The Rabid Independent, Nonpartisan solutions, independent policy ideas

What is the perfect amount?

Do you ever get the impression that we have gone as far as we can go in many respects?

  • We have overproduced digital phone apps.
  • We have too many ways to make a (real) phone call and only prisoners seem to make them.
  • We have too many poverty-stricken people in the world with no economic purpose.
  • We have too many academics and too many academic bureaucrats.
  • We have overproduced music so much that the most popular kinds have no melody.
  • We have so much (video) entertainment on our phones that there is no time to read and reflect. (Do people read books on subjects other than food?)
  • There seem to be a ton of people headed off to do jobs that aren’t that necessary? (like SEO managers) Aren’t there way too many car and truck drivers?
  • Didn’t social media advertising become saturated about 5 years ago? Do we really need to spend more $ on Google ads? What is the ROI?

It seems like years ago we really needed more reliable cars and better-sounding stereos – right away. We needed cheaper clothes, more reliable cars with better gas mileage, and more media options. We needed more than (plain) penicillin. We needed to get to the moon! (Do we really need to get to Mars?)

When we asked for new stuff, it usually came below par – we could see obvious areas for improvement. That meant more work for designers and manufacturers. Apple seems to have no clue how to make their phones better – and neither do I. If someone asked me for a features wish list in Excel in 1998 I’d have some ideas. I don’t know what would be on the list now.

Am I saturated in the world of consumer goods? Apparently – I never go into Best Buy … do I need a bigger TV?  My laptop is 3 years old and if I replaced it, the new one would look just like it. Do you enviously study the latest iPhone features? My Christmas list consists of replacement clothing items.

It’s not just that I’m old, though that’s a big part of it. My 20-year old children have terrible wish lists too. It leaves them saving for housing, transport, food, and vacation – the normal big four from history. (Borrrring)

Wasn’t it so much more exciting when there were other new things coming up all the time that seemed both necessary, and stimulating? We needed to get those people on the subway to work – there was a lot to be done.

Not anymore.

Does choreography matter?

I always guessed that our version of a new Republican authoritarian would be a Colin Powell type – plenty of medals, perfect posture, and low volume. Military people are usually sheltered by handlers so we wouldn’t hear a lot of (bad) history about stupid/uninformed comments.

I should have seen my mistake. We got a legitimate corporate contender in the 90’s. Instead of a smooth, buttoned up Jamie Diamond we got a paranoid dwarf -Ross Perot. Independent candidates are a varied lot. They often come unpackaged.

So now it’s come to this:

The backdrops are no longer long escalators (plus trophy wife). They are nodding pre-programmed idol worshipers, looking for camera exposure.

My sense is that his failure to choreograph the message is already a drag on the enthusiasm of the true believers. Just as with Bush Jr. they continued to side with their guy but their conviction faded. Trump needed tangible results in a few simple areas (for his simple followers) – there’s no wall, no Muslim ban, no change to NAFTA, no jobs coming back from China. Political corruption in his administration is worse than we’ve ever seen. He needs style to offset all these failures. (Does his Saudi defense help him in the heartland?)

He does best with a target- an adversary. The Dems would do best to hide in the trenches. (sorry Elizabeth) Without one he is adrift and so needs to go back to style. This, he has failed to do. Is there is too much baggage to be manageable?

The racists will be there, but the (economically) disenfranchised  and the authoritarians will sit it out. If the Repubs lose the House then the malaise will continue into 2020 and he could be really challenged  to get the nomination again. Toilet paper (moments) may have written the next act of the play.

Trump needed Hillary – without her he is flailing.

