Some things air traffic controller related

As Thomas Sowell said about the spending elected officials might choose to cut when forced to (even though they themselves were the ones that forced it as a result of an earlier political ploy that backfired):

Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency’s budget were cut, what would it do? The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place.

 

Today, The Wall Street Journal Opinion comments on the Administration’s all to transparent and silly usage of the tactic Sowell described (emphasis mine):

Remember when the sequester’s spending cuts were going to incite mass uprisings for higher taxes? Instead, Senate Democrats and the White House blinked, not least because the FAA’s transparent political strategy was to use incompetent government as a bludgeon on behalf of bigger government. The American public waiting in departure lounges figured this out, which is presumably why the political capitulation is so total.

They also agree that we should get government out of air traffic controlling and point to several other countries that have already taken the grubby politician’s fingers off these pawns:

To wit, Congress ought to abolish the FAA and privatize the air navigation system the way that Canada and other developed countries have. A nonprofit corporation funded by user fees would make better cost-benefit decisions, tap capital markets, replace old-fashioned technology in a timely way and discipline high labor costs.

In addition to NavCanada, Germany, France, Australia and more than 50 others have made the transition to commercial airspaces. No less than Al Gore tried do this when he was Vice President, only to be routed by the unions. Republicans should try again as a plank of a platform to reform and modernize a government that serves itself before it serves America.

Finally, let’s play the ‘imagine if it were a Republican administration’ game. How do you think the media would have covered the air traffic controller furloughs if it were Republicans deciding to delay flights as a political ploy? It’d probably look a lot like this (thanks to Reason Magazine for the pointer):

 

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Good quotes

The Pretense of Knowledge shares some good quotes on liberty and on the sequester. A couple of which I’d like to capture here for my future reference.

On liberty, from Laurence Auster:

Once the government becomes the supplier of people’s needs, there is no limit to the needs that will be claimed as a basic right.

On the sequester, from Thomas Sowell:

Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency’s budget were cut, what would it do? The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place.

Profits and Ballot Boxes

In the comments of this post, commenter Wally and I discuss the business feedback of profit and government feedback of votes.

W. E. Heasley, of The Last Embassy blog, recently posted an excellent short video from Learn Liberty that helps explain why voting isn’t a very effective feedback mechanism:

 

Most of us make purchasing and voting decisions. Sometimes they are a little of both, like when you vote with your family on what’s for dinner.

The following are links to and excerpts from previous posts I’ve made quoting economists Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, who do an excellent job of explaining why purchase decisions are a more effective feedback mechanism than voting.

1. From this post in 2010, I quoted from Thomas Sowell’s book, Intellectuals and Society.  He explains the difference in these feedbacks well:

The fundamental difference between decision-makers in the market and decision-makers in government is that the former are subject to continuous and consequential feedback which can force them to adjust to what others prefer and are willing to pay for, while those who make decisions in the political arena face no such inescapable feedback to force them to adjust to the reality of other people’s desires and preferences.

A business with red ink on the bottom line knows that this cannot continue indefinitely, and that they have no choice but to change whatever they are doing that produces that red ink, for which there is little tolerance even in the short run, and which will be fatal to the whole enterprise in the long run.  In short, financial losses are not merely informational feedback but consequential feedback which cannot be ignored, dismissed or spun rhetorically through verbal virtuosity.

In the political arena, however, only the most immediate and most attention-getting disasters — so obvious and unmistakable to the voting public that there is no problem of “connecting the dots” — are comparably consequential for the political decision-makers.  But laws and policies whose consequences take time to unfold are by no means as consequential for those who created those laws and policies, especially if the consequences emerge after the next election.  Moreover, there are few things in politics as unmistakable in its implications as red ink on the bottom line is in business.  In politics, no matter how disastrous a policy may turn out to be, if the causes of the disaster are not understood by the voting public, those officials responsible for the disaster may escape accountability, and of course, they have every incentive to deny having made mistakes, since admitting mistakes can jeopardize a whole career.

