Emma Sullivan ‘sucks and #sheblowsalot’

In this post, I wrote:

It seems a big problem in this country can be traced to the strong encouragement we give people to get their voice heard and vote, without first encouraging them to research their opinions, build well-reasoned arguments, listen to and fairly consider opposing viewpoints — and be able to address them without fallacy.

The Emma Sullivan story is great example of this. Emma tweeted:

Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot

What I found humorous about this story is how Emma tried to parlay her substance-free (and untrue) personal attack on Brownback into a meeting with him, as if she thinks she has demonstrated that she actually has something worthwhile for him to hear.

She is quoted in the story as saying:

It would be nice to kind of talk to the governor and let him know where I’m at and say things, let my opinion be heard and tell him that he needs to listen to more people in Kansas.  There needs to be an open door for more people to speak their opinion and be heard by him.

Here’s a word of advice, Emma.  If you really want to “kind of talk to the governor”, saying ‘he sucks and blows a lot’ is not the best way to begin that dialogue.

In fact, if you truly want to talk to Brownback, you could demonstrate that by acknowledging that saying he ‘sucks and blows a lot’ was not an effective approach to that talk and offering a genuine apology for your immature behavior.  Why should anyone want to hold forum with a petulant brat?

The fact that you hold steadfast to your disrespectful comment tells me that you are not serious about wanting to talk with him.

Unintended Consequences

McDonalds Happy Meal

Let Politicians Decide

My local McDonald’s recently started complying with the wishes of the political class.  Over the weekend, we purchased a Happy Meal for my kid.  It came with a reduced, 100 calorie fry packet and a bag of sliced apples.

My kid, who by the way eats fresh fruit everyday not provided by fast food companies, was mortified with the smaller fry packet.

My wife instantly understood the unintended consequences.

She said, “Well, that’s just going to cause people to spend more money.  They’ll either buy an extra or larger order of fries to make up for the fries taken out of the Happy Meal.  Or, they’ll just buy the kid’s stuff ala carte to get what they want.  No wonder McDonald’s supported it, they probably realized it will increase their sales.

Let’s review this situation.

1.  Political class deems kids meals with toys unhealthy and persuades (by threatening to legislate) companies that sell kids meals with toys to make them “healthier”.  

Result:  Voters see the political class as making a positive change.

2.  The bean counters at the companies that sell kids meals with toys run the numbers and determine there’s a good chance people will order extra stuff to make up for what’s taken away.  Companies that sell kids meals support the wishes of the political class. 

Result: Political class looks like they have done something positive and company looks like it has done something positive.

3.  After customers realize that they no longer get what they want, they purchase more to make up the difference or do without. 

Result:  Customer choice is reduced or customer cost is increased.  Many of the apples that do make it into kids meals go to waste.

On net, the political class and the company are heralded by non-vested parties for doing something positive.  Customers pay the price and continue making unhealthy food choices.

So while the political class and company reap the political benefits, the company benefits from increased sales — nobody is actually healthier.

This is the same poor logic that I pointed out in this post.  Except this time it has to do with food and health rather of housing or wealth.

Poor logic:  “People are unhealthy because the food provided by companies is unhealthy.  Let’s encourage those companies to provide healthier choices.”

Better logic:  “People are unhealthy because of the food choices they make.  Let’s encourage folks to eat healthier.”

We are ruled by poor logic

Speaking about Walter Williams, his latest column, Should the Rich Be Condemned?, is worth a read.

The whole column is so good that I put it under the fold.  Here’s one key paragraph:

President Barack Obama, in stoking up class warfare, said, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” This is lunacy. Andrew Carnegie’s steel empire produced the raw materials that built the physical infrastructure of the United States. Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft and produced software products that aided the computer revolution. But Carnegie had amassed quite a fortune long before he built Carnegie Steel Co., and Gates had quite a fortune by 1990. Had they the mind of our president, we would have lost much of their contributions, because they had already “made enough money.”