Weekend Musings

  • Please stop comparing historical “creative destruction” with our current problems. I can retrain a horse and buggy driver to be a cab driver (circa 1910) in about a day. I can’t teach a sales clerk at Macy’s how to write Python code.
  • Israel’s plan of loving all thing’s Sunni and hating all things Shiite is and always was a self-serving policy that will fail spectacularly. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. Didn’t we all finally learn this during the 2nd Gulf war? How about this? – The fiend of my friend (Israel) isn’t necessarily my friend.
  • No, China has no idea how to transition from a small TIGER like , export-driven, economy to a fully diversified first world economic state. We fed it a few import tariffs and the wheels are almost coming off the entire corrupt state. It’s a dirt cheap offshore polluting, parasite fed by our purchases. Let us never forget that.
  • Renaming NAFTA is not an achievement. Neither is your assertion that you saved pre-existing exemptions for new buyers of health insurance –  because you failed to get it passed.
  • So far our giant corporate tax cut has given us exactly what we expected – soaring budget deficits, giant stock buybacks, no wage gains, no acceleration in hiring or training. Even the Repubs are too embarrassed to bring it up.
  • The stock market has been fed by two energy sources over the past twenty years:
    1. Low-interest rates
    2. Outsourcing and automation that raises the ROR on labor … They are both going away (for now) but we have fabulous stock buybacks to help transition us into a rather dull sideways or down market. No reason for panic if you’re long but no reason for optimism either.

The Patriot Tax

How will people handle a 10% increase on all Chinese goods (initially just $200 bn of them)? Will they run screaming from Walmart crying for armed rebellion? … or maybe they won’t notice that a shirt at TJ Max went up from $13.50 to $14.75?

Catherine Rampell (WashPo Oped writer) thinks this is a travesty as though we (Trump et al) have sinned against the one true American creed – consumerism. Why is it so hard to accept the idea that paying a higher price for some things can be in the national interest? It makes sense to have tariffs against trade criminals and to protect jobs even if it’s at the expense of the consumer.

My guess is that this 10% price increase will be a giant non-event. Economists may whine but people won’t get too exercised. The question is -will this experiment in domestic preference sustain itself through the next administration. It seems clear to me that since Trump raised the issue of Chinese trade crime many non-Trumpsters have recognized the validity of the case. Now they must deal with one of the appropriate ways to counteract it. If you’re against their subsidization of exports and IP theft then what would you recommend? You no longer get to whine about the inefficiency of tariffs without proposing an alternative.

We could set up a rebate for the poor or increase food stamps. We could/should exclude non-essential consumer items that will never be made in the US no matter how much of a tariff we apply – Haloween masks and cheap plastic toys. I’m after things like LCD screens for airplanes and antibiotics. I’d like to know that such things were procurable in the US in case our giant parasite gets testy.

In the long run, production adjustments will happen; prices will do their job but if the market thinks this is just a temporary Trump-only policy then nothing will be achieved. It’s true – a rollback will come along with a smug proclamation of how tariffs never work but If the reaction to the tariffs is diminimus then it makes it easier to leave them intact. It would also help if the tariffs came with a guarantee that the revenue was used to pay down the national debt and increase food stamps.

Then retracting them would be almost impossible.

Restraint vs. Edginess

I understand that an elite athlete looks to gain any advantage they can by getting very hyped up during a game. They talk trash to an opponent or yell at themselves after an unforced error.  They scream with enthusiasm after a massive dunk or spectacular touchdown catch. We often celebrate with them.

After the game is over, during a break or even during the game the athlete has to manage his edginess. If he doesn’t he could get penalized for dirty play, excessive celebration, profanity towards the crowd, or smashing his racquet to bits. Muhammed Ali never stopped his antics. Outside the ring, he was as insulting as Donald Trump. It was good for ratings just like it is for Trump but is that really how we like our athletes (or politicians)? Do you like Richard Sherman’s arrogance, Nick Kyrgios’ profanity, Dez Bryant’s self-promotion, or DeMarcus Cousins court antics?

If an athlete is at the top of their sport we expect even more. LeBron James doesn’t act like a petulant child off the court. He doesn’t spend his time anonymously tweeting insults to other players or twitter trolls. He feels some responsibility for the reputation of his sport, as does Roger Federer, Tom Brady, and Sydney Crosby.

