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We need to reclaim the word conservatism.

As Rand Paul contemplates his candidacy he must contend with the growing conviction among Republican party primary voters that we must make war – with everyone. Rand is a libertarian/isolationist who has voted at times against expanding the defenses budget. To run he must pivot, Romney style, and pretend to be someone or something he is not.

Conservative is a buzzword that has been successfully taken over by Republican entertainers and primary voters. Every time I hear the word it occurs to me that many people would see me as conservative. I dress conservatively. I have a successful monogamous marriage. I don’t swear (much) or drink. I appear to be so classically  Republican that I am approached to join racially pure golf clubs and to hear racially tinged jokes. My conservative-ness means restrained or conformist. It correctly implies that I don’t react to taunts. I don’t show my hand and I have no desire to engage in bar room brawls.

Here’s the definition from Dictionary.com:

adjective
1.

disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restoretraditional ones, and to limit change.
2.

cautiously moderate or purposefully low:

a conservative estimate.
3.

traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness:

conservative suit.
4.

(often initial capital letter) of or relating to the Conservative party.
5.

(initial capital letter) of, relating to, or characteristic of ConservativeJews or Conservative Judaism.
6.

having the power or tendency to conserve or preserve.
7.

Mathematics. (of a vector or vector function) having curl equal to zero; irrotational; lamellar.

In the Republican party the word means two things:

  1. A Christian
  2. Scared or angry war lovers

I am neither.

Recent polls show a rise in the desire of Republicans to invade Iraq (again), Syria (to get ISIS) and Iran (because they might have “the bomb”). They look at Obama’s recent deal to eliminate Iran’s bomb building program as utterly bizarre since they were studying war plans. To not be OK with re-invading the Middle East is to be liberal (?). They support freedom of religion laws and ten commandment carvings outside of every state courthouse.

We characterize ISIS as radical Islamists because they want war and are dying to revive their civilization back to its peak of a thousand years ago. They can never be too pious. Our war mongering radicals want to resurrect America back to its pinnacle of 60 years ago but they are not called radicals – they’re called conservatives. The word’s true meaning gives them and their ideas a respectable feel as though all the ideas were well thought out by cautious, judicious intellectuals who normally never advocate foreign invasions. They learn through prayer that Jesus supports their positions. Anyone, including Rand Paul, who doesn’t want to grow and deploy our army – everywhere, must not be a patriot – and he sure can’t be a true conservative.

I end up rooting for the libertarian, anti-government nut-bar who wants to prevent the government from testing my water, food and air. After I die from food poisoning the company that made the beef will get what it deserves – bankruptcy. I shall cheer from my grave. Unfortunately I have to look to this wing of the Republican party for thoughtful restraint with regard to foreign policy and defense spending. Rand needs the cover of the word so badly that he is already abandoning many of his beliefs. He was an atheist who mocked religion and he is an isolationist but the primaries make candidates conform to the tea party definition.

Perhaps Mr Paul can hand out dictionaries during his campaign tours.

The Beyonce Economy

As labor becomes free (along with information), our most productive skilled laborers and capital owners are rendered freer to perform their craft. Let’s take a look at Beyonce.

Given our willingness to allow in an unlimited number of illegal aliens she can now hire a bevy of dirt cheap personal assistants to take care of her baby, clean all her residences and chauffeur her around at a far lower price than in the old days. She can employ skill-less university graduate interns to tweet, post on Facebook, handle Instagram and produce an unlimited number of photo-shopped pictures for distribution. She can hire an army of free security guards and hair stylists. All her computers, phones, children’s toys and clothes are made overseas so to her, they’re almost all free.

All this gives her more time to perform which is where the real money is in music. Her productivity has exploded. The interns who do her tweeting might be able to afford a ticket if they save for a month. The key to her success is that she sells a lot of small stuff to many underpaid fans (like her security guards) since they could never afford anything expensive. Free labor has allowed her expenses to sink to zero while increasing her free time to generate more and more revenue. The same can be said of any corporate titan, CEO or foreign plutocrat.