Exactly!  When it is reasoned that the rich have enough and we should take more from them, we don’t realize that we are really taking it from ourselves.

We say, oh well, so they’ll have one less car in their 50 car garage.  That may be true.  But it is equally likely that we don’t get a better a light bulb, a new vaccine or some other thing that may improve our lives. And I never hear that considered in the ‘take more from the rich’ logic.

For me, it’s the same poor logic that produces massively harmful things like the housing policy.

For example, the poor logic: “Home ownership makes people responsible, so let’s make it easier for folks to own homes by lowering the bar of responsibility.”

Better logic: “Responsible people buy homes.  So, let’s encourage responsible behavior.”

With rich people, “They have a lot money and it doesn’t seem fair, especially while others are struggling.  Let’s take more from them.”

Rather than, “For the most part, wealthy people earned their wealth by finding ways to add value to the lives of others.  So, let’s encourage people to find ways to add value to the lives of other.  Then we all come out ahead.”

Continue reading

Two ways of saying the same thing

Normally, the holidays bring some family discussion on politics.  This weekend, those discussions were limited.  The following is the extent of the political discussion I had this weekend:

Family member:  Have you heard about what Howard Schulz [Starbucks founder] is doing about politics?

Me:  A little.  I don’t know much, but to me, it sounds like Schulz is saying “we just need to all get along and do the stuff the I (or my side) wants to do.”

Family member:  No, that’s not it at all.  He, and others like Ariana Huffington, want to end the gridlock in government so that government can get some things done.

Me:  Do you realize you said exactly what I said, just differently?  When people say they want to end the gridlock, they mean they want to do the stuff that they think should be done, but not what the other side wants to do.

Family member:  I don’t think that’s true.  I want to do the stuff that my side wants to do and the stuff that your side wants to do.

Me:  Really?  Name one thing that my side wants to do that you support?

Family member:  Well, I can’t right now.

Me:  Then what you said is just a platitude.  It sounds good, but means nothing.  It’s tough to do what one side wants to do — which ends up growing government — and what the other side wants to  do — shrinking government — at the same time.  That’s why there’s gridlock.

Me again (summoning Walter Williams): Here’s the thing.  We need to get more of our decisions out of politics.  You and I don’t have to fight over which jeans we should wear because we each get to make the choice that’s right for us.  I don’t get to force you to wear the jeans that I like.  But, if ‘we’ said as society that we all have to wear jeans, we’d fight over which jeans to wear and some group of people would end up forcing their preferences on everyone else.

I think Schulz has a brilliant business mind.  I encouraged my family member to read his book Pour Your Heart Into It.  It holds a lot of good lessons for starting, growing and running a business.

I also encouraged my family member to look into what other business leaders have to say about politics, like John Mackey, CEO of Whole Food Markets.

Giving Thanks

With each passing year, Thanksgiving grows more important to me as I have come to better appreciate the things I should be thankful for.

In 2009 I posted a list of what I was thankful for.  Most of those still apply, but I might switch out the TV show LOST for Fringe and the Walking Dead.

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw suggests we be thankful for the principle of comparative advantage.  I agree and I am.

I’m also thankful for two observations and changes I’ve made in my own life in the last couple of years.

The first change is that I’m less concerned about failing.  It still takes some work, but it has allowed me to try new things.  Some of those things work.  Some don’t.  When one doesn’t work, I shrug my shoulders, try to learn something and move on.  When something does work, it can be amazing.

These things I try range from little things like blog posts here, to the way I say “hi” to others or make business presentations and other things I’ll mention later.

The second change is based on the old “it mattered to that starfish” story.  We’ve all heard this story many times.  A beach with thousands of starfish washed up from a storm.  A child throwing them back into the sea one at a time.  A perplexed adult asking the child why, there’s so many you aren’t possibly making a difference?  The child grabbing a starfish and throwing it back in and replying, I made a difference to that one.

Rather than trying to “change the world” I’ve been looking for ways to make a positive impact on the little world around me — in my family, with my friends and in my community.