Which brings us to Serena Williams.  In a US Open final, I expect a lot, decorum wise, from the greatest female player of all time. I expect her to be the example, not the 20-year-old she’s playing against. I don’t care about whataboutisms like “men do it”. Did you see Raphael Nadal or Roger Federer ever act like that in a major tournament? Is John McEnroe who you really want to be compared to? No excuses. Step away from stupid discrimination claims and umpire unfairness.

Act like your sister.

Trumpism is Not Spreading.

The first reason why this is not true is simply because there is no such thing as Trumpism. There is no plan, no ideology, A man without knowledge of anything cannot be given credit for a strategy or a phenomenon. The Poles and Hungarians might prefer autocracy. Australians and Italians might want to reduce immigration. None of the people in these countries are voting for these changes because they are watching Trump on TV.

The entire first world suffers from three common problems:

  • The maldistribution of income,
  • Anemic growth of lower and middle incomes.
  • Poor participation rates and/or high youth unemployment.

Italy’s economy over the last 20 years has not grown at all! The Spanish youth unemployment rate is 33.8%. 29% of 15-year-olds in the UK come from new immigrant families and one out of three babies are born to foreign-born residents (2/3 in the city of London). Australia is in the middle of the longest period of low wage growth since its last recession in the early 1990s.

There are only two possible reasons for this global mess – automation and China. Automation reduces worker demand and outsourcing to China sets a global price for labor. It tells every manager – 1st world workers are not worth any more than Chinese peasants. In the midst of this, liberal politicians decided to do the right thing and let in foreign immigrants.  America let in an ocean of Hispanic people. Europe let in Muslims. When you’re feeling economically oppressed you’re not going to be generous to new arrivals unless they look and sound exactly like you.

Our common global parasite ensures a common 1st world condition. How could politicians become so out of touch with basic human psychology? We’ve decided to label this – populism, as though it’s a new socio-economic phenomenon.  Isn’t it logical to want to curtail immigration when wages are stagnating and the foreign-born population is at a 70 year high? None of this is local or national – it’s global. This isn’t about white supremacy – it’s about supply and demand.

This should be a battle between economists and open border liberals but the economists are hiding in the bushes. Maybe they’re outnumbered by the efficiency lovers who can never get enough cheap labor. Their absence has been filled in by the likes of Steve Bannon, Viktor Orban, and Jimmie Akesson. These are not necessarily nice guys but stupid open border fanatics who have never taken a course in economics have facilitated their rise. If we expect economically oppressed people to open their hearts to economically oppressed foreigners we are asking way too much. I doubt they would be open to a new flood of Canadians fleeing a natural disaster. We are too quick to judge our grandparents who closed our borders during the depression.

They were bad humanitarians but good (labor) economists.

Are Marxists responsible for Stalin’s genocide?

This may sound a little obscure but it needs to be addressed since it keeps coming up. As political rhetoric gets more heated it has become popular to say that extreme right-wing thinking will lead to another holocaust. Jordan Peterson is desperately claiming that naive millennial Marxists must take responsibility for all of Stalin’s and Mao’s crimes. This confuses me:

  1. Leftists detest income inequality. They may even propose a swing toward a Centrally Planned Economy (Marxism) as a solution. It can be shown that this is a terrible idea. It cannot be said though that a democracy run by industrial workers (“All Power to the Soviets”) has anything to do with starving farmers in Ukraine or working millions to death in Siberian Gulags. Mao starved his people in order to hoard grain to sell to Russia to pay for nuclear bombs. Where is that in Das Capital?
  2. Fascism is a tough thing to define but it isn’t necessarily the logical extension of extreme conservative thinking. Even if it were we have a variety of 20th-century fascist examples – Spain and Italy. They never engaged in genocide.  Neither deported their Jewish populations to Polish death camps.  Mussolini and Franco were not nice to their enemies but as dictators, we kind of figured they wouldn’t be. The problem is that Hume and Burke never said dictators were the way to go. What has any of this got to do with conservatism?
  3. Analogously we often hear religious people say that Stalin’s and Hitler’s atheism drove them to murder. I guess there’s a sort of Guidebook for Nonbelievers that says they have no beliefs except that murder is OK. In the name of believing in nothing, they condemn their citizenry to death(?)… or if they had followed Jesus they would be pacificists like Gandhi. Not even close.