At the end of the week she wonders what she can do with all that cash. There are only so many clothes she can wear, cars to drive, or food to eat, little of it gets sprinkled out into the general economy. And then she gets an idea – buy great gobs of luxury real estate. In so doing she drives up the price of land and diverts builders away from producing low or middle income housing. All those interns and security guards will have to commute for two hours to get to her.

The bid she puts in for that Manhattan skyscraper condo will have to be high enough to compete with freaked out Russian and Chinese oligarchs who need a place just in case their world collapses. Ever wonder why so many apartment/condo buildings in Manhattan (or LA, London, Miami, or Toronto) are dark at 8:00 pm on Wednesday night? It’s because Beyonce can only be in one place at a time. The next time you get a tour of NYC and see all the new condos going up at huge prices, consider – the population of Manhattan has risen by a measly 7% over the last 25 years! There are NOT more people chasing less real estate. There is actually far more real estate per person. The new mayor (a liberal Democrat) is freaking out and has no idea how any of this happened.

Beyonce could explain it all to him.

What would Keynes do?

President Obama released a new budget plan last week that raises taxes on the wealthy to pay for infrastructure. It does nothing to reduce the current budget deficit In fact he predicted it would rise by 20% next year). The President continuously believes that one more magical fiscal push will get us over the hill. He also thinks that allowing in more poor immigrants, who would easily find work, would boost social security tax revenue enough to offset big increases in spending from entitlement programs. (Is he serious?)

The US budget deficit has shrunk from $1.4 trillion in 2009 to a mere $480 bn now so everyone is relieved. The fall in interest rates has reduced the cost of servicing the outstanding debt. I guess I should be happy but I have a problem…

The recession ended in 2009 so we have had six years of growth and the deficit is still about 3% of GDP. The entire logic of running active fiscal policy (Keynsianism) is that a country must run surpluses in good times to pay for stimulus in bad times. We have forgotten the first part. Politicians seem very sensitive to the flawed recovery since median incomes are not growing and the proper measure of unemployment (U6) still shows that good jobs are scarce. This rather unsatisfying bounce-back has kept them in spending/borrowing mode.

We have record levels of tax revenue and a steady 3% growth rate so politicians need to adjust government spending to suit our current state. Yes, wages are stagnant so  revenue will persistently fail to cover poverty programs caused by lingering un and under-employment: Medicaid, Foodstamps, UIC, and low taxable income. There is only one way to fix this huge (circular) mess (free the Yuan!) and neither Obama nor the Republicans have any intention of doing it. Yet they apparently can’t reconcile themselves to the economic climate that they have created. Every day they whistle on their way to work in a state of denial as though magic will intervene. Perhaps we will grow forever at a faster and faster rate in spite of the economic stagnation in the rest of the world.

If a Democrat is a believer in active fiscal policy he must buy into counter-cyclical budget adjustments, not perpetual stimulation and the buildup of debt. If he can’t then he must become a Republican and advocate a balanced budget – even during horrible recessions. Our anemic economy did not come from tax policy or (too) big government and it won’t be fixed by loose fiscal policy or smaller government.

Keynes had a reasonable idea and exchanging debt for Chinese-made clothes was not part of it.

 

A Mannequin for President

I never did understand why the Republicans chose John McCain in 2008 instead of Mitt Romney. Mitt just looked so much more presidential. They finally did the logical thing in 2012, ignoring all of his past sins against “conservative principles”. They ignored his flip flopping and his weird cult. They rationalized his rather questionable business practices and tried to overlay their values onto his blank slate.

Romney could have been engineered by a Hollywood casting director. He is very tall ,very handsome, very rich, and very … flexible. He smiles easily and is willing to tell every audience whatever it wants to hear.  If he needs statistics to support his argument of the day, he just creates some and then obfuscates when the fact checkers come knocking. His sunny optimism allows supporters to believe him when he says he will create 12,000,000 new jobs [without any plan whatsoever].

