize"), because doing so is wrong, and ultimately harms everyone. The only difference between these varieties of poison is that the first comes sugar-coated. At least the second one, envious motivation fully on display, is the more honest.

-- CAV

Big Goals vs. Little Distractions

Monday, September 17, 2018

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, has a few choice words about the so-called "digital wellness" movement, which he correctly calls "infantilizing." Instead, Newport thinks lots of us are ready for a challenge:

Shouldn't that read, "what else is happening?" (Image via Pixabay.)
They don't want to depend on Apple to tweak their OS to be slightly less intrusive, or need to download an app that provides a fun reminder about disconnecting; they want instead to be so wrapped up in doing things that are hard and important and meaningful that they forgot where they left their phone in the first place.
I think there's a great general point here that applies to any bad habit, and not just vacantly picking up a smart phone eighty times a day: A positive choice to pursue something that one cares about goes a lot further in changing that habit than just focusing on changing the habit. It does help to think through the problem, as Newport does for digital distractions in Deep Work, but without seeing how the bad habit interferes with achieving major values, such a focus doesn't get anyone anywhere. That last is, I think, a major strength of Deep Work.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, September 14, 2018

Notable Commentary

Image via Wikipedia.
"We won't find moral objectivity in ever-shifting claims about divine revelations." -- Ben Bayer, in "The Destructive Illusion of Moral Authority" at Quillette.

"[T]he Founding Fathers framed the Constitution, not to implement democracy and sacrifice the individual through 'state and local officials,' but to defend the individual from the government." -- Bob Stubblefield, in "First Amendment Is Defensive Weapon" at The Aiken Standard.

"I don't know if I would choose to be alive after [a civilizational] collapse." -- Keith Weiner, in "Why Am I Fighting for the Gold Standard?"" at SNB & CHF.

"The solution is not to further demonize [illegal immigrants] as carriers of what are not-so-exotic infections, but instead enable them to seek health care if needed, free from the worry that they will be damned back to whatever place they fled because they just want to get a flu shot." -- Amesh Adalja, in "Undocumented Immigrants, Open Borders Are Not an Infectious Disease Risk" at The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"We continually have to remind our students, our parents, and most importantly, ourselves that what matters is an overall pattern of growth rather than an absolute standard of achievement in any particular area." -- Lisa VanDamme, in "A Trajectory of Growth" at Medium.

-- CAV

You Can and Should Argue With Results

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Stephen Moore, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation has, in all seriousness, suggested that Donald Trump deserves a Nobel Prize in economics. The article is even more laughable than the idea. Moore starts out well enough, citing economic good news:

Image via Wikipedia.
Voters sure were. It turns out Americans outside the beltway weren't so enthralled with the New World Order or the anemic Obama economic program that is being dismantled.

And what is the result of all this "chaos" and "mayhem" in the White House that the media is in such a frenzy about? Well, as we learned last week, we now have the lowest number of American workers on unemployment insurance since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the biggest manufacturing boom in 14 years, the lowest black unemployment rate ever recorded, and an economy that is growing at 4.4 percent this quarter, on top of 4.2 percent growth last quarter.
I'm on board with dismantling onerous regulations and "climate change"-inspired looting. But that's just one part of what the President has done. I say "what the President has done" rather than "the President's program" for a reason: His actions are not guided by any kind of uniform principle, such as the idea that the government exists solely to protect individual rights. Ironically, Moore -- ignorantly or cynically -- drops a big hint later on as to exactly why his idea is farcical:
Yes, there is a bit of chaos and disorder at the White House. Yes, some of the characters that Trump has hired had no business being anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. By contrast, Obama had an orderly and statesmanlike White House, and he hired a cadre of highly respected and well-intended people. Yet all of this still produced the worst recovery from a recession since the Great Depression.
Great. With Trump having not implemented his full agenda so far, the economy isn't quite so anemic any more. But if we're going to bring up the Great Depression, we might do to remember the role of tariffs in bringing it on. Trump does not know or care that trade barriers are simply another form of the government improperly regulating the economy. The "boom" we are seeing doesn't make Trump a genius: It's an indication that he should do more of the same, but that means dropping the contradictory part of his agenda.

