Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The problem? We're all selfish...

The rich hate paying taxes.

The poor want free health care and other entitlements.

The old don't want Social Security or Medicare cuts.

The young want free education, among the many other things already provided them.

In the end, everybody wants more, and everybody seems to feel like their 'more' should come from somebody else.

At the risk of sounding like I am defending those who need it least, those that resist paying more in taxes are the only ones that are trying to hang on to what they personally earned. Virtually everyone else is clinging to something that somebody else provided. In light of that, I find it a little disingenuous that the wealthy are the ones most commonly vilified.

In truth, we're all selfish. Very soon, that must change.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tea Party Racist? OMG...

When does this junk stop? Honestly.

This is some messed up logic that reveals more about the people making the charge than the Tea Party. OK, let's argue for a second that Tea Party folks do not want their taxes, their hard earned money, redistributed to black people. Why should they? If somebody were to approach me on the street and demand that I give them my money, am I suppose to like that? If that person was white or black would that make it different? For most people, I think the color of the robber is not the issue...the robbery is the issue.

So what if the robber were to turn around and give the money to someone else? Does that make it any less a crime? If the robber is government, does that change the reality? I don't think so. Wealth redistribution is, pure and simple, taking (stealing?) money from those who have it (usually the most productive) and giving to those who don't (generally the not-so-productive). I'm supposed to like that? The fatal flaw of redistributive thinking is that it completely ignores the fact that in most cases those that have more do so because they work harder. Is it true that black people suffer bias that makes it difficult to get ahead even if they work hard? Of course. It's also true that some conservative white Christians can't get into certain schools or jobs because they are conservative white Christians. Will redistribution and quotas fix either case?

The truth is that if you argue that the Tea Party is racist for not wanting their taxes to go to black people, you are admitting that you see taxes as redistributive and that you see black people as the primary beneficiaries of that redistribution. Perhaps even more telling, by denigrating those who would seek to block that redistribution, you are suggesting that you think such redistribution is appropriate and beneficial, which best I can tell makes you Marxist. Given that is the core of Black Liberation Theology, such a stance should not come as a surprise.

But here's the news flash...I seriously doubt that black or white or any other color enters the Tea Partier's mind when they start fussing about their money being taken. That their money has been taken by a government that shows such a contempt for them and spends it so poorly, should be enough to make anybody mad. Race issues need not factor in.

The truth is that there is only only true path to liberation for anyone of any color, and it isn't government redistribution. It begins with admitting that you need liberation and seeking it from the only one who can give it. His name is Jesus Christ...not Barack Obama.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

By What Standard?

Dr. King longed for the day when a man would be judged by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin. Indeed. If we ever do come to color blindness, what is the standard by which we will judge one's character.

So how should we pick our heroes? Should they be people with virtues? People with talents? People with money? People with influence? Someone that can give a good speech?

Most would say virtues, and yeah, virtues are good. But what is character? Integrity? Honesty? Generosity? Patience? Courtesy? Selflessness? Are those virtues that we would consider heroic?

The JetBlue flight attendant that recently popped his cork is described by some as a hero. Really? Why? Because he lacked self control? Because he lost his patience? Because he was offended? Because he was selfish? He was all of those things. No, those things aren't heroic and he wasn't a hero. Some have labeled him as a hero for being bold enough to do what we have all dreamed of doing. That's wrong too. Dead wrong. Real heroism is selfless and about others. He was just scratching his own itch.

Yes, we should stand up for injustice...but is there really any injustice on an airliner? Come on, really? You pay some money and get on a plane to go somewhere. Sometimes it is unpleasant. You don't like a particular airline? Fly on another airline. You don't like the security? Take the train. The point is that flying is a privilege, not a right. You don't like it? Don't do it. Not liking it and flamboyantly expressing that isn't heroic, it's stupid.

Is it heroic to take from one an give to another? Was Robin Hood a hero? Is the federal government heroic? Really? I don't think so. Fighting injustice? There's a fine line there. For most of the world living safely and warm and having enough to eat is a luxury. Ironically, most of the poorest people in America are also the most overweight. They have clothes. They have cars. They have cell phones. And yet we still take from the most successful to give the unsuccessful even more. They do need more, but not more stuff.

They need self-esteem. They need focus. They need discipline. They need guidance. They need character. They don't need a hand-out. They don't need free heath care. They don't need tax credits. They don't need pity. They need someone to believe in them strongly enough to expect more from them.

