A very important fact, indeed

I agree with Yuval Levin, from his EconTalk podcast, about a simple point and an important fact:

I think Conservatives today don’t often enough make the simple point: that, when it comes to economics the market system that we are advocating has been the best thing that has ever happened to the poor in human history. And has dramatically reduced extreme poverty around the world and is still doing it right now; has been the way in which the needy and the vulnerable have been lifted up. It’s worked far better than anything else we’ve every tried, far better than anything the Left has tried to do economically. And that should matter. That’s a very important fact.

I hear this point made on occasion in left/right debates by the right. I find it interesting at how quickly it gets swept under the rug by the left. It’s usually with a red herring like, “but capitalism has its problems, too.” What I find interesting is how uninterested the left is in examining this important fact.

It goes back to the Levin quote in the previous post, “…the left takes for granted a thriving economy that just comes in the background…

This very important fact, in fact, was key in dislodging my liberal thinking. Before it was pointed out to me, I too, took the thriving economy for granted.

But, when it was pointed out to me, it was eye opening. Rather than sweeping it under the rug, I went silent and thought, if that’s right, how could I be against it? Isn’t it achieving the very thing that I say I want?

Levin went on to say:

Beyond that, the kind of society we are arguing for is a society that for very solid reasons we believe is grounded in a way of life that helps advance the moral good. A way of life that helps people build the sort of lives they want. That makes government more effective at solving problems that people confront. That gives people the room to build the lives they want and protects them from the worst risks that they might confront in modern life, rather than a society that says: This is the way, and you have to do it. Which, again and again, this is how the Left approaches the life of our society: centralize, consolidate, exercise authority to push people into the right grooves.

I couldn’t help to think of this quote when I read this Wall Street Journal op-ed on the politics around the federal nutrition standards for school cafeterias.

The nutrition mandates from 2010 First Lady bill centralizes nutritional choices for school lunches to “push people into the right grooves.”

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Two more good ones from Bryan Caplan

Bryan Caplan thinks it’s inconsistent for the left to believe the poor shouldn’t be blamed for their predicament, but Republicans can be blamed for a host of things like not helping the less fortunate or ignoring evidence of global warming.

He also points out that the predatory pricing practiced by public schools yields only a 90% market share after decades, not a monopoly as folks believe.

 

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Wisdom of the crowds

This week had a good example of why I don’t like or trust awards given out by small groups of people. The smaller the group, the more prone that group is to be biased and wrong, making the reward meaningless. It turns out that the Nobel committee is just a set of humans, it’s not made up of supernaturals conferred with some higher degree of judgement than the rest of us.

Personally, I have no opinion on who should have won the Nobel Peace Prize, but the media seemed disappointed that Malala didn’t win.

The media should keep that in mind when they appeal to the authority of other Nobel Prize winners.

I think Nelly captured the sentiment in his song, Number One:

You aint gotta gimme my props
Just gimme the yachts
Gimme my rocks
Keep my fans coming in flocks

In other words, he agrees — awards are cheap, crowds speak.

Disagreement and compassion

Seth Godin on ways to disagree with people. He identifies a marketing problem, a political problem and a filtering problem.

I think there is also an identification problem: When someone agrees with you, but won’t admit it because it doesn’t fit in with how they self-identify. But, if I admit that I wouldn’t be in the compassionate crowd, for example.

Steven Landsburg has help for such people. Here’s his response to a commentator on his blog who cares about coffee shop owners on Capitol Hill who are being hurt by the

coffee and tee

In DC or Nebraska? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

shutdown but who must be…

…apparently oblivious to the fact that taxpayers also visit coffee shops, and that for every dime not being spent by a DC bureaucrat, there’s an extra dime available to be spent by a Nebraska farmer or a New York cab driver. Our commenter apparently remembered to care about the guys selling coffee in DC but forgot to care about the guys selling coffee in Nebraska.

The single biggest lesson that economists have to teach is that it’s important to care about everyone, not just about the people who happen to cross your path.

Small groups with power

I’ve delighted in hearing a local morning radio DJ go crazy recently because her city council refuses to approve a new and popular internet and TV service for the city where she resides, while nearly all surrounding cities have approved it.

She asks, “How is it that two guys can be holding up my consumer choice?” She’s even more put off that it’s not her own city councilman, because she can’t vote against the two hold outs.

This delights me because this particular DJ often goes on a pious rants about what she believes in and it sometimes entails sanctioning government action to force her agenda on people who don’t agree with her and “if you don’t like it, TOO BAD!!! That’s just the way it is!”

