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Speeding Up Ignorance


Victor Davis Hanson writes Technology and Wisdom in The National Review Online.


The latest fad of near-insolvent universities is to offer free iPads to students so that they can access information more easily. But what if most undergraduates still have not been taught to read well or think inductively, or to have some notion of history? Speeding up their ignorance is not the same as imparting wisdom. Requiring a freshman Latin course would be a far cheaper and wiser investment in mastering language, composition, and inductive reasoning than handing out free electronics.

The problem is not just that high technology is human-produced, and thus often crashes in the same way that imperfect humans often fail. Sophisticated electronics also often disguise the brutal premodern world with a thin veneer of postmodern egotism.

Just because we post on Facebook, sell stuff on Craigslist, or charge things on a Target card does not ensure that old-fashion Boston Stranglers or contemporary Bernie Madoffs are not lurking in the cyberspace alleyway to harm us. The ancient Greek poet Hesiod reminded us roughly 2,700 years ago that sometimes intellectual or material progress brings with it moral regress.

Billionaire tech wizard Steve Jobs gave away less of his fortune than did Andrew Carnegie. Google offshores its profits with accounting gimmickry that would have made J. P. Morgan proud. The hip Solyndra bunch got government-insider money and concessions of the sort that Mark Hopkins and Collis Huntington garnered to build the transcontinental line. Yet the old robber barons at least used government money to create something; their modern green-techie counterparts squandered it.

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The Quality of Government


From Kevin Williamson at The National Review, A Deeper Naganism.


But there is a critical variable that is at least partly within the direct control of government: the quality of government. The quality of government — its honesty, competence, reliability, and predictability — has an effect on most of the important economic variables. And not just government itself, but other institutions with the power to shape public life, such as unions and large firms. Quality is something outside of and different from policy specifics, which is why similar policies often produce wildly different outcomes in different polities: Single-payer health care in Bahrain turns out to be very different from single-payer health care in Canada. A high level of government-enforced union involvement has been catastrophic for the U.S. automotive industry but not for the German automotive industry, which is a lot less of a mystery than it seems when you account for the fact that the UAW is not IG Metall, GM is not Audi, and the U.S. government is not the German government.

There is no way to put a happy face on this fact: Critical American institutions are of shockingly low quality. Corruption is a part of that: At No. 19 on the Transparency International rankings, the United States is tied with Uruguay. Its transparency score of 73 is far behind where you want to be, among such category leaders as Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, and Finland (91, 91, 89, and 89, respectively). We lag well behind our Canadian neighbors and such important international competitors as Germany. Our overall standing is not terrible, but it does not place us among global leaders, either. Moderation in the pursuit of honesty is no virtue.

Building a factory is an expensive, long-term commitment, and many investors will hesitate to do so if, for example, they are unsure of what their future labor environment will look like, whether the corporate-tax code will be used to subsidize their politically connected competitors, or what environmental rules they will be operating under. The Obama administration’s penchant for executive fiat makes the policy environment much less predictable — and does so largely for reasons of political self-interest. Things like the Keystone-pipeline delays and the EPA’s overreach on carbon dioxide emissions are pure politics, and nothing more. But they impose real costs.

What Ray Nagin did was a crime, but there are worse things than crimes. It is possible to undermine critical institutions without ever violating a law.

Combined federal, state, and local spending in the United States is about the same as it is in Canada, so it is not as if we were starving our public sector to death. The problem is that our institutions are not full of Canadian budgeters, Finnish school administrators, and Swiss train conductors. They are full of Ray Nagins.


One could deduce from Kevin’s point that the problem is not the dysfunctional philosophy of the current progressive tilt in our government, but lies in the poor quality of its executors.  Socialists’ failures have long been given a pass by blaming the leaders rather than the system.

But a system that depends on the moral purity of the administrators and elected officials is a system doomed to fail.  One of the reasons to keep government small is that larger more expansive government is hard to staff with ethical and competent leaders.  The more that government tries to direct our lives, the more it presumes a consensus that does not exist and the more it requires force;  attracting an undesirable element into its ranks.  The objective for the elected becomes power rather than service, no matter how much they claim otherwise.  It is also one of the reasons that a skeptical press is essential.

The Democrats would serve their cause much better if they held their representatives to a higher standard. And the GOP would do well to compete on this standard and  focus on the numerous ethical transgressions of the Democrats. The GOP should also avoid residing in glass houses.