So who are the truly heroic? Who are those whose character has the content that Dr. King would have celebrated? You may disagree, but I think it is those that quietly earn a living, take care of their families, know right from wrong and teach it to their kids, donate to those less fortunate...not out of compulsion or guilt, but out of compassion, do the right thing when no one is looking, control their tongue, and care enough about others to expect more from them.

You want character? Expect more from yourself, and lift others up by expecting more from them, too.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

'The rich are not paying their fair share'---She Said What?!?

Our Secretary of State and former First Lady, Hillary Clinton said that. Oh yeah, she was nearly president. Look, I'm not going to cite pages of statistics to prove how insanely stupid that statement is. First off, it isn't hard to see that with a progressive income tax, that really cannot be true. In truth, the tax burden is incredibly top heavy. Regardless, I'm not going down that road. If you want to know the truth, the stats are easy to find. If you don't want to know the truth, nothing I say will matter anyway. So let's just use logic, shall we?

I want to start with a few simple truths, and let's see where this leads...

Truth: Make something pleasant for people, and they will do more of it. Make something painful for people, and they will do less of it.

Truth: It makes good sense to emulate those that have accomplished something worthwhile.

Truth: There really is no such thing as a Win/Lose scenario.

OK, what does that mean?

You hear a great deal lately about the so-called 'rich', right? Well...who are these people? Where did they get their money? Why does Hillary think they are not paying their fair share?

The definition that gets thrown around most often is that you are 'rich' if you make more than $250k per year, but that really is overly simplistic. Small businesses are generally taxed as individuals, and the implications of that make it possible for a small businessman to appear 'rich' and be anything but. We'll leave that as another discussion for another time.

Among the 'rich', you have folks that have made billions by starting tech companies; folks that have inherited trust funds; folks that have a skill playing a sport, acting, singing, dancing, rapping; folks that have invented things; folks that run businesses; etc. Within this group you tend to find some pretty smart and pretty talented people, not all of them of course, but a good number. Within this group, you have a wide disparity of talents and abilities, but generally people that have risen to the top of their respective games have done so because they are the best at what they do.

Within this group you also have a small group of some pretty bad eggs. Those that think the law doesn't apply to the them. Those that are greedy. Those that are hateful. They certainly exist, but they aren't the majority.

Among those that are not 'rich', the majority work hard and are good people raising families, going to church, and being leaders in their communities. A small percentage don't work, but most do, and they work hard, sometimes more than one job. They are good mechanics, plumbers, electricians, coal miners, managers, truck drivers, retail clerks, etc. Many are very good at what they do, and they are diligent and do their jobs well.

Within this group you also have a small group of bad eggs. They are lazy. They take and don't give back. They don't do good work. They don't care. And like the 'rich', the bad ones are the minority of this group.

So...among both groups, you have mostly good and some bad. It has nothing to do with being 'rich' or not, it has to do with the content of their character. Last time I checked, 'character' is not a line on a personal financial statement.

Now...of those two groups...who do most people aspire to be more like? Why?

Of those two groups, who has created more jobs?

Of those two groups, who has more influence on the culture at large?

Why does any of that even matter?

When you use class warfare to gain political advantage, you denigrate the 'rich'. Yet the 'rich' are what we tend to aspire to, to look up to. This is destructive. People need role models and people need goals. Our society is far better off when me make it our goal to be like successful people rather than to resent successful people. I would far rather my kids aspire to be like Bill Gates, than to hate Bill Gates and aspire to be like the truck driver that drives the garbage truck. Which is not to say that truck driver doesn't have character traits my kids should emulate, he might and those are to be valued...but...Mr. Gates is currently running a charity that affects the lives of millions of people, and I daresay the truck driver's influence doesn't extent quite so far.

When you heavily tax those who do the best while heavily subsidizing those who do the worst, you will get less folks doing well and more folks doing badly. It just works that way. You want an economy that grows out of control? Invert the tax structure. Subsidize success and tax failure. People will be clawing their way out of lower income brackets to get lower taxes, and in doing so, would bust their tails and build the economy. Yeah, I know it won't ever happen...but it would work.