I enjoy when I see people like that confront a government action forced on them that they dislike or disagree with. That’s when they seem to discover the problems associated with giving small groups of people too much power.

Noise Grenades

Why are liberals so rude to the right? (via Instapundit)

The link above contains good examples of ‘noise grenades’ that I mentioned in the comments of this post. Noise grenades are what I call it when somebody rudely attacks your political leanings intent on rattling your cage, with the underlying assumption that you must be an idiot and having no intention to learn why you think the way you do.

I like this line:

Wouldn’t it be better for America if liberals really were liberal, and listened to other points of view?

It does amaze me at how often closed-minded liberals are mistaken for open-minded free spirits.

If tax cuts are spending, shouldn’t liberals want more tax cuts?

According to her comments, Nancy Pelosi considers tax cuts to be spending.

If Pelosi really believed this, shouldn’t she be as supportive of tax cuts as she is of real spending increases?

What’s the difference? Does she think tax cuts are irresponsible spending? If so, are there any other types of government spending she considers irresponsible?

My guess, the only stuff she finds irresponsible are changes that put more in the hands of citizens and less in the hands of government.

The golden rule of liberty

In discussions about what government ought to do, rarely does one consider:

What if I’m wrong?

If there’s a chance that your policy causes more harm than good, or even any harm, shouldn’t you be more concerned? 

Good intentions and the gotta-do-something attitude are often accepted as valid justification for causing harm, but I think that’s a mistake.

If I’m walking by someone on the street who is having a heart attack, I could attempt to perform open-heart surgery. That would cause him more harm since I have no medical experience. Even though I had good intentions and a gotta-do-something attitude, most people wouldn’t give me a pass for with that reasoning.

Yet, we let so many people and politicians get by on that reasoning when it comes to public policy.

I hear proponents of the minimum wage, for example, support their position with a ‘greater good’, cost benefit analysis that sounds like this: Sure, it might make it harder for some to find a job, but it’s worth it if some people get paid more than they otherwise would.

My response: The folks who will have a harder time finding a job want to thank you for making that decision on their behalf.

They usually chuckle and say something like: Well, that’s okay. The ones who get paid more will also thank me.

What amazes me about such exchanges is how blase folks are about making decisions that might harm others, even if their cost-benefit analysis is correct, and how little they care about whether they are right or wrong. They act as if their good intentions gives them a pass for being wrong and causing harm. That’s reckless.

A key reason I appreciate liberty isn’t because I believe the costs (like those in the above example) outweigh the benefits (though I do believe that), it’s because I believe I should be very careful when I’m thinking in terms of who to harm — even if I believe the benefits exceed the costs.

I don’t like it when others decide it’s okay to harm me for what they think is the greater good, so what entitles me to inflict harm on others? Treat others as you, yourself, would like to be treated.

Few of the reckless greater-do-gooders like it when others decide it’s okay to harm them. Yet, they rarely make the connection that because they don’t like it, maybe they should refrain as much as possible from advocating harming others.

I’m not a fan of society-level cost-benefit analysis, because it separates the analyzers from the direct costs and benefits and makes it too easy to be careless and support the outcome that garners the most favorable agreement with peers.

It’s to easy to say this: I support this because I think we* have to do something. We* just can’t sit by and let these people suffer.

*Of course, by ‘we’, they usually mean others.

It’s not so easy to say: You know, it may be unfortunate, but we all have unfortunate things happen to us and need to make adjustments. Besides, if we do something to help them though government, that just means we’re causing harm to others. Maybe, if we really do believe it is worth it to help them we should open our own checkbook, volunteer our time or start an organization to help them, rather than just make empty declarations.

Editorials say a lot

In this article in Forbes magazine, the owner of 13 “hyperlocal” newspapers in Texas, John  Garrett, tells us that his local editions serve a niche because “everybody is interested in roads and taxes.”

Garrett also said something that complemented my thought about bad journalism in this post:

We don’t editorialize. We lose all credibility when we take one side of an issue.

I wish I would have written that. Of course. How dumb are we?

It makes me laugh when I hear folks who believe media bias only exists on Fox News and in the Wall Street Journal. Not I that I don’t think those sources are biased. Of course they are.

What makes me laugh is that many of these same folks don’t see the bias in their preferred media outlets.

But, here Garrett gives us such a simple and obvious test for that bias. Just look at which sides of the issues they come down on in their editorials.

If they consistently come down on one particular side, how can you trust their reporting to be objective?