It is understandable that many Americans, seeing the economy less sick under Trump than under Obama might mistake the man for a doctor. They're dangerously half-right: Trump has stopped Obama's method of bloodletting. But he won't let the patient recover and he's readying his own set of leeches already. In the meantime, someone who should know better is pretending what he's about to do is a great idea based on improvement during a temporary reprieve. What Trump has done so far has helped for a reason. Sadly, it's a reason he clearly doesn't understand. Rather than using past results to mask future mistakes, Moore should look at why we have good results, and how that reason indicates we need Trump to change his mind about trade -- or some of us need to change our own minds about Trump.

-- CAV

Pssst! Repeat Business Is A Thing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

One of the "5 Surprising Findings About How People Actually Buy Clothes and Shoes" recently promulgated by Harvard Business Review simultaneously got both an amen and a chuckle out of me. Number Five on the list was:

Some of us would like to ... just go to the store and buy some pants. (Image via Wikipedia.)
Myth: Consumers always want something new.

Fact: Very often, they are happy to re-buy the same or a similar item.


Brands should, to some extent, change their mindsets: Success could mean finding consumers that like a product and reselling it to them, and not always trying to reinvent the wheel. The customer, not the product, should come first. Repurchasing of products previously bought could be made easier through promotions on similar items, tailored advertising for new versions, reminders when a product likely needs to be replaced, and even subscription services. To get to know customers better, brands might encourage them to go online during trips to physical stores and to comment on products through apps. Manufacturers can then follow up and encourage repeat purchases. [formatting in orignal]
Whoa! So lots of people buy things, like them, and want more when they wear out. How weird is that?

This reminds me of how Old Navy lost my business, hence the amen. I started out being able to buy causal pants there, but the last few times, I couldn't get what I wanted: something that wasn't either baggy or "skinny pants." (I am slim, but find skin-tight clothing extremely uncomfortable.)

But really. Is the fact that a businessman might want repeat business the kind of cutting-edge discovery that merits the limelight in a prestigious publication?

It shouldn't be, but I hope a few in the apparel industry take note.

-- CAV

The Real Danger Is Pragmatism

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Writing at Forbes, John Tamny argues that millennials don't like socialism as much as one might think from recent news and commentary:

Also: Why $15.00? (Image via Wikipedia.)
The answer is simple. Like their reliably hysterical counterparts on the left, conservatives have a tendency to overreact. Young people in some strange way scare them is all one can assume. They needn't be scared. That young people appear spoiled, entitled and allegedly "open" to the ideologies of failure is paradoxically a sign of progress as opposed one of doom. Precisely because the U.S. is so prosperous, young people can afford to be careless in their expressed views. Crucial here is that they're posing.

The best evidence supporting the above contention is Silicon Valley. While the vibe there is one of lefty indifference to profits, the underlying reality is one of bloodless focus on nosebleed returns. If its inhabitants didn't care about thick profit margins and getting rich, businesses there would never die. Except that bankruptcy is the norm. Those Valley types in the Che Guevara t-shirts are posing. Underneath it all they love capitalism. That's why they're there.
I think Tamny has a point, and I'd like to share more of his optimism. However, there is first the matter of the morality of altruism and its various collectivist political expressions being impractical: Nobody could consistently practice either and expect to survive, let alone thrive. In that sense one could say that to be an altruist is to be a poseur. On top of that, there is the strong cultural influence of the philosophy of Pragmatism, whose effects Leonard Peikoff outlined as follows in The Ominous Parallels:
By itself, as a distinctive theory, the pragmatist ethics is contentless. It urges men to pursue "practicality," but refrains from specifying any "rigid" set of values that could serve to define the concept. As a result, pragmatists -- despite their repudiation of all systems of morality -- are compelled, if they are to implement their ethical approach at all, to rely on value codes formulated by other, non-pragmatist moralists. As a rule the pragmatist appropriates these codes without acknowledging them; he accepts them by a process of osmosis, eclectically absorbing the cultural deposits left by the moral theories of his predecessors -- and protesting all the while the futility of these theories. (128) [bold added]
This generation has absorbed a healthy work ethic from the culture, explaining why they act in many ways like capitalists, and yet they sense something wrong -- many strongly since the financial crisis of 2008 occurred at a formative time for many of them. They vaguely associate our system with the word "capitalism" and reach out in the way Peikoff outlines for a solution which they imagine to be the opposite of what caused them and their families such misery. And that would apparently be socialism to many. And, thanks to Pragmatism, they may even think it can "work" "this time", even without the latest new label "democratic socialism" being applied.

The good news and the bad news is that this generation probably isn't wedded to socialism -- but many neither have nor appreciate strong convictions one way or the other. This means they are quite susceptible to drifting into sympathy with socialism, but not so easily convinced to think deeply about alternatives.