When you take from the 'rich' to subsidize the poor, you demotivate those that create jobs and motivate those that don't even work. This is not in the long term best interest of anyone. Again, you want to bust it wide open? Provide a permanent tax credit to business for every job they create. It wouldn't have to be a large credit, but when you make it worthwhile for businesses to create jobs...subsidize what you want more'll get jobs.

The only way for our society to get ahead is for us all to help the strongest among us to scale the wall, and then reach down and pull the others up. When we burden the 'rich', we are trying to get out by pulling on the guy immediately above us...nobody gets out. To even suggest that the 'rich' are not doing their fair share is to pull the ladder out from under those that have the best shot at pulling us out. It's misguided thinking at the very best, and most likely destructive. It is the core of Socialist, Communist, and Marxist thought. It has been tried, thoroughly, and it doesn't work. And you know who else it sounds like? Oh yeah...Democrats.

Poor very careful what you wish for. You just might get it. And here's the kick in the teeth...the 'rich' will be fine either's always the poor that suffer. If you want to get ahead, find a 'rich' person with some character and start pushing.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Broken Loop Society

I'm an engineer. Aside from the obvious style challenges and social ineptness, an engineer has the advantage of seeing the world a bit differently than others do. For instance, the glass is neither half full nor half is twice the size it needs to be, or perhaps, it provides a 50% margin for error. See?

To an engineer, the Law of Supply and Demand...Free Enterprise...Capitalism...are essentially all the same thing: a Closed-Loop System. As engineers, we know that properly tuned closed-loop systems are inherently stable and...for those who are not engineers...that is a Good Thing. On the other hand, closed-loop systems which have a broken feedback loop, are running open-loop. That is generally a Bad Thing.

You wanna know a secret? Healthcare is broken because it is running open-loop. You know what else? College tuition is increasing at roughly 200% the rate of general inflation, because it is also substantially open-loop. Did I mention that open-loop is a Bad Thing?

I am going to make a very broad statement, and I may have to eat my words, but here goes: Almost everything wrong in America is a function of a broken control loop, and almost everything right in America is a function of a well controlled loop. *ducking under my desk*

You're thinking: 'Ducking under the desk? Why would I throw something at you when I have no idea what you are talking about. By the way, what in blue blazes are you talking about?' Excellent question, thanks for asking!

Let's have a simple example. There are 10 employers in a community. If one of those employers pays poorly or treats their employees badly, they will be unable to keep good employees since those employees will leave to work for one of the other nine employers. In time, they will either start treating their people well, or go out of business. Either way, problem solved. In a closed-loop system, problems fix themself...Good Thing.

On the other hand, if there is just one employer in town, the closed-loop process cannot function properly, and that employer may get away with abusing their employees indefinitely. Open-loop...problems cannot fix themselves...Bad Thing.

In truth, the only difference between those two examples is competition. Competition is the primary way that the loop gets closed. So what breaks a loop? There are a few things, but in general, anything that eliminates competition, or anything that isolates the customer from the buying decision.

Buying decision? When I buy a car, I am intimately involved with the buying decision. I know exactly what I'm paying, and exactly what I'm getting. I make the decision how important something is to me, and make the decision whether it is worth the money. There is a direct linkage between cost and value, and that tends to close the loop and keep things under control.

On the other hand, when I go to the doctor, I make almost none of the decisions and have very little say in what gets spent. The doctor makes the decision, based largely on how well insured you are, and the insurance company pays your bill. Automotive price inflation is subject to some debate, but clearly is nowhere near as bad as medical inflation. Autos = Closed-loop. Healthcare = Open-loop.

I'd like to say that was the bulk of the problem...but it isn't. Lack of competition is, and the competition loop gets broken in some very ugly ways. This is the part where I go from economics professor to political meddler. Contrary to what some on the Left and some on the Right would have you believe...both sides are at fault. There are entities on both sides of the political spectrum that benefit from eliminating competition, and those entities are largely responsible, either directly or indirectly, for almost everything wrong in America. To make matters worse, those entities use the political system to ensure that the loop remains open, and I would venture to say that our elected officials are complicit.

So who are 'they'; who are these entities that you speak of? In general, any entity that grows big enough to stifle competition and break the loop. Specifically? The federal government, state governments, corporate monopolies and oligopolies, the legal system, and labor name a few.

