Archives for category: Public Policy

In the early and middle 1980s, “comparable worth” became a celebrated cause of the feminist left. The idea was to equalize wages among occupations, particularly between, for example, a well-paid occupation that tended to be manned mainly by men and a more poorly remunerated occupation mainly performed by women. The examples given at that time were often truck drivers vs. secretaries.

I witnessed several public debates on the subject, way back then. And having just begun to study economics, I quickly came to regard proponents of the “comparable worth doctrine” (CWD) as utopian lunatics. Their glee in concocting regulatory schemes was over the top, and their arguments were always and in each case economically illiterate. They looked upon all wages as mere artifacts of custom and power, never productivity. Notions like “marginal product” and “imputation” and even “supply and demand” never rose to coherence, or even the level of mere mention.

I remember one absurd discussion, where a young man argued against a then-current objection commonly made to the CWD — that comparing truckers to secretaries was comparing apples to oranges. (That is, the occupations were different enough that no wage equalization effort could make sense.) He said that the beauty of CWD was that (quoting from memory) “we mix the apples and oranges and get fruit punch, and then divvy out equal amounts!”

You see what I mean by economic illiteracy.

Now, I did not go on to become an economist. It never became my job to investigate the statistic artifacts of the period to test the doctrine. Or any other. But I did notice that in the State in which I lived, the CWD became the official doctrine of one institution: government.

My guess is that many a low-wage government and contractor job were upped to a higher level, according to some “comparable” “worth” (of a labor theory of value variety) and that taxes were quickly increased to cover.

It might be good to check to see whether this did actually happen. I would be surprised if it did not.

I am getting at something here. There is a difference between government wages and business wages. They are figured and set differently. Unlike in the market sector, politicians can and do set State employee wages. And take credit for the hikes.

The taxes? They tend not to talk much about the taxes hiked to pay for the greater drain on resources. In markets, wage hikes must be merited by business success in voluntary markets, within a context of competition for scarce consumer attention. In politics, the checks and balances are much less integral with the process. There is a high degree of arbitrariness to government worker remuneration.

I suspect something similar happens in government regarding minimum wage jobs. I know of a number of positions paid by tax funds through contracts with the state. Many of them — particularly the temporary ones — are minimum wage jobs. (Elder care, some seasonal fishery services, and a few others come to mind.) When the minimum wage requirement is raised, budget requirements are raised, and politicians shrug “cost of living” and approve a budget hike, leading directly to raised contract worker wages.

We often say, with varying degree of inaccuracy, that “consumers pay” for minimum wage hikes. (Consumers do pay, but usually indirectly.) More accurately, taxpayers pay. Quite directly.

twv


A late, lamented neighbor of mine once defined “just war” as “mere war.” That was a quip.

A rather cynical one.

When I read just war theory, as a teenager, the most important point, I determined (in this rarefied and rarely consulted domain of thought), was this:

In contemplating intervention into a conflict with which one’s own country is not directly involved, it is not enough merely to determine which side is more nearly in the right. One must also have good reason to believe that, by intervening, one’s State could win and establish a stable and  just peace.

Even if you know who is in the wrong, if there is no likely way of “winning,” or if one’s intervention is not likely efficacious to establish a peace, entering into the conflict is immoral.

A recent study of just war theory and history by Laurie Calhoun suggests that most uses of the tradition, especially in recent times, have been to cover for gross, murderous immorality. Not to limit warfare.

As near as I can make out, this is largely because the tradition is almost never treated seriously or rigorously in the manner indicated above.

It is telling that I have not once heard, in recent public discussion over the Syrian intervention, one mention of just war theory.

twv


What are the core constituencies for America’s dreadful k12 government schools? Individuals vary, but hey: I can think of seven broad groups:

  1. Sports fanatics
  2. Parents who demand babysitting services
  3. Teachers and administrators whose careers depend upon tax money
  4. Progressive social engineers who wish to supplant families and markets as the prime institutions of sociality
  5. Businesses and students, who rely upon grades, credentials, and test scores to signal suitability for jobs
  6. Governments and politicians who rely upon the public system to inculcate acceptance to social engineering and government dominance in society
  7. Parents, students and community members who earnestly think something called “education” is a good idea

Everybody pretends to be in category 7. Almost no one is really in category 7, for, if they were, they would complain about poor educational achievements more, and look into alternate means of providing education. Most do not, so most are not.

