Good links

From Sheldon Richman’s, So What if Freedom Isn’t Free?  (Thanks to Mark Perry, Carpe Diem)

Freedom may not be free, but lots of things aren’t free. Food isn’t free, but farmers aren’t drafted. They farm voluntarily. It is true that we are taxed to support certain (but not all) farmers, but not because we wouldn’t have food if farmers weren’t subsidized — even if the farm lobby and its congressional agents have convinced most people that is the case. The fact is, we could have ample supplies of food — not free but at low cost — in a completely voluntary marketplace.

The next time someone says, “Freedom isn’t free,” you might simply respond, “What’s your point?”

Shameless” society update from Jeff Jacoby, Is this any way to help the poor? (Thanks to Don Boudreaux, Cafe Hayek)

It wasn’t so long ago that such a degree of dependency would have been inconceivable. In 2001, according to federal data, 17.3 million people were receiving food aid. In little more than a decade, the food stamp rolls have almost tripled.

That didn’t happen by accident. Under the last two presidents, increasing food stamp enrollment became an explicit government goal. George W. Bush sharply expanded eligibility, rebranding food stamps as “nutritional assistance” instead of welfare. States were encouraged to sign up more recipients — a ball the Obama administration took and ran with. The Agriculture Department promotes food stamps through radio ads and “public service” announcements; billboard-style ads appear on city buses. To attract even more participants, the department advises local welfare agencies to “host social events where people mix and mingle” — show them a good time, and try to get them on welfare.

I forget who asked this question, but it’s a good one. If government welfare works shouldn’t we see less of it over time, not more?

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But more people get to go

Jeff Jacoby wrote in The Boston Globe about how the government’s efforts to make college more affordable has had the unintended consequence of making it less affordable. Indeed. Have you been to college campus lately? It seems all those extra dollars flowing into education has gone to making the student’s experience more resort-like.

As I asked at the end of my previous post, can you name any part of the economy where the price level has increased faster that inflation for long periods of time that did not have major interventions from government?

(Thanks to Mark Perry at Carpe Diem for the link to Jacoby’s column).

Some of my liberal friends might say, But, that means that the government’s efforts have made it possible for more people to go to college. The cost has increased due to increased demand. That’s a good trade-off. Do you want to be the one to tell some of those folks they can’t go to college?

Of course, what these friends miss is that nobody has to be the one to tell someone they can’t go to college. Those someones make that decision on their own by weighing their options and picking the path they feel is best for them.

Instead of using aid, accumulating $100k in student loans and spending four years in college earning a liberal arts degree that prepares them for competing against high school grads for entry-level jobs, those someones might do something more productive like work their way up to management at their local retail store, or start a fence building business  that eventually employs 10 people, go to a trade school to learn a vocation like dental cleaning or something like that.

Well put

I’ll give Santorum credit for finding a concise and accurate way to describe those who want everybody to go to college, like President Obama, “What a snob!”

Jeff Jacoby writes about Santorum’s dig on Obama here and how it elicited criticism from, well…snobs:

Ridiculous? Offensive? Hypocritical? Manifestly, all of the above,” wrote Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post. On The Daily Show, the inimitable Jon Stewart was beside himself: “Just to be clear,” he said, “you’re coming out against people educating their kids because it’s – fancy?” Vice President Joe Biden assured a radio interviewer that Santorum had managed to separate himself from “all of America on this.”

A note to Jon Stewart: Just to be clear, no, Santorum didn’t come out against anybody educating their kids. That’s a straw man fallacy.

Santorum came out against the idea that college be considered the only path worth pursuing and using government policy to reinforce that mythical idea.

And Santorum meant that it’s snobbish to ignore the good work done by millions of people in this country who don’t have college degrees, but still managed to contribute to society and achieve the American Dream.

I know plenty of such people. They are business owners, electricians, factory workers and railroad workers. They build roads, program computers and edit video. They work on garage doors, paint houses, build fences, clean windows, fix cars and tractors and run restaurants.

They also start companies like Microsoft, win Oscar awards and play professional sports.

Many of these folks do amazing things that they didn’t learn in a classroom.

For example, I’m amazed that a painter I use can finish painting a room quicker than it would for me to set up and start, and his product looks far better than anything I’ve tried to paint.

I was amazed by the movers I hired a few years ago to move the heavy stuff from my old house to my new house. They accomplished in 3 hours what would have taken me days. I would have strained my muscles, maybe injured myself and I’m sure I would have marked up my walls or damage my furniture.

The path to the American Dream isn’t about going to college.

It’s about adopting a set of behaviors that includes a strong work ethic, integrity, personal responsibility, ability to get along with others, productivity, willingness to learn, careful consideration of decisions and resourcefulness, among other things.

The folks I mentioned above, who didn’t go to college, would score well on these behaviors. Likewise, I know folks who did go to college, who are struggling to achieve the American Dream and would score low on these behaviors.

We’d be far better off if we encouraged and reinforced the behaviors that lead to the American Dream, rather than encouraging shortcuts to achieving a facade of the American Dream.

Effective Visual

On the Dennis Miller Show, columnist Jeff Jacoby provides a good illustration of what it means to him when he heard President Obama say he wants to freeze government spending for the next five years.

I was envisioning a guy going to the doctor.  The doctor says, Tim, you’ve been overeating, ridiculously. You are grossly obese. You weigh 300 pounds more than you ought to.  So we’re going to freeze your diet and weight at the point it is now.  You’re not going to gain any more weight.

That guy is still going to die of a heart attack in the next three years.

The podcast of the interview is available on iTunes.  It was released on January 26.  This part of the conversation is about 8 minutes in.

Jacoby exposes one of those sleight-of-hand tricks that politicians use to make unreasonable things sound reasonable.   Saying that you are going to freeze spending, sounds really good to folks who don’t pay too close attention.  It sounds responsible, almost austere.  We’re making adult decisions here.

But, it’s not that remarkable at all when you consider that government spending today is 67% higher than it was when W ran for re-election.

Journalism Needs Government Help??? Update

Thanks to Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek for directing me Jeff Jacoby’s column, Don’t give the press a bailout.  Jacoby provides a worthy alternative to Bollinger’s thinking.  And it looks like more is on the way.  The title of his next column is Fair and balaned — and government subsidized?

In his current column Jacoby asks a key question:

Subsidies always amount, in the end, to confiscating money from many taxpayers in order to benefit relatively few. Those who call for keeping newspapers and other old media alive with injections of public funds are really saying that if people won’t support those forms of journalism voluntarily, they should be made to do so against their will.

I believe every American family should subscribe to one or two newspapers and read them regularly. But that doesn’t give me the right to make you pay for a subscription you don’t want — not even if I think you would be better off for it. How can the government have the right to do, in effect, the same thing?

The problem is too many people do believe the government does have this right.   This thinking usually comes from the belief that democracy means submitting to the will of a perceived majority (whether it is a majority or not), rather than Continue reading