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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Bottom up links

In this Freakonomics podcast, Steven Levitt discusses his work with companies whose managers resist experimentation to test their beliefs.

In one example, he couldn’t convince a company to stop running newspaper ads in any market to see if that would have an effect on sales. But, they discovered that an intern neglected to buy ads in Pittsburgh one summer. It had no effect on sales. But, the company still buys ads.

In this EconTalk podcast, Yuval Levin made what I expected to be a dull conversation about Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, very interesting. On this, especially, I agree:

I think that there’s a way in which the Left takes for granted a thriving economy that just comes in the background and the question is how to distribute the goods. We have to make the argument that that thriving economy–which makes possible the thriving life of this society–has to be sustained. And it’s a function of certain attitudes toward law and order, of certain kinds of rules, certain kinds of liberties that have to be defended, both because they are right and because they are good. Conservatives are nowhere near good enough at making that kind of case.

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Participation Trophy College

The previous post brings to mind discussions I’ve had on the topic in the past. In one such discussion, a person asked:

So, do you want to be the one who tells someone they can’t go to college?

It shows how much of a pedestal we’ve put college education upon. Like home ownership, it’s now a dream, that everyone is entitled to.

In home ownership, we forgot that renting was a good option for many. With college education, we forget that people without college education do fine, too.

Do I want to be the one who tells someone they can’t go to college? No. If I did, I’d apply to be a college admissions officer.

But telling people they can’t go to college or people deciding for themselves that it isn’t for them isn’t bad. How’s it any different from telling people they didn’t get a part in a movie or people deciding that pursuing their dream of acting isn’t panning out so they should try something else?

How’s it any different from kids in sports not making the team or deciding that a certain sport isn’t for them?

The question also shows how unimaginative we’ve become. It’s college or else. We can’t imagine alternatives. Yet, there are many.

 

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Good from afar, far from good

I realized that quip to describe the phenomenon where someone of the opposite sex looks attractive from a distance, but less so the closer you get to them, also applies to the poor and needy.

Deserving from afar, far from deserving?

I’ve noticed that the folks who tend to be strong advocates for the generic needy (the needy from afar), become less so the closer they get to specific needy people and to their own wallets.

I, again, recall a conversation with a friend who owned a car lot. He was a strong advocate for the deserving and faceless “minimum wage worker,”, because they were powerless against employers. But, apparently the car salesmen on his lot weren’t deserving of that treatment since he treated them as contractors so he wouldn’t have to be locked into paying them minimum wage.

Health insurance is another example. The faceless uninsured was used to garner support for Obamacare because everyone ‘deserves access to health care’. But, put faces on some of the uninsured and look at some of the choices they’ve made — like paying for an expensive cell phone plan, instead of buying insurance — and the ‘deserving’ moniker starts to make less sense.

This exposes a good tactic to use in conversations with people who have the ‘deserving from a far, but far from deserving’ affliction. First, put some faces on those who they think are deserving.

Their next argument will be that those are only a few abusers or outliers and ‘that should be fixed, but doesn’t take away from the vast majority of the other (faceless) deserving.’

To which, a good response is, “How do you know? Are you guessing?”

This looks good

Jeffrey Sachs was interviewed on EconTalk, not long after Nina Munk’s interview that was critical of Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project. Can’t wait to hear it.

Sports Craze & False Choice

Redistribution based on income inequality is a false choice. The reasoning goes something like this:

  • There are wealthy people and poor people.
  • Ignore why they are that way. Like many poor people are just kids starting out and many wealthy people have worked hard and saved their whole lives.
  • Poor people place a higher value on an extra dollar than a rich person who already has plenty.
  • Ignore that the behavior of rich people and poor people do not support this claim, otherwise poor people may be more interested in doing things that can earn and save them more dollars.
  • Therefore, we should redistribute more dollars from the wealthy to the poor.
  • Ignore the already high rate at which this is done.

Why do we only focus on wealthy people in our redistribution schemes?

In my opinion, things mustn’t be too bad if we can afford to support a host of marginal men’s and women’s sports programs from grade school through college, where most people who participate — especially at the higher levels — have few prospects for continuing in those sports after they get past those supported programs, except maybe to teach the next generation of youth to take advantage of those programs or to tell their glory day stories in the break room.

How many poor people could have been helped with the taxpayer money that has been put into all sorts of sports projects? Locally, we have taxpayer-funded pro sports stadiums and amateur sports facilities. Apparently playing soccer on grass is just too hard. Spending millions on fake grass fields for pre-teens to hone their soccer skills is the new norm.

Why don’t we look at more of such things and say if we really take external approaches to helping those in poverty seriously, why don’t we cut out all this other stuff?

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An Unproductive Discussion

I saw this video of David Letterman’s interview of Rand Paul from 2011 posted on Carpe Diem:

I suggest skipping past Paul’s corny attempts at humor near the beginning and watch the last five to six minutes of the discussion. It’s a great example of how someone’s ignorance, Letterman’s in this case, can be mistaken for legitimate arguments by stating platitudes and refusing to accept facts.

In one example, Letterman characterizes Republicans as the party that just wants to give tax breaks to the rich and big business.

Paul points out that there’s the idea that the rich don’t pay their fair share isn’t accurate. They, in fact, pay most of the taxes. He says the top 1% income earners pay a third of income taxes collected and the top 50% pay 96%. Letterman gets some claps for replying:

…I think there’s something wrong with those numbers. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong with them…

I’ll give Letterman credit. After the applause, he then says:

Thank you, you’re applauding my stupidity, God bless you.

I’d like to know if Letterman followed up to learn more about these facts to see if he could build a more valid counterpoint than “I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong.” If he did, what did he find? Did it change his mind?

What do you do when you encounter facts that go against what you previously believed? I don’t know about you, but I find that intriguing and I usually dig in deeper.

Earlier in the conversation (4 minute mark), Letterman demonstrates his ignorance by confusing the national deficit with the debt.  “The American debt is what, $3 trillion?”

Paul explains that the deficit is running about $2 trillion each year, but total debt has accumulated up to $14 trillion.

Letterman blows by this fact. He just learned that something he thought was $3 is nearly 5 times as big and he has no reaction. A reasonable person should respond, “Holy cow! $14 trillion? How did that happen? I had no idea that it was that much. What was I thinking?”

I will give Letterman some credit here. He asks how continuing to borrow will affect him. Paul tries to explain, but I don’t think it made much sense to Letterman.

I would have said the Soviet Union, Greece, Cyprus and Detroit are good examples of what can happen. It’s tough to tell how far down the road that is, but that’s the direction borrowing leads.

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