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A friend, who is resolutely anti-Trump*, comments on a current Wall Street Journal article on the Trump Towers Wiretap contention. The article goes on at unnecessary length about how a congressional committee can find no back-up for the president’s tweeted charge against his predecessor. “Political rhetoric is always B.S. to some degree,” my friend writes. “And then, there is the bullshitter-in-chief, beyond truth. ”

Well, yeah. But Donald Trump’s tweets aren’t political rhetoric as usual. Trump has gone a different direction. He is trolling for effect, to get his enemies to concentrate on the small stuff, the inconsequential malters. And since this is post-Clinton Washington, Trump knows he can say anything and stonewall.

Let Spicer and Conway take the flak and look like idiots in public. That is their job, after all. (And they have occasion to do it on a daily basis. That is for sure. They have the most demeaning job in bigly, er, Big League politics.)

But the idea that Trump was spied upon, illegally, by his predecessor is by no means incredible . . . certainly not implausible from rogue wings of the Deep State.

And the idea that there would be ready, Congress-available proof of a secret, illegal op strikes me as preposterous, making it absurd to investigate in anything like Congress’s usual perfunctory manner:

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, jointly said earlier in the day [that] there were “no indications” that Trump Tower, the Manhattan building where Mr. Trump lived and worked before assuming the presidency, was under any form of government surveillance.

Meanwhile, Trump is pushing a gimcrack, quite horrid, promise-abusing “replacement” of ObamaCare. But half the media and attentive America is distracted by . . . bullshit.

B.S. that is, alas, probably half true. True or not, it ends up making everybody look like loons.

This is precisely the wrong game for anti-Trumpers to play.

The age-old problem with warfare is that, in going to war, one becomes a mirror, a double, of one’s enemy. The anti-Trumpers are seriously reënacting the fated scenario of “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” Only they are not mimicking imperialistic Spaniards.

They are in danger of playing the Fool.

twv

* I, too, am anti-Trump. But no more than I was anti-Clinton, anti-Bush, and anti-Obama. Though Trump is a break with the past, in many ways, he is neither without precedent nor wholly a new kind of creature: they were all liars, fools, and knaves, in the usual politic balance; Trump is also liar, lunatic, and knave, but in a slightly different configuration, if with about the same averaged-out moral level.

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During President Trump’s first speech before Congress, in which one could discern a ramping up to increase spending on the military, the new President prominently featured — called out in the modern, “story-time segment” that Obama had made de rigueur — the wife of the slain Navy SEAL who died in an incursion into Yemen. It was a moving moment, but no one that I follow mentioned that the United States has not declared war on Yemen.

Also not mentioned? The fact that the Pentagon cannot (or will not) provide an accounting of the money it spends. It seems to me that before we throw more billions at the secretive institution, we should have a thorough audit in hand.

Correction. I saw one discussion of all this . . . by Paul Jacob, today .

Now would be a good time to not only rethink Middle East policy, but to re-consider our expensive role as world policeman. . . . During the campaign, Trump was criticized for questioning our alliances and demanding more of our allies. But he was right. I hope he’ll get tough in prodding our allies to ultimately provide their own defense.

Even more basic? Demand an audit of the Pentagon before new funds are thrown into the five-sided money pit.

U.S. military spending can be summed up in one word: overkill. Mr. Jacob calls America’s longstanding foreign policy as the “overkill always” strategy, and explains it like this:

Two truths: national defense is a necessity for a republic; national defense is a racket.

The latter is the case because the former is the case. Big spenders rely on “better safe than sorry” to always push the envelope, over-investing rather than under-investing.

Jacob identifies this as a “trap,” betting that Donald Trump “knows this.”

Before Trump ran for office, he said that sequestration cuts to the Pentagon budget had not gone far enough. But when he threw his hat into the ring, he promised to “make our military so big, so powerful, so strong that nobody — absolutely nobody — is going to mess with us.”

President Trump now proposes over fifty billion dollars in new defense spending. More soldiers, more ships, more fighter jets.

Donald Trump’s excuse for this nonsense? Well, he has followed the neocon line, claiming, contrary to all evidence, that U.S.military spending was gutted under President Obama. Further, he seems to be leaning neocon by holding to the common charge of Republican politicians to the effect that Barack “Drone-killer” Obama has not done enough in the mid-East.

The truth? That conservatives cannot handle? That even a Democratic war-hating president (who nevertheless was a war president for every day of his two terms, a new record) can do too much.

