True, but not compelling

Don Boudreaux quotes from Thomas Sowell’s book, Intellectuals and Society:

The intelligentsia … have encouraged the poor to believe that their poverty is caused by the rich – a message that may be a passing annoyance to the rich but a lasting handicap to the poor, who may see less need to make fundamental changes in their own lives that could lift them up, instead of focusing their efforts on tearing others down.

The intelligentsia have acted as if their ignorance of why some people earn unusually high incomes is a reason why those incomes are either suspect or ought not to be permitted.

No doubt.

Boudreaux then responds to a critic who says that firefighters, paramedics and other first-responders are underpaid with a quick lesson on supply and demand and prices.

My guess is the critic did not find his lesson compelling. I can imagine she thought, So, the reason these folks are paid less than I think they should be paid is because the supply of the people willing those jobs is high relative to the value provided by one of those individuals?

If your life has been saved by one of these first-responders you likely think the value of that individual is high.

I think this is an interesting topic. Boudreaux’s answer is correct, but I doubt it wins over many folks who think like his critic. How do we make it more compelling for the critic?

James Franco does the proper thing

In this Washington Post piece, he says McDonald’s was there for him when nobody else was.

What a pleasant departure from the all too typical vilifying of the fast food giant for not paying ‘living wages’ for jobs that were meant for teenagers to earn gas money and learn how to show up to work on time.

We should be more thankful for the opportunities we have.

Beware Silver Bullets

In his column, Don’t Go, John Stossel writes:

Politicians such as Hillary Clinton promote college by claiming that over a lifetime, college graduates “earn $1 million more.” That statistic is true but utterly misleading. People who go to college are different. They’re more likely to have been raised by two parents. They did better in high school. They’d make more money even if they never went go to college.

Politicians like to promise silver bullets. Silver bullets make for great campaign promises. But they usually confuse causes with signals. The world is usually more complex than the silver bullets.

Does a college degree cause higher earnings or is it just a signal of something people with higher earnings ambition do?

I like to reference the home ownership example.

Responsibility used to be a prerequisite for home ownership. First you established responsible behaviors, which led to savings for a down payment, good work history, history of paying your bills on time and a good credit score for a loan, then you became a home owner.

When politicians mistook home ownership as a cause, rather than a signal, of responsible behavior they believed they could create responsible citizens by eliminating responsible behavior as the pre-req for becoming a home owner. That did not end well.

Likewise, politicians like Hillary Clinton mistake college degrees as the cause, rather than the signal, of higher earnings.

Could it be that folks with higher earnings have a number of traits that lead to higher earnings? Might those traits include things like responsible behavior, grit, ambition, self reliance, delayed gratification, an openness to trying new things, getting along with a diverse group of people and abilities to handle stress, manage time and prioritize well from a host of choices?

If so, it is these behaviors that should be encouraged, not simply mimicking one signal of this group of people.

That’s about like dressing people up in a costume. Certainly, you can buy a costume that makes you look like the President, a movie star or even a witch, but just looking like one doesn’t make you one.

Staircase wit

Darn. I missed a good opportunity.

At a party recently, I was discussing Jack Black with a family member. The family member asked, “You like his stuff? Isn’t he the direct opposite of your politics?”

I thought the question was dumb, but so was my response (although it was meant to avoid a political discussion). I said I liked his work. We can separate someone’s politics and their work, right?

But, I immediately wish I would have asked, “He’s opposed to freedom?”


The Wall Street Journal writes about Why Children Are Abandoning Baseball.

After reading the article I don’t feel like I have a good sense for why they aren’t playing baseball, or several of the other sports included in the graph that also show declines: softball, basketball and soccer.

Tackle football is the only sport that shows an increase, but it’s marginal. Its increase doesn’t account for the massive decreases in other sports.

I thought that since participation in almost all sports is down, maybe the total youth population was down, something the article should have addressed.

A search on the US Census Bureau shows that there were about 61 million youth in the early 00’s and about the same amount as recently as 2012, debunking my theory.

The article offers some other explanations. Sports like lacrosse is on the rise, though according to this US Lacrosse Participation Survey, 750,000 participated in that sport in 2013, which doesn’t offset the 8-9 million decline in baseball, softball, basketball and soccer.

Another possible explanation in the article: the game has become less accessible to the casual player because the sport is being organized around the kids who specialize in one sport year-round.

I doubt that explanation. If enough kids (or parents) were interested in casual play, the more casual options would be there to meet their demand.

I have another theory: video games. The article says that one predictor of future fans is how many kids played the sport as a child. So, major leagues are concerned with the drop in participation rates.

But, as a youth soccer coach, I think they are missing something.

I think casual play has been replaced, in large part, by experiencing and learning the sports casually through video games.

Granted, kids play a fair amount of Minecraft, Clash of Clans and Call of Duty, but they also play a good portion of the video games that carry the same names as the major sports leagues. Why go through the trouble of actually playing when you can satisfy your desire and keep up with the leagues (like who’s on who’s team) through a video game?

Warren Buffett on the Minimum Wage

I mostly agree with Warren Buffett’s commentary on the minimum wage in the Wall Street Journal. Here’s one nice paragraph:

The poor are most definitely not poor because the rich are rich. Nor are the rich undeserving. Most of them have contributed brilliant innovations or managerial expertise to America’s well-being. We all live far better because of Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Sam Walton and the like.

But, I have issues with this paragraph:

In 1982, 15% of Americans were living below the poverty level; in 2013 the proportion was nearly the same, a dismaying 14.5%. In recent decades, our country’s rising tide has not lifted the boats of the poor.

This is a good example of where statistics and real life can diverge dramatically.

How you perceive a rising tide depends on what you use to compare to. If you are on a tall boat, it’s no good to use a smaller boat to determine the effects of a rising tide as both go up. Yet, that’s what Buffett is doing. The American poverty level goes up and down with American prosperity.

To truly see the effects of a rising tide you need a better comparison. You need a GPS unit or a marker that is firmly connected to the ground so that you won’t be easily deceived like Buffett has been. This is what I like to refer to as a true measure.

So, what’s a true measure for American poverty? American poverty vs. American poverty at other times in the past or vs. poverty that exists in third world countries.

Given a choice to live in poverty today vs. poverty in 1982, most people would easily choose today for one simple reason: a rising tide has lifted all boats.The standard of living, even for the poor, has improved considerably since 1982 and that is not appropriately reflected in the statistic.

Given a choice to live in the U.S. in poverty or in third world country poverty, most people would choose the U.S. That’s yet another sign that the tide has lifted all boats in the U.S.

But, the rest of the article is worth a read.