Continue reading A Mannequin for President

If I were the moderator…

I would establish some simple ground rules or facts that are indisputable so as to preclude pandering and stupidity:

  1. Medicare is going broke so neither candidate is allowed to say that leaving it just the way it is a good idea.
  2. The defense budget is so huge that even the military itself realizes that it can be cut. Both sides of the aisle agreed to cut it to solve, at least partially, our budget nightmare. Neither candidate is allowed to say that they would never reduce the military budget.
  3. The decline of the middle class has nothing to do with tax policy. Lowering their taxes further will have just as little impact on their welfare as the previous five tax cuts in the last 10 years. Neither candidate is allowed to claim that tax policy will save them. [Their taxes are already extremely low]
  4. Continue reading If I were the moderator…

Can Chinese peasants referee football games?

I wax on constantly about the impact of a billion new Chinese laborers being tacked on to our labor force. The problem is not as simple as outsourcing by itself. It's what's in the head of every employer when they hire a new worker: the knowledge that there is a virtual ocean of nearly free labor available online or offshore.

This understanding is so widespread that even NFL football owners won't yield to the demands of a union – any union. The NFL has annual revenue of $9bn and the referees aren't even asking for a raise – they just want to keep their current pension benefits. The league wants to cut them by $3mm/yr.  

That's 0.33% of revenue.

Scott Walker and David Koch must be advising the NFL. Union busting has become a part of our culture – just listen to talk radio. Yes, organized labor went way overboard thirty years ago but now the pendulum has swung so far that we have officially entered a race to the bottom verses the Viet Namese – there will be no winners. 

Pinkerton
Pinkerton guards enforce a lockout at Carnegie Steel

Peasants can't afford football tickets… or iPhones.

Akin’s Code

Religious fundamentalists really really want to take the bible literally. Unfortunately it has a whole variety of fables and contradictions that render the task impossible. Science continues to add more fuel to the arguments first made by intellectuals during the enlightenment period. 

We find ourselves in America living amongst a group of people who desperately want to simplify the whole problem. They want human behavior to be easily divided between good and bad. They need to take the bible literally.  Homosexuals are of  course all bad. Hollywood actors are all bad. Women who abort fetuses are … murderers. 

Ambiguity and areas of gray don't play well on conservative talk radio. Listeners like absolutes, just like bible followers. A cultural war is a good thing if you believe you have God on your side. Talk radio constantly asserts that "liberals" are morally corrupt. Every Republican candidate now vies to be the most Christian (moral). It becomes like a game: who can denounce evolution with the greatest vigor; who can denounce the libertine Hollywood culture most strongly; and who stands for the protection of the life of a fetus under all circumstances.

This contest naturally leads to a number of candidates making statements that are insulting, absurd or damaging to groups of people who get caught in the crossfire.  

There is no war on women in particular. They just kind of get in the way sometimes when it comes to protecting a fetus. Gays, scientists, intellectuals, and Hollywood directors are also casualties because they too are on the side of Beelzebub. The rhetoric attracts [mainly] men who would be quite happy in a theocracy where heretics and their books are burned. Their followers do not judge them by modern or scientific standards. Democratic polemicists get sucked into the game by trying to argue that all Republicans take an immoral position with regard to the poor. 

Policy questions can always be moral. This mentality is able to defend positions or programs that have no record of success and no support from the academic community. Reducing our defense budget is immoral. Taxing our highest earners above the current rate is also immoral. Cutting Medicare or Medicaid by even $1.00 is appalling.  

The front page of the Sunday  New York Times shows a picture of a six year old girl who may be deported because her family came here illegally. Apparently having a normal immigration policy is also immoral. As much as the media may say they dislike the replacement of policy discussions with nonsense, they all know that an emotional argument sells more of ads than data.

It also wins more voters.  

Stealing Ideas

Okay, Apple has just won a US lawsuit against Samsung. Many
critics (The New York Times and Atlantic Monthly to name 2) are saying this will be a bad thing with regard to future innovation. They argue that if Samsung were allowed to carry on using many of the tools
that Apple had built then Apple in order to compete, would have to develop even
bigger and better tools.  I don't really understand this argument.