A couple years ago a friend died.  He was involved in many charities and organizations.  I didn’t realize how many until I attended his funeral.  The list was impressive and documented.   I wondered if it was perhaps too much.  The thought occurred to me that maybe he should have spent more time taking care of his health than trying to build a legacy, so that he could have been around longer for his family and for (maybe fewer) of those organizations.

That led me to make some good changes and tough choices.  I find myself playing “pickup tag” with my kid and others at the playground. One group of kids dubbed me the “ninja dad” for my modest parkour ability.

I volunteered to coach my kid’s soccer team, which meant that he and nine others got a chance to play soccer, make new friends, learn how to win and lose and build some lasting memories.

I started a 5K run last year to benefit a charity that helps teach people to be self-sufficient and gives participants in the run an opportunity to run and be healthy.

Though I wanted to keep organizing it, I made a tough choice to pass off those duties to others so I could spend more time with my family and coach my kid’s soccer team.  I took a smaller role in the 5K, helping out however I could.  The first year had a good showing.  The number of participants tripled in the second year and looks like it’s on its way to becoming a solid annual fundraiser for the charity and a new tradition for participants.

I’ve been happy with these changes.  Many of these efforts will go undocumented.  It may not appear to others that I will have a substantial legacy.  That’s okay, because some kids on the playground may remember their game of tag with the “ninja dad”.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What’s wrong with liberty?

On his blog, The Pretense of Knowledge, Speedmaster points to Dr. Robert Higgs‘ acceptance speech for the Alexis de Tocqueville Award.

In it, Higgs eloquently describes the same two reasons (though only one is sufficient) why I appreciate liberty.  This is from his speech.

For one of the ways in which I have made myself obnoxious, however, I make no apology: I have forthrightly raised the banner of individual liberty again and again, even among associates and fellow citizens who esteemed other values much more than they esteemed liberty. Although few Americans openly oppose individual liberty in the abstract, it is obvious from their frequent willingness to sacrifice liberty in a quest for other goals that they do not place individual liberty very high in the rank-order of their preferences about how social life should be lived. In contrast, I unashamedly love liberty. For society as a whole, I wish nothing more fervently than I wish that it should be as free as possible. For me, freedom is not simply the highest-ranked value with regard to public affairs; it stands on a level by itself, far above all the others.

I espouse individual liberty in this “extreme” fashion for two reasons, which in my mind complement one another. The first is that freedom is the optimal condition for each individual’s engagement in society. To be driven, bullied, abused, disregarded, treated with contempt and dishonor―these are bad things in themselves, not only for me, but for every human being. We ought to recoil from them, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a local cop or the government in Washington. Yet all too many of us become accustomed to such official cruelties and take them in stride without much conscious thought that they are wrongs and ought to be stopped, regardless of their source.

Individual liberty, however, is also an instrument for the creation of many of the conditions, goods, and services that constitute material abundance and relieve many of the anxieties and pains that once accompanied social life for almost everyone. Virtually everyone favors economic development, especially inasmuch as it reduces or eliminates extreme poverty. Individual liberty is a necessary condition for sustained economic progress. The specific conditions of a free society―private property rights, secure contracts, a reliable rule of law―are prerequisites for the ongoing creation of wealth in the long run. At this late date, after we have witnessed the personal horrors and economic disasters brought about by socialist central planning, it should not be necessary to go on preaching the gospel of private property and the market economy, yet we all know that many people still do not understand these essential matters and often act politically to thwart the operation of a genuinely free society.

To summarize, liberty is good because it seems morally right and it produces the best outcomes for everyone.

It took me far too long to learn these lessons.

For me, this was the key sentence of the excerpt:

Although few Americans openly oppose individual liberty in the abstract, it is obvious from their frequent willingness to sacrifice liberty in a quest for other goals that they do not place individual liberty very high in the rank-order of their preferences about how social life should be lived.

I use to be one of these Americans.

