I agree with Barack Obama?

Driving around at lunch today, I heard a conservative talker on the radio play an Obama sound bite where he said something like, For those who don’t agree with the direction we’re going, make your argument and get out and win an election.

The conservative talker attacked this by saying that the conservative congressman and senators did win elections.

But, I know what Obama meant. Don’t just win a half of one branch of government. Win at least one branch.

I agree.

For those who don’t like the direction government is going, the issue isn’t Barack Obama or any individual in the House or Senate. It’s that more people voted for them. Those voters seem okay with their politicians making up the powers of government as they go along.

Even if you didn’t vote for Obama or a Democrat, there’s a good chance that you voted for a Republican that isn’t much different.

When you hear someone say that a politician is more worried about getting re-elected than doing what’s right for the country, there’s an overlooked truth in there that says more about the electorate than it does about the politician.

“Throw them all out”

For all the folks I hear say that we should throw everyone out of Congress and start over, I’d like to see who they vote for to be their representative and senator in the next election.

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.

The marginal utility trap

I think the idea of marginal utility of income is misused to inappropriately ignore property rights.

Using the Golden Rule, if you are concerned about someone taking dollars from you to give to those they believe have higher utility, then you should not advocate that it be done to others.

That should be enough to stop this bad idea from becoming policy and corrupting the incentives and feedbacks that happen to produce improving standards of living for everyone.

But it’s also worth knowing how it corrupts those incentives and feedbacks.

What marginal utility a third-party thinks another person has with one extra dollar isn’t nearly as important as what that person does to get the dollar.

If the person does nothing to get the dollar, their incentive to do something of value to earn it is subverted.

On occasion, the person’s dignity overrides and they refuse the handout. The typical response, it’s okay. You don’t understand. You see, I’m educated. Let me explain this to you. We’re not giving you the dollar just for you, Silly. See, you help the economy simply by spending that dollar. So, have at it.

Now dignity and shame are removed from the feedbacks that would typically encourage folks to want to do something in return. Now, good luck even getting a thank you card. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Require recipients of taxpayer money to write thank you cards to their fellow citizens.

I just read an article in Bicycling magazine about mountain bike racer, Heidi Swift’s, experience in a race in Haiti (I’ll post a link when it becomes available). Tired and pushing a bike up a steep road with big boulders as pavement (very tough to negotiate in cycling shoes), the author meets an 11-year-old boy who was eager to push for her. He dutifully sticks by her side until he’s sure she can handle it.

For his efforts he scores a Clif bar, a chocolate bar and some cash. Here’s here final words:

He turns to go, and as he does, he smiles at me again. It’s probably nothing more than a polite thanks for cash, and admittedly I am exhausted, but this smile seems to exist outside the bound of our transaction: proud, approving, satisfied and reliable — just kind of thing that could help a girl get to the top of an unclimbable mountain.

Yes. That’s the dignity and pride of someone who earned his keep by producing value. Many in our society have shamed ‘the transaction’ because they view it as a manifestation of greed. They forget the part where value was created for someone else and pride and dignity were also earned in doing the job well.

Contrast her experience in Haiti with the creep in this Judge Judy video that demonstrates that greed exists outside the bounds of mutually beneficial transactions (thanks to Mike M for the video):

We could use more of the ‘proud, approving, satisfied and reliable’ smile from someone who earns his keep and less of the snickering, entitled, disingenuous, scamming attitude that smart people think are helping the economy by spending other people’s money.

Robin Hood would be proud

Reading the comments of the Landsburg post that I linked to and quoted from in my previous post, I see a pet peeve of mine. Someone resorted to Robin Hood’s logic:

I suppose the argument can be made that dollar-for-dollar, the wage of the government employee has a higher utility than the lower tax for the taxpayer?

For folks who make such an argument, I wonder how they would respond if I were to make the argument for taking their money to give to someone who I think has better use for it.

That kind of thinking is what breathes life to bad government.

Update: But Google, there are people that have more utility for your profits than your shareholders. Why must you dodge taxes? Oh yeah, I forgot. You’re just trying not be evil.

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.

Good education links

Both from the Wall Street Journal:

1. Finally, it seems they are figuring out that educational attainment is not necessarily a good performance measure: Pay Raises for Teachers With Mater’s Under Fire.

I have a couple of thoughts on this article:

Someone in the article wonders how educators can consistently tell students that education is important, while removing raises for more education for teachers. I think that answer is simple. Education is important to a certain extent. But, experience is more important.

While educators crank away at trying to find good, statistical measures to quantify teacher performance, I think they could do some good if they learned about The Net Promoter Score. Simply ask parents and students if they would recommend a teacher to others and why or why not.

2. (HT: Mark Perry @ Carpe Diem) Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results. Perry also links to a Letter to the Editor that points out that we remember those tough teachers that fairly held us to a high standard, but we don’t so much those wishy-washy, want-to-be-your-bestie teachers.

Random thoughts on the government shutdown

A friend, on Facebook, wonders why government workers who aren’t working should be paid retroactively for not working. I wonder the same thing.

Government officials appear to be overreaching by barricading us out of our public spaces. They seem to have forgotten who they work for.

Another friend wondered how much it cost to put up the barricades and to make it a point to shut down everything.

On the news report of the woman who was shot and killed in DC, I heard that the officers who shot her ‘were not getting paid due to the shutdown.’ Is that true? Will they not be paid retroactively when the government starts up again?

With the theatrics and the conflict of the shutdown, I wonder why anybody wants government to become more involved in anything.

Update: The audaciousness of this government shutdown felt familiar to me. Mike M’s comment helped me recall what it reminds me of.

It reminds me of when the Republic turned into the Empire, in Star Wars, and the clone troopers were re-purposed by now Emperor Palpatine from fighting for freedom to doing his bidding.

Federal Government workers now appear to have stopped working for us and started doing the bidding of one person.