-- CAV

With Socialism, Prevention Is the Best Cure

Monday, September 10, 2018

A story out of Foreign Policy purports to explain why the socialist regime in Venezuela is likely to remain in power for the next couple of years. It also reminds me a little at one point of Ayn Rand's novel, We the Living. Before I get to that point, I wish to mention that I have two major objections to the piece I'm discussing: (1) A major question is left unasked, namely, "Would regime change in Venezuela further our national self-interest and, if so, how?" (2) The very problem that got Venezuela into the trouble that it is in now is never fully addressed. That culture is altruist-collectivist from top to bottom and has been for decades, so there is little hope of anything (at least from Venezuela itself) that might replace the current leadership being substantially better.

That said, the below is what reminded me of the Rand novel set in Soviet Russia:

This is the body of Paola Ramirez, slain by socialist colectivos thugs during a protest march in Venezuela. (Image via Wikipedia.)
Caracas also uses scarcity to maintain control. As in Cuba, the Maduro regime uses low stocks of consumer goods and rationing as a way to keep the population in line. Citizens need to be on good terms with government or PSUV officials to receive their allotment of formal sector jobs, rationing cards, Carnets de la Patria (or "homeland cards," which are issued to those who qualify for social programs), and other benefits. Government control of consumer goods has been particularly effective in middle-class neighborhoods in Caracas and some larger urban areas in the interior of the country, where citizens have to rely more on the government's distribution system than on growing their own food. Also worth considering is that the daily struggle to find food items and medicine, particularly in times of intense scarcity and hyperinflation, leaves very little time to organize anti-government mass protests and other activities. In short, economic adversity has not generated anti-government behavior; in fact, it has had the opposite effect. [bold added]
And here's the passage in question:
"Kira, I ... I'm afraid ...I don't know why, it's only times, but I'm so afraid ...What's going to happen to all of us? That's what frightens me. Not the question itself, but that it's a question you can't ask anyone. You ask it and watch people, and you'll see their eyes, and you'll know that they feel the same thing, the same fear, and you can't question them about it, but if you did, they couldn't explain it, either .... You know, we're all trying so hard not to think at all, not to think beyond the next day, and sometimes even not beyond the next hour .... Do you know what I believe? I believe they're doing it deliberately. They don't want us to think. That's why we have to work as we do. And because there's still time left after we've worked all day and stood in a few lines, we have the social activities to attend, and then the newspapers. Do you know that I almost got fired from the Club, last week? I was asked about the new oil wells near Baku and I didn't know a damn thing about them. Why should I know about the oil wells near Baku if I want to earn my millet drawing rotten posters? Why do I have to memorize newspapers like poems? Sure, I need the kerosene for the Primus. But does it mean that in order to have kerosene in order to cook millet, I have to know the name of every stinking worker in every stinking well where the kerosene comes from? Two hours a day of reading news of state construction for fifteen minutes of cooking on the Primus? ... Well, and there's nothing we can do about it. If we try, it's worse. Take Sasha, for instance ... Oh, Kira! I'm ... I'm so afraid! ... He... he ... Well, I don't have to lie to you. You know what he's doing. It's a secret organization of some kind and they think they can overthrow the government. Set the people free. His duty to the people, Sasha says. And you and I know that any one of that great people would be only too glad to betray them all to the G.P.U. for an extra pound of linseed oil. They have secret meetings and they print things and distribute them in the factories. Sasha says we can't expect help from abroad, it's up to us to fight for our own freedom.... (p. 113)
And don't forget that the government organizes "rallies" at random times and places, and has its own secret police apparatus to go with the colectivos, bands of armed thugs who attack and threaten dissenters. So, yes, the situation within Venezuela is bleak, and would make efforts on our part to effect regime change difficult to say the least.

But the real value of the article is this: While socialism is becoming fashionable in the United States, we have three things in our favor: relatively free access to material resources, time, and freedom of speech. We are much better able to fight for our continued freedom now than we would be if we allowed the socialists to win. Perhaps that is why, as the Ayn Rand Institute pointed out about We the Living (linked above):
... Rand was startled by the failure of American intellectuals and politicians to uphold the American ideals of individualism and freedom, and she was horrified by the widespread acceptance, even sympathy, that greeted the spread of communism, socialism and fascism in Europe. Rand resolved to expose the "noble ideal" of collectivism, through the story of three young people whose lives are sacrificed by an all-powerful state.
At least we have been given advanced warning.

-- CAV