But ultimately the responsibility lies with the voters.


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Why They Sell The Robb Report At Walmart


from Kevin Williamson in National Review , The Working Rich:

Wealth transfers — inheritances and gifts combined — constitute a small part of the holdings of the rich, whether you define “rich” in terms of income or net worth. For the top income quintile, gifts and inheritances amount to 13 percent of household wealth, according to research published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For the top wealth quintile, they amount to 16 percent. For the hated “1 percent,” inherited wealth accounts for about 15 percent of holdings. Contrary to the story the Left likes to tell about economic inequality in the United States, those numbers have gone down over recent decades — by almost half for the wealthiest Americans. Meanwhile, inherited money makes up 43 percent of the wealth of the lowest income group and 31 percent for the second-lowest. In case our would-be class warriors are having trouble running the numbers here, that means that inherited money on net reduces wealth inequality in the United States (measured as a ratio) rather than exacerbating it; eliminating inherited wealth would have approximately twice as much of a negative effect on modest households as on wealthy ones.

In his research for The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley found that the most popular make of automobile among the wealthy was not Ferrari or Mercedes but Ford, and that the most common Ford model owned by a millionaire was the F-150 pickup truck.


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Small Man’s Sin


Kevin Williamson writes in The National Review, The Age of Envy:


Wrath and pride are the sins of great (but not good) men. Envy is the affliction of the insignificant. It is the small man’s sin.

Which brings us to Robert Reich, who, having practically made a cult of envy, has taken to abusing the well-off for their acts of charity. Professor Reich, a ward of the taxpayers of California (at $246,199.84 per annum) and a federal ward before that, is persistently unhappy about how other people use their money, and he scoffs that America’s rich philanthropists are phony and self-serving, investing too much in opera and ballet and fancy colleges, and too little in feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. He particularly resents the fact that our tax code encourages such giving, with deductions that reduced federal revenue by some $39 billion last year — federal revenue that could have gone toward employing men such as Robert Reich.

Beyond stealing altar offerings from the almighty god of revenue, our philanthropists offend Professor Reich’s sensibilities in another way: They don’t give to the sort of enterprises he wants them to give to. “A large portion of the charitable deductions now claimed by America’s wealthy are for donations to culture palaces — operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters — where they spend their leisure time hobnobbing with other wealthy benefactors. . . . These aren’t really charities as most people understand the term. They’re often investments in the life-styles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have as well. Increasingly, being rich in America means not having to come across anyone who’s not.” Unsurprisingly, Progressive America’s favorite non-economist-who-plays-an-economist-on-TV does not bother to document what he means by “a large share.” Giving to art-and-culture organizations amounted to just over $14 billion in 2012, or about 4.5 percent of charitable contributions, far less than was given to health, human-services, or public-benefit organizations. There are a fair number of single organizations that run into the billions per year, including YMCA ($6.24 billion), Goodwill Industries ($5 billion), Catholic Charities ($4.4 billion), and the Red Cross ($3.12 billion).

A question, though: If spending on art, music, and culture is self-serving when private citizens do it, what is it when government does it? Essential, necessary, crucial — of course. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs by itself spends some $150 million a year on precisely that sort of thing. The state spends dozens of millions more. A good deal of that money goes to subsidizing theater, including big-ticket theater. In my role as a theater critic, I am constantly surprised by how many shows selling tickets for north of $100 are publicly subsidized. It isn’t huge money — without public support for the Manhattan Theater Club, that $120 ticket to see Laurie Metcalf in The Other Place (excellent, be sorry if you missed it) might have been $125 instead. But it adds up: a few dozen millions from the state, a hundred million from the city, a billion and a half from Washington.

But envy poisons whatever good intentions they have, which is how men such as Professor Reich come to write resentful indictments of people who are, remember, giving away billions of dollars of their own money. He’d prefer their money be given away by him, or by bureaucracies under the tutelage of men such as himself.

Megan McArdle once observed that in our public discourse, “very rich” is defined as “just above the level a top-notch journalist in a two-earner couple could be expected to pull down.” There is no envy like the envy of a $250,000 man in a world of $250 million men, as Robert Duvall’s crusty newspaper editor explains to a financially frustrated employee in The Paper: “The people we cover — we move in their world, but it is their world. We don’t get the money — never have, never will.” But being in that world, they learn to covet, which helps explain why Professor Reich’s old boss, Bill Clinton, ended up with $50-odd million in the bank after a lifetime of public service.