Killing innocents along with alleged bad guys in other countries that we have not duly declared war upon is one sure way to stir up resentments in those countries. And breed international terrorism.

It does not look like President Trump will bring any clarity or rationality to military spending — or coherence to foreign policy.

But I have to ask: why would Trump, who was such a skeptic of American imperial management before the election prove such a chump for the military industrial complex Official Story now?

A number of theories could be advanced. Maybe he knows that, before being sworn in, he was just talking out of his rectal region. Now he has real responsibility, and, seeing that he knows nothing, he goes along with his neocon advisors.

Or maybe he has been threatened by said complex. The military industrial complex is the strongest sector of the Deep State. They are the real rulers, and have been for some time. Perhaps we could send Gandhi into the White House and he’d quickly be seen towing the line.

How would this work? On his first or second day in office, men in black walk into Gandhi’s office unannounced, and hands the Mahatma a folder. What is in the folder? If I knew I’d tell you. But it is damning.

The folder Trump (may have) received? It could have been damning of Trump himself — it could be that he’s being blackmailed. It could be damning of the U.S. Government (the war crimes and power structure are too terrible to speak aloud). Or it could be damning of humanity itself!

Maybe the Lizard People. . . .

Or it could be all very simple. Might not Trump be caving to the military-industrial complex simply to establish another base of support?

Trump, after all, is not an idiot. He knows he needs supporters. He probably had intended to unite the country after election, but the Democratic nutball response has been so loud and divisive, any tendency he had to move to the Center (which is where I think he’d prefer to be, as I’ve written about before) has been scuttled by a lack of reason to do so. The Left and Center-Left has all but declared war on him. He gets death threats. The major newspapers have columnists and reporters who have publicly discussed assassination — and get away with it! Major Democratic figures talk about impeachment, no matter how groundless. The desperation to the left of center is palpable, and that means that appeasing them will not be a good bet.

So Trump goes the other direction.

He plays up to his core constituency. And he reaches out to the Deep State.

That would be an unfortunate consequence of the whole “Not My President” movement. But a typical unintended consequence of tribalism and overkill. Par for the political course.

twv

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The news comedy shows are, for the most part, denunciation shows. This description fits Jon Stewart’s old topical comedy show and Trevor Noah’s lamer version; Bill Maher’s HBO warhorse, and John Oliver’s hipper variant on the same network; and, especially, the best one in the business, RT’s Redacted Tonight

The worst of the lot is surely Samantha Bee’s, but perhaps I err. I have not really been able to watch her after she left The Daily Show. Larry Wilmore’s is a little better, but, last I checked it was relentlessly race-obsessed. I feel icky after watching it — like other people feel after they’ve experienced Milo, who has a touring show, not a TV show.

Red Eye with Tom Shillue on Fox is a little less denunciatory (perhaps by being more defensive?), and Greg Gutfeld’s new weekend show is . . . well, you explain it to me. These latter two are the only non-left-leaning of such shows that I am aware of. That is, the hosts are not leftists.

Many people miss Stephen Colbert’s parody show of Bill O’Reilly. Not me. I tired of it after about the second episode. It is worth noting that YouTube’s The Young Turks works as a self-parody show — an unintentional self-parody show.

Topical comedy is hard, I am sure. Being fresh and always witty? Maddeningly difficult. That is one reason these topical comedy shows resort to relentless denunciation. When you are not being truly funny, you can rely on your audience’s out-group hatred and loathing — and self-righteous sense of in-group superiority — to maintain passion and high-pitch enthusiasm. Thus delighted laughter is replaced with derisive howls

The problem with all this is that they become uncomfortably close to the show depicted in A Face in the Crowd, the great Elia Kazan film starring Andy Griffith as “Lonesome” Rhodes: grand examples of demagoguery. This is especially the case for the shows with live audiences. They want red meat (or the leftist soy-and-quinoa equivalent), and there is usually one guest who serves as the lion pride’s delectable Christian treat.

Most of these shows sport panel “debate” segments. These, of course, are played for comedy, but also for argumentative purposes, too. The better to serve the denunciation game. And yet sometimes one actually witnesses productive, honest debate. Not often. Sometimes.