2. In three paragraphs that I quoted from Thomas Sowell’s book, Applied Economics, he explains the differences in our buying and voting decisions. Here are those three paragraphs:

Politics and the markets are both ways of getting people to respond to other people’s desires.  Consumers deciding which goods to spend their money on have often been analogized to voters deciding which candidates to elect to public office.  However the two processes are profoundly different.  Not only do individuals invest very different amounts of time and thought in making economic vs. political decisions, those are inherently different in themselves.  Voters decide whether to vote for one candidate or another but they decide how much of what kinds of food, clothing, shelter, etc. to purchase.  In short, political decisions tend to be categorical, while economic decisions tend to be incremental.

Incremental decisions can be more fine-tuned than deciding which candidate’s whole package of principles and practices comes closest to meeting your own desires.  Incremental decision-making also means that not every increment of even very desirable things is likewise necessarily desirable, given that there are other things that the money could be spent on after having acquired a given amount of a particular good or service. For example, although it might be worthwhile spending considerable money to live in a nice home, buying a second home in the country may or may not be worth spending money that could be used for sending a child to college or for recreational travel overseas.  One consequence of incremental decision-making is that increments of many desirable things remain unpurchased because they are almost–but not quite–worth the sacrifices required to get them.

From a political standpoint, this means that there are always numerous desirable things that government officials can offer to provide to voters who want them–either free of charge or at reduced, government-subsidized prices–even when the voters do not want these increments enough to sacrifice their own money to pay for them.  The real winners in this process are politicians whose apparent generosity and compassion gain them political support.

3. In his classic column, Conflict or Cooperation, which I linked to in this post, Walter Williams explains how to pit beer drinkers against wine drinkers. Here’s a taste:

Different Americans have different and often intense preferences for all kinds of goods and services. Some of us have strong preferences for beer and distaste for wine while others have the opposite preference — strong preferences for wine and distaste for beer. Some of us hate three-piece suits and love blue jeans while others love three-piece suits and hate blue jeans. When’s the last time you heard of beer drinkers in conflict with wine drinkers, or three-piece suit lovers in conflict with lovers of blue jeans? It seldom if ever happens because beer and blue jean lovers get what they want. Wine and three-piece suit lovers get what they want and they all can live in peace with one another.

It would be easy to create conflict among these people. Instead of free choice and private decision-making, clothing and beverage decisions could be made in the political arena. In other words, have a democratic majority-rule process to decide what drinks and clothing that would be allowed. Then we would see wine lovers organized against beer lovers, and blue jean lovers organized against three-piece suit lovers. Conflict would emerge solely because the decision was made in the political arena. Why? The prime feature of political decision-making is that it’s a zero-sum game. One person’s gain is of necessity another person’s loss. That is if wine lovers won, beer lovers lose.

The differences in political and private decisions has spawned a branch of economics study called public choice economics. Here’s more.

 

A couple thoughts from Thomas Sowell

From Thomas Sowell’s latest Random Thoughts:

Everybody is talking about how we are going to pay for the huge national debt, but nobody seems to be talking about the runaway spending which created that record-breaking debt. In other words, the big spenders get political benefits from handing out goodies, while those who resist giving them more money to spend will be blamed for sending the country off the “fiscal cliff.”

I, too, am amazed at how spending gets a pass, even from folks like Warren Buffett who should know better.

Would Mr. Buffett give such a pass to a manager of one of his businesses who habitually spent 20% to 30% more than he took in and planned to do so as long as possible? In this case, would Mr. Buffett be so eager in volunteering his own income to continue to support such a manager so that manager could carry out his indefinite plan of spending beyond his means?

Here’s another good Thomas Sowell thought:

The more I study the history of intellectuals, the more they seem like a wrecking crew, dismantling civilization bit by bit — replacing what works with what sounds good.

I’ve seen the same with managers of successful businesses. New managers often ignore the actual success of the business they’ve been entrusted to run — what works — and change that business with their own ideas — what sounds good.