Americans gave away $316 billion in 2012, and will give away as much or more this year, and Professor Reich composed 731 words to explain the problems related to that. He should have composed two words, especially relevant to this season:

“Thank you.”


A true liberal should be embarrassed about such moral supremacist posturing.  In the world where private  income are capped by the fairness fascists, there would be no money for the rich to give to charities nor revenues to fund the government’s chosen elites…. such as Robert Reich


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Addicted to Bad Ideas

From the National Review Editors  The Minimum Wages of Politics:

In any case, the main problem facing poor families is not a low minimum wage, but high unemployment. While the president likes to cite poorly understood income figures (which tell us little or nothing about the incomes of actual households at any given economic level, because the people who are in the top 20 percent or bottom 20 percent change from year to year and significantly from decade to decade), he ought to be looking instead at the data concerning household net worth and continuity of employment, which reveal problems connected tangentially at most with statutory wage floors.

There is a way to increase wages while increasing overall employment, and that is to raise the demand for labor. Unfortunately for the planners and schemers in Washington, doing so requires more than simply passing a law. Higher demand for labor is the result of a growing and productive economy, which requires substantial capital investment, innovation, entrepreneurship, and — worst of all from the White House’s perspective — time.

We’ve learned from the fiasco of Obamacare that passing a law purporting to make insurance more affordable and more accessible does not necessarily make insurance more affordable and more accessible, and that most of the promises attached to that so-called reform project either turned out to be unachievable in the face of economic reality or were cynical misrepresentations from the beginning. Likewise, you can pass a bill purporting to raise wages, but it will not necessarily result in higher wages. It is as likely to result in higher unemployment among lower-skilled workers, stagnation, and labor downsizing.

But as poor a policy initiative as the minimum-wage proposal is, what is perhaps worst about it is the political opportunity cost: While we’re having another emotionally charged debate about this third-tier issue, the real long-term problems facing our economy go unmentioned and unaddressed.

Also James Sherk in National Review Online writes Obama’s Pay and Productivity Misconception:

With economic statistics the devil often lies in the details. The wage and productivity data come from different surveys using different methods and covering different groups of workers: statistical apples and oranges. The facile comparison has several problems.

For one, it does not look at everything workers earn. Looking only at wages ignores the non-cash benefits that have become an increasingly large share of workers’ total compensation. Economists expect total compensation to rise with productivity. Nothing says that additional compensation will come entirely in cash.


Data is distorted to make a claim that defies common sense. That has become a common tactic on many policy fronts.

Again from National Review Online, Larry Kudlow writes The Challenge is Growth, Not Inequality:

Obama comes from a long line of liberals whose guiding star is the equality ofresult, i.e., income leveling, rather than the equality of opportunity, which is the heart of free-market capitalism. But in reverting back to his obsession with income inequality, he repeats his tired mantra of raising the minimum wage, ending so-called tax loopholes, launching shovel-ready infrastructure projects, and ending budget caps and the spending-cut sequester.

And none of that has a thing to do with income inequality. And none of it has anything to do with economic growth. It’s just a tired old laundry list from a tired second-term administration that has no new ideas and is fighting its hardest to preserve the worst idea of all: centralized, state-run, Obamacare health planning.


For a man having campaigned on change he recycles the old  bad ideas.  It defies logic and common sense to believe a higher minimum wage has no impact on employment, no matter how many studies he trots out to claim otherwise. But as it turns out it also defies legitimate research.

The same is true on the claim that wages and productivity has diverged.  Once again data is cherry picked to reach a pre-ordained conclusion.

Like so many government initiatives they want to provide a benefit (in exchange for votes and power) but they do not want to pay for it, so they create some Rube Goldberg economic fantasy to hide the true cost from everyone- especially themselves.  Only an economic fool would believe that some arrogant, all knowing elitist ass can centrally set prices for anything – wages, healthcare, energy, – ANYTHING -without significant consequences: some easily predictable but often not.  It did not work for Stalin, Mao, Nixon, or Carter and it will not work for our current incarnation of the All Knowing Wizard.