Wait a minute...labor unions? I thought they were part of the solution. Well, they were, and in some cases still are. In the example above, a union is a great way to influence or balance a monopoly. But what happens when the union grows to control all of the labor of a particular type? It becomes a monopoly of a resource, and prevents the normal closed-loop process to work, at least until it manages to kill a company or industry. You wonder why certain companies or industries struggle to compete with foreign competition? In many cases, unions play a major part in that. Unions will violently argue the point, but history and statistics back my position.

So where does that leave us? No clue. It concerns me. Until we move back to smaller, competitive, accountable companies, governments, and organizations, the problems will only get worse. The federal government's power grab over automotive, banking, and healthcare is particularly troubling because they are already the worst monopoly of the bunch. The only thing that has kept them in check is a robust two party system, but even that is starting to show signs of breaking. To make matters worse, politicians themselves are foxes guarding the hen house...and we the people...are hens.

We really need a revolution...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Humans: Wild or Domesticated?

I'm not sure that I know the answer to that exactly, but let's explore it a bit. This should be fun. A few years ago, I got into a rather heated debate with a college professor on this subject...but I'm jumping ahead, so let me give a little background first.

We were traveling with a group of friends that are what I would consider 'liberated' Christians.  We were on a cruise ship crossing the Atlantic and had lots of free time for interaction with other passengers. One of our group had conducted a chapel service on the ship, and the professor had mistaken his more liberated view of Christianity with a liberal ideology. So he approached us in one of the lounges and promptly announced that he was a gay college professor, presumably expecting to find us sympathetic to him. Well, we are, but not in the way he expected, and things rapidly descended into a debate of conservative vs. liberal ideology.

This was the year of Katrina, and like many Christians, I had traveled to the Gulf with a church group to help out a bit. My group was working with the Gulfport, MS Police Department and had been sent into a number of poor areas to make sure that people had water and such. One of the neighborhoods we went to was the largest and poorest public housing project in Gulfport. This was not a pleasant place in the best of times, least of all during the aftermath of Katrina. Our police escort was very clear that we needed to stay very close to the entrance of the project, and to not drive in any further than was necessary to turn the vehicles around and point them out the gate. Ominous.

The place seemed largely abandoned, but you could see a few people peering out windows. The next part surprised me greatly. Slowly, women and children began to filter out of the buildings and move toward us. They were in no hurry and had no apparent sense of purpose. The whole thing had an almost surreal quality to it. It seemed familiar, but at first I had a hard time putting my finger on why. And then it clicked. I live next to a pasture where cattle are kept, and every day when the farmer drives up in his pickup to bring feed, the cattle wander over in a very similar way. I was completely horrified at the revelation: In our quest to help those less fortunate, we have effectively domesticated them and rendered them completely helpless and dependent on the system. Of everything that I saw in Gulfport...the destruction...the loss of life...the sights...the smells...the thing that vexed me the most was that revelation.

As this was very fresh on my mind at that time, I offered it to our professor friend as an example of how social programs have had exactly the opposite of their intended effect. He was not happy with me, so I suggested that we simply look at what we know about nature. After all, most liberals are also evolutionists, and evolutionists should see the obvious parallels between how things work in nature and how things work in humans. Well, that made him even more angry. I really wasn't sure that I understood why. To an evolutionist, we are simply highly evolved animals...why would it be so controversial to make comparisons between nature and humanity.

I guess that he got mad because he knew the implications of my line of reasoning and he knew that it was checkmate. When beaten, flail about angrily and make wild accusations. I got a bit agitated, because he was agitated, and eventually one of my friends had to separate us. Well, amen.

So, wild or domesticated? Still not sure. I like the nature viewpoint because it allows us to study cause and effect in the most pure laboratory, without the encumbrances of ethics and human compassion. In nature, we can easily see that to provide too much and expect too little is to guarantee dependence. Compare farm animals to wild animals. Farm animals are slow, dimwitted, vulnerable, and completely incapable of caring for themselves. Wild animals are quick, smart, agile, and fully capable of caring for themselves. I don't think I need to draw the obvious parallels in political ideology.

Another major irony is that if liberals are evolutionists, and truly believe in evolution, then why do they do the things that are completely contrary to it? Socialism weakens the gene pool by subsidizing weakness and bypassing natural selection's tendency to weed out the weak. it's pure form, not the monopolistic bailout infused completely dominated by natural selection. The logical conclusion is that liberals don't really believe what they claim to believe.