The typical outcome of that can be seen with JC Penney of the past year, where the new manager of JC Penney has made major changes to the business that sounded good, but have reduced the stock price by more than 50% against the S&P 500.

Intellectuals often have the same effect on society. For example, they may wish to ‘wage war on poverty’, but they ignore the best anti-poverty mechanism ever — innovationism (what works) — and instead seek to replace it with systems that sound good, but actually encourage poverty.

Equally Hungry

From Thomas Sowell’s column, “Forward” to the Past?:

The seductive notion of economic equality has appealed to many people. The pilgrims started out with the idea of equal sharing. The colony of Georgia began with very similar ideas. In the midwest, Britain’s Robert Owen– who coined the term “socialism”– set up colonies based on communal living and economic equality.

What these idealistic experiments all had in common was that they failed.

They learned the hard way that people would not do as much for the common good as they would do for their own good. The pilgrims nearly starved learning that lesson. But they learned it. Land that had been common property was turned into private property, which produced a lot more food.

Similar experiments were tried on a larger scale in other countries around the world. In the biggest of these experiments– the Soviet Union under Stalin and Communist China under Mao– people literally starved to death by the millions.

It is no coincidence that those who are going ballistic over the economic inequality between the top one or two percent and the rest of us are promoting a far more dangerous concentration of political power in Washington– where far less than one percent of the population increasingly tell 300 million Americans what they can and cannot do, on everything from their light bulbs and toilets to their medical care.

This movement in the direction of central planning, under the name of “forward,” is in fact going back to a system that has failed in countries around the world– under both democratic and dictatorial governments and among peoples of virtually every race, color, creed, and nationality.

 

Experience Matters

I strongly agree with what Thomas Sowell wrote in his recent column, The Need to Explain:

The most successful Republican presidential candidate of the past half century– Ronald Reagan, who was elected and reelected with landslide victories– bore little resemblance to the moderate candidates that Republican conventional wisdom depicts as the key to victory, even though most of these moderate candidates have in fact gone down to defeat.

One of the biggest differences between Reagan and these latter-day losers was that Reagan paid great attention to explaining his policies and values. He was called “the great communicator,” but much more than a gift for words was involved. The issues that defined Reagan’s vision were things he had thought about, written about and debated for years before he reached the White House.

I think that we’ve been missing a sorting out process to find folks like Reagan.

It took Reagan decades to hone his communication skills, develop an understanding of the material and learn how to communicate it so that it made sense to people.

One example of this is the book, Reagan: In His Own Hand. This is a collection of the scripts that Ronald Reagan wrote himself for 5-minute long weekly radio addresses syndicated in the 1970s. The book shows the edits Reagan made to his text as he deliberately crafted each address to be easily grasped, memorable and meaningful for the folks listening.

I recommend reading the book. Many of the addresses are instructive still today. I learned a great deal about economics, domestic policy and foreign policy from it. As a lad, I trusted the garbage the media fed me about Reagan not being the brightest bulb, however what I read in this book made me realize I was wrong to have trust them.

Reagan’s writings were deeper, yet easier to understand, than anything that I had heard or read from the media. Reagan’s communication skills still remind me of this quote:

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Supreme Court Justice, 1902 – 1932

After reading Reagan’s scripts, I realized that the media — and much of the world — exists in the simplicity on this side of complexity, while Reagan was on the other side. The media simply couldn’t fathom it.

Our political processes do not favor folks like Reagan. They favor folks like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Sowell continues in his column:

One of the secrets of Barack Obama’s success is his ability to say things that will sound both plausible and inspiring to uninformed people, even when they sound ridiculous to people who know the facts.

Links

The Wall Street Journal addresses President Obama’s comments, point by point. I’d like to see much more of this from the media with all sides of a debate.

Another week and another must-read from Thomas Sowell. As I read it, I imagined how the 24/7 news media would have treated a Republican doing, or not doing, these things.

Sowell goes further than merely pointing out some things that should cause a voter concern. He educates as to exactly why they should cause you concern.