Liberty was good, until I thought it got in the way of some desired outcome.   I’m afraid it took a good deal of life experience and thinking to overcome the reflexive reaction to get the desired outcome with waves a government wand.

It took a long time to learn that my desired outcomes maybe weren’t so desirable after all and that waving the government wand was usually not the best way to achieve better results.

And, even if my desired outcomes were desirable and we could get there with government, was it worth infringing on the liberty of others to do so?

Dr. Higgs and I might be wrong about why liberty is good. I try to keep myself open to that possibility.

I was wrong about an awful lot before I arrived at my position on liberty.  And, it took me being willing to admit I was wrong to get here.

I’ve actively sought out arguments that proved my current position wrong, but I have not encountered anything remotely persuasive yet.

So far, the arguments are the same that I held at some point previous in my life.

“Liberty prevents some desired outcome.”  “Government is required to get there.”

Suggestion: Stop protesting and demanding and do something productive

Here are a couple interesting videos.  Thanks to Mark Perry at Carpe Diem.

Video 1: Stratification in the OWS society

Apparently, in the OWS society in Zucotti Park, enclaves formed that were reminiscent of the classes in society that OWS was protesting.  I love the we-should-all-have-access-to-iPads, but-not-my-iPad guy.

Video 2: “Patriotic” Millionaires demand higher taxes, but are unwilling to pay up

Here’s the video (thanks to W.E. Heasley for pointing me to the Youtube version):

In this video, reporter Michelle Fields asks millionaires if they’d like to make a voluntary donation to the Treasury, since they are demanding their taxes be raised.

Unsurprisingly, they all said no.  “It wouldn’t make a big enough difference to solve the problem.”

Great job Michelle!

If the 1 Percenters who appeared in this video are out there somewhere, I’d like to pose these follow up questions:

1.  What “problem” exactly are you hoping to solve?

a. Deficit

b. Income inequality

c. Paying your “fair share”

d. Other?

2.  Don’t you think it’s important to lead by example? Maybe if you made a donation that would lead others to make donations and that could help, couldn’t it?

3.  What keeps you from using this same logic (“my contribution won’t make a difference”) when donating to charity?  After all, a contribution of $100,000 to charity will have the same impact of $100,000 to government, right?  Why or why not?

4.  By how much do you think taxes should be raised and specifically on who (e.g. income over $1 million)?

4a.  If taxes are raised by that amount on that group, how much extra government revenue will that generate?  How does that compare to the size of the deficit?

4b.  What’s to keep government from raising taxes on you, spending that extra money (if it generates extra money) and not reducing the deficit by a penny?

5.  Do you have any thoughts on how large a percentage government spending should be of the economy?

6.  Are you also asking your politicians to exercise more fiscal responsibility in spending?

Bureaucrats and innovators, part two

This is from Peggy Noonan’s column in the Wall Street Journal today:

Then he turned to the rise and fall of various businesses. He has a theory about “why decline happens” at great companies: “The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesman, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues.” So salesmen are put in charge, and product engineers and designers feel demoted: Their efforts are no longer at the white-hot center of the company’s daily life. They “turn off.” IBM and Xerox, Jobs said, faltered in precisely this way. The salesmen who led the companies were smart and eloquent, but “they didn’t know anything about the product.” In the end this can doom a great company, because what consumers want is good products.

I agree.  This reminds me of a few of my previous posts where I write about the secret of good business, bureaucrats vs. innovators and bureaucrats and innovators.

Jobs just uses the term salesman in place of bureaucrat and product engineers in place of innovator.

Salesmen stifle innovation by favoring their own projects and restricting other projects.  That lowers the chance that the company will discover something truly valuable for customers.

I’ve witnessed projects that showed early promise get nixed because they weren’t the saleman’s project.  I’ve also seen projects that show no signs of promise continue to get resources, because it is the salesman’s project.  The salesman can sell others (for awhile) that the project is working, even when all measures suggest it is not.