Last week, mere days before the aforementioned Milo Yiannopoulis was publicly hit with a disgrace campaign based on some pedophilia-related comments he had made, the gay conservative free-speech provocateur appeared on Bill Maher’s Real Time. Last week I wrote about his one-on-one interview with Maher at the top of the show. I could not bear to watch the panel segment with Milo . . . until yesterday, at which point I hastily put together a video about what went wrong. The problem was more than mere denunciation, though denunciations there were, all around:

I briefly comment on Vee’s explanatory video, too, so I should put up his link:

The key concepts that I tried to add to the debate are the two main problems we see in modern discourse all the time, especially on television topical comedy shows:

1. Data impasses, and

2. Contractual impasses.

Either kind of stalemate-inducing situation scuttles profitable dialogue. And, frankly, neither serves as humor, either. Sure, the second kind usually takes the form of mutual denunciation, but such cases do not seem funny to me. Not at all. They are usually excruciating.

The denunciation shows might consider growing up.

Or die. That would be good, too.

To be replaced by real interviews and real debates.

twv

One of the more interesting arguments for socialism is the argument from sectoral successes, that is, with particular socialistic enterprises, the prime example being roads. As libertarian economist Walter Block chided Milton Friedman once, Friedman’s support for public roads amounted to a “road socialism.” And most folks, upon hearing that, would raise an eyebrow and pull out of the driveway and say, “if this be socialism, make the most of it.” That is why socialists bring up the roads as an example of how all-sector socialism could work. 

And they have a point: our road system is awfully socialistic. Of the main features of socialism, it has all but two*: the economic good, road access, is not now provided on an egalitarian or needs basis, but instead (1) to all permitted drivers as much as they want, (2) funded by a fairly efficient set of use taxes, on fuel and licensing, etc.

Now, Professor Block has done important work showing not only that private roads do work and have worked, here and there, and could work if universalized. But, let us admit it, his (and similar) writings notwithstanding, road socialism has not been a complete disaster, and is widely popular, unquestioned.

Does road socialism provide a good blueprint for generalized, all-sector socialism? No. But instead of providing the many usual reasons given, I will suggest another way to look at it.

Road socialism in America is an excellent example of how we tend to “regulate a commons”: ruthlessly and with special attention to prosecution (and overburdening) of the poor.

Have you ever been to a traffic court? It is apparent: every unwanted or slightly dangerous behavior is criminalized. The cops are oppressive. The rules are numerous. And the system is exploitative, often nothing more than a shake-down operation. Pleading before the court, the general run of those who challenge the system tend to be abject in their petitions. And the general theme of oppression stinks up these venues, as the states and municipalities nickel-and-dime the least successful in our society.

Think of that system writ large!

On the private roads, there is a perceptible tendency for road owners to provide help, not deliver beat-downs and stick-ups. Road service is more useful than cops, in most cases. Suggestions and highway engineering that encourage safe driving have been found to be more effective than patrolling, but our commons regulators insist upon tickets, property confiscations, and even prison terms.

So there you have it. Road socialism provides a blueprint for social tyranny.

For the good of society at large, the roads should be privatized, just to make life more peaceful and less deadening. Driving need not be regulated by fear. The fact that our most socialistic sector of society is run along  authoritarian and exploitative lines should indicate what a bad idea imitating public roads would be for yet more sectors of society.

Go to traffic court, and come to your senses: no more of this! No more socialism. Please.

twv


* Not counting sector limitations, of course.

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Pro-choicers regularly defend abortion with “life of mother” as well as rape and incest cases. We should allow abortions, the arguments run, because sometimes doctors and families must choose between the life of a pre-nate in peril, on the one hand, and the imperiled mother herself. Or, we must allow abortions because, in some cases, the pregnancy is the result of rape, or December-May incestuous molestation.

Such arguments are often persuasive. Even most folks prone to adamantine opposition to abortion think that if a tough choice must be made, the mother should be saved. Similarly, making a woman carry to term a rapist’s baby, or an older-relative molester’s, does seem awfully unfair, if not necessarily unjust. Perhaps excusable, even if the life of the pre-nate is to be sacrificed. Maybe.

But it is simply the truth that only a minuscule percentage of actual abortions — the abortions regularly performed in this country — fall into one of these categories. Indeed, there is a far higher number of third-term abortions — grisly, ghastly affairs — than abortions done for those above-mentioned extreme cases that most people see as more than arguably allowing of abortion.