Find me one conservative thinker who is in favor of ethnic cleansing. Then find me a Marxist who wants to set up a new government and murder all the capitalists. Can we stop this nonsense of using 20th-century similes when they make no sense? We need to take the good parts from both sides – that’s impossible if we associate either ideology with genocide. Let’s just agree that totalitarianism is a bad idea and leave it there.

If Trump starts to act like a dictator or seems to be unwilling to leave the oval office then bring on the 20th-century parallels!

Should we all be optimists or pessimists?

Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist and author of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progresszooms back and examines the “big picture of human progress” since the late 18th century, right around the time the Enlightenment Age kicked off. Pinker highlights the data on education, literacy, wealth, and longevity to make the broader case that life, is good and getting better.  He’s sort of the anti-Lester Thurow (circa 1983).

Global economic prosperity proves his thesis that science and reason have saved the day, but what if that prosperity is an illusion?

Pinker suffers from what I’ll call the jealous neighbor fallacy.  You are living on a street where all the houses are of similar value and design. Everyone has 1.5 children and a minivan. One day you notice your neighbor (Joe Blow) has a new Mercedes S550. You finally decide to confront him. You ask whether he got a new job or a huge raise. He tells you that nothing has changed, he simply leased the car with no money down. The dealer seemed more than happy to make the deal.

Then it gets worse – your other neighbor gets a new Tesla S, again all financed through the dealer. From that point on your wife and you wince a little as both your neighbors cruise around in high-class cars so everyone can see them. You feel like the poor people on the block. One day you go out to pick up your paper from the street and Steven Pinker is outside congratulating Joe on his financial good fortune.

The error that Thurow made was to never imagine we would borrow our way to faster growth. Ronald Reagan got us going and George Bush Jr. took it to a new level. Pinker doesn’t pay attention to the balance sheet – all he sees are the near-term benefits.

These numbers are extraordinary. This debt has allowed us to both stimulate our local economy but also those of our trading partners. They lend to us and we voraciously buy all their crud. We have lifted all boats which is why Pinker’s global averages look so marvelous. But that’s not all. Other countries have followed our lead just like neighbors copy neighbors when it comes to borrowing to buy new cars. Here’s what China has done:

Every time you hear Larry Kudlow brag about GDP growth you must balance it against the giant annual deficits we are currently running – 10 years after a recession, precisely when we should be running huge surpluses. Do we feel richer? Yes. Crime is lower, longevity is rising (sort of) and global poverty has fallen (mainly due to Chinese growth). If this were being achieved by virtue of rising productivity then we truly would have much to celebrate. (It’s not)

Unfortunately, if we look into the future using Pinker’s time frame this doesn’t end well.

Why do I feel so smart?

There is a name for the syndrome that many not-very-smart people suffer from: The Dunning-Kruger Effect (DKE). It’s easy to understand. People of limited intelligence don’t really know how much smart people know so they simply presume they are clever(er). This is how people with no understanding of how carbon dioxide absorbs or traps heat from the sun can be so sure that global warming is a hoax. They refuse to accept the opinions of experts because to do so is to lose agency. Besides, all those academics are liberals anyway. Ah – to be blissfully ignorant.

