Communicating Conservative Principles

Some time ago Michael Moore appeared on The View with conservative columnist Star Parker.  On that show Moore said we have socialized roads, police and fire departments and socialized retirement (Social Security).  He then he asked why not socialized medicine?  I can’t remember how Star Parker responded.  I remember I agreed with her, but if you didn’t already agree with Parker’s view, what she said didn’t win any converts.

It’s tough to communicate conservative values effectively in short, emotional debates.  Churchill said twenty year old conservatives must have no hearts while forty year old liberals must have no brains.  He understood that it took years of thoughtful experience to learn that conservative principles are more likely to result in the heart’s desire of a compassionate twenty year old.

I agree with Churchill.  It took me a few years to convert, but that doesn’t excuse conservatives from finding creative, concise and effective ways to communicate our principles.

Since Moore’s View appearance, I’ve heard several of my liberal friends repeat Moore’s line of reasoning about socialism.  I’d love to hear suggestions for how to counter this expediently.  My attempts so far have not been effective. 

What I’ve used so far goes something like this: schools, fire and police departments are managed locally, not nationally.  In other words, there’s not one Federal police department.  Cities with bad schools, police or fire departments will lose citizens and tax base to cities with good ones.  This encourages poorly ran cities to improve services to attract and retain its tax base, enables innovation and avoids a single point of failure. 

Perhaps, I should first ask the other person whether they support the locally managed departments or one federal department and ask why.

Thomas Sowell's "Applied Economics"

The first few pages of Thomas Sowell’s Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One explains the incentives that doom government do-good programs.

People evaluate political decisions on intentions and economic decisions on results.   A political decision, such as using taxpayer money to bail out banks, is made to make the politicians look well-intentioned in order to win favor with voters, whether the result matches the intentions or not.  Often government programs hurt the very people they’re intended to help because of unintended consequences.  Yet programs continue on and grow because of the visible good intentions.

On the other hand, when I make an economic decision, like buying dinner from a restaurant, I evaluate the result.  Was the dinner worth what I gave up in exchange (money, time, drive)?  The restaurant workers may have good intentions, but if they don’t deliver a tasty meal in a reasonable time I won’t return. 

Sowell described that his Harvard economics professor, Arthur Smithie, got him to think through potential unintended consequences by asking which policy he favored and why and then asking, “And then what will happen?”  He would keep asking the last question over and over again.  I’ll give that a try.

Good Economics Teacher

Thanks to Cafe Hayek for this link to an econ teacher who teaches the subject in a useful way.  Lucky students.

On the first day of class, my Econ 101 prof promised that I would be able to read the Wall Street Journal by the end of the course.  I don’t think she achieved that goal.  I still have trouble with the Wall Street Journal.  It seems like a lot of random noise to me.  I would have found much more value in that course had she promised to teach us why rent controls don’t work.

Stop Spending Our Money!

We need to find someone capable of doing this in the U.S.  Daniel Hannan delivered a sound thrashing to the British Prime Minister on Tuesday, while on the same day our own President, for the first time, faced tough questions from a press corps that seems to be sobering up.  Much of what Mr. Hanaman said can and should be directed at Barack Obama.  Folks, he’s spending all of our money and we’re letting him.

We Don't Know What to Measure

My post on ‘Open Source’ got me thinking about how we rarely know the best true measure of success.  The best measure of success is usually the one that gets us closest to the truth.  That sounds obvious, but it’s not.

How do you measure the success of a school district?  Many “experts” (see my post on Expert Fallacy) might support using measures such as drop-out rates, standardized test scores, class size or average education level of teaching staff. 

 But, the measure that might get us close to the truth on the school district’s success than any of these metrics is net increase of students in the district.  Good school districts attract families and drive growth of the student population.

Critical Thinker of the Week

Jason Whitlock, a Kansas City sports columnist, exhibits great critical thinking in this column from Sunday’s Kansas City Star about racial collegiate graduation statistics.

Whether he’s right or wrong isn’t the point. It interests me that he doesn’t blindly accept the politically correct, expedient, nod-in-agreement-or-be-chastised-into-oblivion hypothesis.  And, he doesn’t question the quality of the statistics.  He offers altnernative, plausible explanations for the stats and asks for alternative ways to cut the stats that might add to the picture.  For example, he’d like to see the stats by  parental situation (two parent, single parent, no parent) rather than race alone.  Whitlock is in good company.  Thomas Sowell makes the same point. 

I’m interested to see the fallout of Jason’s column.  If the past is any guide, he’s sure to be called names, ridiculed and discredited (after all, he’s just a sports guy, right?), but you can rest assured that few, if any, of his critics will address the validity of his points.

However it comes out, Jason Whitlock recieves my very first Mind Changers Critical Thinker of the Week Award.   Congratulations Jason!

$3.6 Trillion

Obama’s proposed budget is $3.6 trillion of spending.  That’s $11,842 for each of us or $25,714 for each individual tax return filed.   It’s also about 28% of the national economy.  Any way you cut it, it’s big and dangerous. 

To concentrate 28% of the economy in the hands of so few is dangerous.  This converts the incentives around 28% of the spending of the economy from value-based, “is-it-worth-it?” decisions made by the parties involved to third parties spending other people’s money motivated by wanting to appear helpful.  The former transaction generates much more benefit for society than the latter, despite what some economic adviser’s math model suggests.  The latter is more likely to destroy value.

Expert Fallacy

Critical thinking skills are in the tank. Rarely are the merits of an issue debated. Discussions go down several common rabbit holes. I wrote about one in a previous post, where you or your opponent will not be honest about the other’s position. 

Another common rabbit hole is an appeal to authority, or expert fallacy. In a discussion on how to fix health care, a medical doctor chimed in with an opinion that agreed with my opponent. The opponent declared, “This guy works in the profession. I trust his opinion.”  The discussion went south as we debated why being a doctor doesn’t make your opinion on the organization of the health care necessarily true.  When a medical doctor who agreed with my view chimed in, the same opponent proceeded with ad hominem attack to discredit him not bothered in the least by his blatant inconsistency.  I no longer argue with this guy.  I use him as practice for identifying fallacies.

Not only do we commit expert fallacy when the the so-called expert agrees with our position.  In Fooled by Randomness, N. N. Taleb writes about a different variation of expert fallacy. He distinguishes between fields where being an expert can help and where it doesn’t and argues that few people make that distinction. Dentists are expert enough in dental care to cure a toothache.  We incorrectly confuse the type of skill the dentist has with the type of skill economists or investment managers have.  Outcomes in these areas are more random and success is based more on luck.

Why do we fall victim to these expert fallacies?  Because critical thinking skills are in the tank.  We accept it.  Does it matter that “experts” are proven wrong all the time?  Does it occur to us that “experts” are human and are susceptible to the same biases as the rest of us?   

I’ve been told you’ve found a good doctor if she highly encourages you to seek out a second opinion because she could be wrong.  That’s a good litmus test for other “experts” as well.  Think twice if they don’t readily admit that they might be wrong.  I’m not wrong about this.

Jon Stewart Show Fallacy

Congrats Jon, you’ve smashed Jim Cramer into groveling submission.  Very Stalinesque.  What was the point?  To draw attention away from Cramer’s criticism of Obama? Rather than debate Cramer on what he said, you dusted off a good ole ad hominem, which I hereby motion to rename the Jon Stewart Show Fallacy.