And it is not as if I do not hear pro-choicers rush to defend against anti-abortion arguments by resort to percentages, but reversing their logic. I often hear defenders of legal abortion* rush to inform me that third-term abortions are very rare. Indeed, recently, when I was discussing second-term abortions, and the methods involved (often also quite grisly), a pro-choice young woman immediately informed me that late-term abortions are very rare. And we were not even talking about late-term abortions!

On the one hand, a small number of abortion cases are used to justify all abortions, while on the other, a different small (though larger) number of abortion cases are declared irrelevant to the case against abortion.

The old switcheroo; a changeling argument.

You see the utility of the first ploy. Defend a large number of abortions not on the grounds of their exact nature, but because a few abortions within the broad category seem reasonable. It is a form of deflection. Evasion, really. It changes the terms of the debate while seeming to fall squarely inside the context most pro-lifers insist upon.†

This got me thinking. What if we switched subjects? That is, stick to defending large numbers of “unpleasant” events by recourse to a small number of putatively justifiable actions that form a small subset of the events.

Most of my progressive friends, like me, are very concerned about police shootings. We think that it is quite obvious that many police shootings are unjustified. We also frequently lament the fact that police too often successfully band together, along with prosecutors and the whole state system of police power, to defend murderous and careless and cowardly cops who abuse their power and privilege with gunfire.

But it is also undoubtedly true that many, many police shootings of suspects are indeed justified. There are bad people out there, criminals. And many of them resist arrest with violence, or are caught by the police committing violence, and threatening more. These situations do not merely allow police to shoot, but in some cases even morally require the police to shoot.

And it may very well be (I really do suspect it is the case) that most police shootings are justified.

So, in this context, engage in a thought experiment.

What if the current number of self-defense and other justifiable shootings by police were used to excuse the shootings of innocents by the same ratio‡ of life-of-mother/rape/incest abortions to the vast majority of abortions?

The blood would be flowing in the streets.

twv

* In full disclosure, I believe that early abortions, at the very least, ought to be legal. I have a justification of this practice, as abhorrent as I find it. Sometimes one is required to set aside one’s feelings and moral prejudices and acknowledge that our power over others must be limited, in part in recognition of our limitations as moral beings, as what Immanuel Kant called our status as Legislators in the Kingdom of Ends. Though, in actual fact, my argument pertains to Means, not Ends, but we shall leave this for another time.

† The second ploy is of course directly contradictory to the first. The standard of an appeal to a small number of cases is not consistently applied. But let us leave that hanging.

‡ In the course of the above thought experiment I did not give actual numbers for the multi-million killer abortion industry for a reason. I want the reader to think about how important (or not) the numbers and percentages are. Imagine yourself bargaining with The Lord over the status of Sodom and Gomorrah. How important are the numbers of righteous men? What does the percentage of good and evil mean to us, when contemplating great evil? (The percentage of life-of-mother abortions, I read, is less than 1 percent. In 2015, there were about 400 fatal police shootings of suspects in the U.S. Arguendo, if only three-quarters were justified, that would mean 30,000 fatal shootings would be justified given pro-abortion apologetics.)

“. . . when the wealthy start to look like Russian oligarchs . . .”

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California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, jousting with Ben Shapiro, states this more than once. Large concentrations of wealth are a problem for a democracy, or a republic, when some have so much. When they start to look like Russian oligarchs, things go awry.

But the point isn’t whether the rich look like oligarchs. Do they behave like oligarchs?

For those of us who concentrate on actions and results, rather than symbols and semblances, Gatto’s worry is irrelevant. Except insofar as similarity signals identity, or something else dastardly.

We must fight oligarchy. Sure. And the crooked politics of cronyism.

But concentrating on “concentrated wealth” as if it were ipso facto criminal elides the distinction between actions, consequences and semblances.

And the results of such elisions are not exactly the stuff of the Elysian Fields. They are the stuff of nightmares.

twv

Perhaps true cosmic justice would be this: each person forced to live with the consequences of his or her* ideology.

The only way to do this would be to form separate countries/states with different political and economic systems.covervoyage2arcturus

It is worth noting that my ideology would be fine with concurrent, interpenetrating populations with neighbors belonging to different “governments.” You could live in a tightly constructed socialist state, or whatever else you want; I could live with the services brought to me by Moe’s Police, Larry’s Judiciary, and Curly’s Military. But the point of most other ideologies? Force the given ideology upon everyone, the unwilling to be brought to “justice.” Read the rest of this entry »