Today we have moved to the second level of DKE. We are led by a man and his cult members who suffer from DKE, not just a little, but with regard to every political and economic issue of the day. I may not understand many issues in as much detail as I should and I have never worked in government, but I am utterly certain that I am smarter than Donald Trump, his entire cabinet and every politician who comes out defending him. Need I produce a list of his stupid remarks?… OK, maybe just a few:

  • After arriving in Israel from Saudi Arabia, Trump told his hosts, “We just got back from the Middle East.”
  • Trump said that Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, was “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.”
  • He claimed that Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War, “was really angry that he saw what was happening in regard to the Civil War.”
  • Trump picked a fight on Twitter with Qatar, apparently not knowing that this small, oil-rich emirate is host to a major U.S. air base that is of vital importance in the air war against the Islamic State.
  • Donald Trump said climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.

I could go on and on. His defenders seem even worse somehow. How does a Republican congressman claim to be lucid while defending such an idiot? How can a good economist defend Trump’s trade policy when it has no coherence? Who thinks it’s a good idea to invade or nuke Iran if they make one more threatening remark?

Every day my own feelings of superiority are enhanced by his latest tweet. I have become a smarter man due to DTE– the Donald Trump Effect. A person with debilitating DKE has pushed up my intellectual confidence so much that I am absolutely ready to destroy all comers (as YouTube and Twitter call it). It’s as though someone just handed me a PHD in everything and I never needed to take a single course. All I have to do is listen to the news each morning and I am bursting with confidence in my intelligence…

Go on – ask me anything.

 

 

Does John Roberts care about the arc of history?

Let’s assume for a second that the head of the Supreme Court cares about his historical reputation. Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor don’t have that sort of pressure. They just vote their conscience and sleep like babies but eras in the court are described by using the chief justice’s name. Each one becomes most famous for it’s most significant decisions and the historical judgment falls most heavily on the chief – as if his name is on the stamp, even if he voted against the rest of his colleagues.

A  minister (Theodore Parker) in the 19th century once said:” The arc of the (moral) universe … bends towards justice.” – which I think means that the world gradually becomes a more liberal place where human rights gain favor and religious orthodoxy declines. If you were a justice on the court that voted in favor of returning runaway or freed slaves to the Confederacy (The Dread Scott case) then history has judged you harshly. If you voted against civil rights or voting rights or access for all to education then history has raked you over the coals. In fact, it’s rather hard to think of a conservative decision that has been judged as wise and good for the country.

You might point at the court’s shutting down the New Deal as a Presidential overreach: The Supreme Court consistently rejected laws giving the federal government authority to regulate industrial or agricultural production—FDR’s efforts to protect workers, raise employment, and lift farm incomes. FDR had won huge majorities in 1932 and ’34 and the people were all behind the New Deal programs. If FDR hadn’t tried to stack the court in retaliation this would have gone down as just another decision(s) by the court to favor big business, the donor class or retrograde ethical positions. Desperate times demanded desperate measures.

The Supreme Court has upheld segregation, supported the internment of Japanese Americans, found in favor of forced sterilization of people with disabilities, upheld sodomy statutes, told states they cannot ban child labor, stopped the recounting of votes in Florida in 2000, protected Exxon from punitive damages in the crash of the Valdez, and of course – found that corporations deserve the same protections as people when it comes to political (free) speech.  If we just singled out the voting record of the conservative justices we would be appalled by their votes. Conservatives, in particular, are often the most behind the times when it comes to individual freedoms and equal rights.

The United States is becoming unequivocally more secular and more open-minded towards minorities and LGBT people. This is not new – this the arc of history and if the Roberts court chooses to go crazy conservative with Gorsuch, Thomas and now Kavanaugh leading the way, they’ll find that history will judge them as backward dupes of the aged and the rich. Is that how Roberts wants to be known? Is he willing to hear it said that “the Roberts Court blew up the right to an abortion”? Is he happy that his court has chosen to empower corporations to the detriment of citizens and that it has done nothing to fix the national gerrymandering crisis? After Kavanaugh gets approved, we must hope that Roberts has some historical perspective and takes on the job of the adult in the room.

It’s his reputation at stake.

Fair and Unbalanced

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