What it seems
to say is that after you make something it's okay for someone else to steal it
because then it forces you to make something new or better than the thing you
already made. I would then presume that someone else would steal that and you would have to go back and make something new again. The onus is always on the creative person or company that made the product in the first place. The onus does not seem to be on the companies that are
stealing the original ideas.

The court has clearly said, at least in the United
States, that Google stole important aspects of the Apple iPhone operating system
so how is it better for all of this technology to be freely copied? It
does not force Google to be creative, it simply allows them to go on stealing
and it penalizes Apple which is the company that has done all the work. These so called experts seem to just like the idea that less expensive phones will have all the same features as more expensive ones.

Capitalism is not supposed to work that way. 

 

It’s what they say not what they do.

There is one difference between the elections of '08 and '12 compared to previous ones. The voting record of the candidates doesn't matter. In the past political candidates used to begin every speech by citing their voting record. They would often provide a list of of bills that they had written or helped to get passed. It was important to show that one knew how to get things done in Washington and everyone took pride in new legislation. What's changed: 

  • Virtually no new legislation is getting passed due to excessive partisanship. 
  • To appease lobbyists, what does get passed is often tangled, obtuse and embarrassing. 
  • Bills that pass with bipartisan support are later seen as compromises -worse than defeat. 
  • Bills are often put up for a vote even when it is clear they will not pass -just to make a point. 

Politicians seem to get away with inconsistent behavior whenever a member of their own party is in the oval office. Even the tea party movement finds this excuse to be lame. 

This leaves us with a rather simple problem. How can we know what a politician stands for when he says that his voting record means nothing? It seems like a century ago that George Bush senior was attacked for betraying his party by raising taxes and contradicting his election promises. How quaint. Obama was the candidate of change and then apparently changed nothing . Paul Ryan voted only for bills that  fundamentally contradicted his entire small government philosophy. It's impossible to find a single policy that Mitt Romney has not flip flopped on. 

Can we say that this era of hypocrisy is about to end? That would be hard given that all the forces that created it are still in place.

Who will be our William Wallace – the man to lead us against the depressing tyranny of political cowards who never vote according to their principles? Instead they prefer to vote on the Pledge of Allegiance, "personhood" and gutted regulatory bills while sticking to absurd pledges to never raise taxes or eliminate outrageous subsidies.

 

He won't come from the current batch of candidates.

Bumper Stickers and Labels

There's a funny bumper sticker that says" Am I a Democrat or just highly educated?" Since the Republican party has purged its intellectuals this question has become reasonable. As I listen to conservative talk radio attack " liberals" it often seems that I could replace the word with intellectuals and it would make sense almost every time. 

Mike Gallagher has a new book out called "50 things liberals love to hate". On his list are such things as: 

  • Light pollution 
  • Oil subsidies and consumption 
  • The second amendment 
  • Christian fundamentalism 
  • Limited government 

Rather than explain or defend this list we could create a new list called ""50 things uninformed people love to hate":

  • Darwin 
  • Scientific evidence of global warming 
  • Proof that lowering taxes does not increase gov't revenue. 
  • Proof that poor income/wealth distribution correlates perfectly with poor income growth
  • Mass transportation 

There are of course many subjects where the two sides might agree: abortion, illegal immigration, outsourcing, the occupation of Afghanistan, and Wall Street regulation.  We cannot allow all the critical thinkers to reside one side of the boat. If they are then periodic explosions should be expected just like the bomb we got from Todd Akin regarding female reproduction. 

We need more intellectuals like Niall Ferguson (a Harvard professor) to publicly explain his preference for Mitt Romney as he did this week in Newsweek. Unfortunately his knowledge of economic statistics proved to be so weak that he utterly embarrassed himself and his cause. He became the Todd Akin of economics.  (I hope his publisher has a good cancellation clause in his contract)

People often express disappointment over the acrimony that appears during election cycles but the problem is not with political polarization or severe rhetoric. It's with the growing divide between candidates who make arguments based on truth and knowledge vs. those who use rumor, superstition, mythology, and fear. It's up to the media to fight this battle and make sure that facts win out. 

If they lose we'll have mob rule.