Now before you pounce on me as espousing eugenics, let me clarify that I am NOT an evolutionist...I am merely pointing out the logical endpoint of an evolutionary mindset. As a Christian, I believe that we should be helping each other. The looming question is how, or perhaps as importantly, how much? I think the answer is found in giving a man a fish vs. teaching him to fish. The best way we can help the less fortunate is in helping them gain the skills to survive, but also by insisting that they use them. That should include job training and placement assistance, but certainly isn't limited to that. Once trained, we must insist that they work. It really isn't that hard, at least not for the able-bodied majority.

In the end, people need to be independent, at least to a significant extent. Governments can and should help, and I personally have no problem using tax dollars to do so. The key is that these must become investments in the lives of people...not handouts. I think that somewhere between fully wild and fully domesticated exists a comfortable balance of independence and community. We must find that balance.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Roots - part 2

At last posting, I was living in Jackson, Mississippi, actively adopting a culture very different from my family's. While that was no doubt a stressful thing to my parents, I adapted well and was actually enjoying myself. Normalcy is a strange thing, it tends to happen pretty quickly no matter where you are. What some would describe as evolutionary in nature, I feel is really just a mechanism that God has designed into us that makes it comparatively easy to adapt.

My father was spending far too many hours traveling the state with his job, and my parents felt that I was getting to an age where it was beneficial to have him around the house a bit more, so in a quest for a more stable schedule, he took a plant job in Rochester, Minnesota. Jobs come when they do, and this one came in February...a great time to move north. So at age 14, we packed up and moved to the great white north.

Rochester is an interesting phenomenon, and about as far away from Jackson as you can get climatically, demographically, and culturally. The two primary employers in Rochester were IBM and the Mayo Clinic; this place was chock full of smart people....Jackson, well, no so much. There were more blond-haired people with funny last names than I knew existed on the planet. And then there was me.

Think of it...dark haired, dark eyed kid from Mississippi, with a very strong accent that undoubtedly carried a touch of the culture that I spent most of my time in. As you can imagine, I didn't fit in very well in the 'polar-bear-eating-a-mayo-sandwich-in-a-snow-storm' whiteness that was Minnesota. Of course it was made all the worse by my arrival in a K-Mart snorkel parka and zip-up rubber galoshes. It was winter there, and the Southern boy had no clue how to dress or talk.

By the 8th grade, kids have elevated meanness to an art form. I was an easy target. Life was far harder there than it ever was in an inter-city black school. Hard to believe, but true. The odd thing was that was just about the closest I had ever come to being a minority, and in a small way, I learned what it was like to be different. It wasn't physical, I don't think I was ever in a fight...well, almost...but no, never. Instead, it was psychological abuse. Dark hair and eyes made you ethnically different than the Scandinavians and Poles, and a southern accent made you of questionable intellect. So, it was open season on the dumb southern kid. Great fun.

While I couldn't change my appearance, I could change my accent and wardrobe. I practiced hard to lose the accent, and to adopt a very Minnesotan look and sound. Eventually, it all calmed down and I greatly enjoyed my time there. High school. Drivers license. First date. First girlfriend. All that adolescent stuff. Then once again, as was becoming the norm for me, more upheaval. After 3 1/2 years, at the end of my junior year in high school, we moved back south.

The move this time was essentially back home. I had never lived in Tennessee, but my parents were both from Knoxville. Our new home here was beautiful; nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. Wonderful place. Folks are a bit hillbilly, but they are real. It's a conservative place, and a great place to raise kids. I would far rather be around simple people with values like mine, than sophisticates with contrary viewpoints. It was here that I met my wife, here that I started my business, here that we have raised three kids, and here that we still reside. Finally, a home.

So what did I learn from all of the moving? Countless things I'm sure, but one of the biggest was the sense of being an outsider. As a white man, I cannot really know what it is like to face racial prejudice. I have, however, learned what it feels like to be judged on something other than the content of my character, and from that I have learned how to adapt and overcome. In a way, I think that has made me more empathetic towards those different than myself, but my experiences have made me less sympathetic to those who would seek to coddle the disadvantaged. They don't need our pity. They don't need our accommodation. They need to be allowed to struggle a bit, and then offered some grace, and then allowed to struggle some more. I can give you a, I WANT to give you a hand...but in the end, you have to climb out of your own ditch. Only then will you gain the strength to survive, and even to thrive, when the next challenge comes...

 ...and it will.