Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People


What’s so wrong with free-lance wealth redistribution?

As a counterpoint to McQ’s post on the pirate incident, a humorist endeavors to predict the Obama administration’s response:

For too long, America has been too dismissive of the proud culture and invaluable contributions of the Pirate Community. Whether it is their pioneering work with prosthetics, husbandry of tropical birds or fanciful fashion sense, America owes a deep debt to Pirates.

The past eight years have shown a failure to appreciate the historic role of these noble seafarers. Instead of celebrating their entreprenuerial spirit and seeking to partner with them to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.

Finally, to all pirates listening to international broadcasts, shortwave services and ship-to-shore radio, let me say this:

Ahoy, me regret arr relationship has set sail in a scurvy manner. Arr people share many mutual ‘alues and concerns on t’ raging main. Perchance, could ye handsomely release the cap’n o’ the ship and I assure that no harm will come t’ ye or ye hearties.

Well, it’s no sillier than thinking you can solve a problem created by too much debt by going a whole lot further in debt.

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Health Care Reform And The Free Market

Ramesh Ponnuru writes one of the better op/eds discussing the push for “universal health care” I’ve seen.

The practical case is that uninsured people raise premiums for everyone else. But such cost shifting raises premiums by 1.7 percent at most, according to a 2008 study published in the journal Health Affairs. Reforms that increase the number of people with health insurance, while stopping short of universal coverage, would presumably make that small percentage even smaller.

The obvious way to take care of that is to directly insure that relatively small group instead of messing with the entire system.

What about portability and pre-existing conditions? As we’ve been saying here, for literally years, remove it from being employer based and you’ve taken care of both as long as a person keeps their payments current. And, to make it more affordable, remove state mandates. Ponnuru says precisely the same thing:

An alternative approach would be to make it easier for people to buy insurance that isn’t tied to their employment. The existing tax break for employer-provided insurance could be replaced with a tax credit that applies to insurance purchased either inside or outside the workplace. At the same time, state mandates that require insurers to cover certain conditions, which make it expensive to offer individual policies, could be removed.

More importantly, it is a free-market approach. As Ponnuru says:

These two reforms would address most people’s anxieties about the health care system. Insurance would be more affordable, especially for people who cannot get it through an employer, so the number of people with insurance would rise. Indeed, this would enable more than 20 million more Americans to get insurance, according to a model created by Steve Parente, a health economist at the University of Minnesota.

More important, people would own their insurance policies and thus be able to take them from job to job. They would no longer need to worry about losing their job and their insurance at the same time, or feel they need to stay with a job they dislike because they need the benefits.

There it is, the same solution we’ve been pushing at QandO pretty much since QandO has existed. It is a common sense solution which actually reduces government’s role, gives people choices and makes coverage more affordable for a larger number of people, portable and negates the concern for “pre-existing” conditions.

Which is precisely why government will reject such a remedy.

~McQ

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Bowing, Boasting And Bloviating

I‘ve pretty much avoided mention of the bowing incident – it’s a distraction from the more serious things going on. But then the White House says we shouldn’t believe what we saw and throws out a couple of the most ridiculous reasons for what the President did that I’ve heard (an “unnamed” White House source claims it was either an adjustment for a short king or he lost a contact – take your pick). My question? Why is the White House bringing this back up? It makes no sense.

Then there’s Joe Biden’s claim of lecturing George Bush. When will this guy figure out that such claims can be checked? There’s not a moment of a president’s tenure that isn’t recorded by someone. Yet Biden seems to think, for he can make stuff up to retroactively bolster his arguments and make himself seem both wise and prescient.

He’s neither. He’s a blowhard who’s rise to the position he’s in was based mostly on his perceived ability to cover a glaring weakness in foreign policy experience from which Barack Obama suffered. But he was not a guy who anyone in the previous administration sought out for advice or council on much of anything.

However both of these incidents are troubling. The first indicates an innate defensiveness within the White House. This is something that should have simply been ignored. It would bang around on the right side of the political sphere for a while and then fade. But to claim something which you can clearly see for yourself is not what you see is foolish. It erodes credibility. “Don’t believe your lying eyes, believe what we say”.

As for Biden, as Karl Rove said, he’s a serial exaggerator – which is a nice way of saying he’s telling a whopper. Biden has a tendency to make up anecdotes which make him sound good and the other guy look bad. It’s sort of like when you have a “I wish I’d have said that” moment. You didn’t say it, but had you said it, it would have been perfect for the moment. Biden tries to make those moments real and claim them for himself. Again, it’s a credibility problem. You can’t believe a thing the man says.

For such a media savvy bunch you’d think the White House would know to leave a story such as the bowing incident alone. And you’d think, by now, that Joe Biden would have realized that what he could skate by on as a Senator won’t be overlooked now that he’s the VP – that and the fact that he should know his claim of lecturing a president is fairly easily checked.

Amateur hour.

~McQ

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Silver Lining?

The big Econo-boys are weighing in on the state of the economy, and providing a consensus opinion on the coming economic recovery.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

Economists in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey expect the recession to end in September, though most say it won’t be until the second half of 2010 that the economy recovers enough to bring down unemployment.

Gross domestic product was predicted to contract in the first and second quarters of this year by 5.0% and 1.8%, respectively, on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate. A return to growth — a modest 0.4% — isn’t expected until the third quarter. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the most recent period for which data are available, the economy contracted 6.3%.

The outlook for employment isn’t quite as good, though.

Just 12% of the economists expect the unemployment rate to fall some time this year. More than a third of respondents expect the jobless rate to peak in the first half of 2010, while about half don’t see unemployment declining until the second half of 2010. By December of this year, the economists on average expect the unemployment rate to reach 9.5%, up from the 8.5% reported for March. They do see the rate of decline slowing, forecasting 2.6 million job losses in the next 12 months, compared with the 4.8 million jobs lost in the previous period.

I’m a bit more negative on the above.  As of today, weekly initial unemployment claims are still at 650,000 per week.  If that keeps up, we’ll continue to see 0.5% increases in unemployment on a monthly basis.  We might be at 9% by next month, nevermind December.

I’m also concerned about the implications of the rabid expansion of the monetary base over the last 7 months, during which it essentially doubled.  If that  impacts signifigantly on inflation by the end of the year, then we’ll be between a rock and a hard place with a weak economy, and signifigant inflation.  Any Fed moves to contract the monetary base will crater the economy, in much the same way that Paul Volcker’s Fed did in causing the back to back recession of 1981-1982.

There are still treacherous shoals to navigate for the economy before I begin to get bullish on economic growth again.

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By A Small Majority, Americans Think Capitalism Is Better Than Socialism

This should disturb a good number of you – it certainly did me. It shows you how effective the indoctrination of our youth has been. Don’t forget the radical students of 1969 are the tenured professors of ’09.  It also demonstrates something else just as disturbing that I’ll get too at the end of the post:

Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.

Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.

Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.

As you’ll note, the older someone is, the more likely they are to understand what socialism is and how it is inferior to captialism. The under 30 crowd, with no wisdom and little practical experience outside of academia – not to mention having not yet completly traded their utopian fantasies for the best practical system which has been shown to work – have a large group who either believe socialism is better or just aren’t with it enough to have an opinion.

Once past 30, and having put a few years under their belt in the real world, suddenly the utopian scales begin to fall from their eyes and they have a bit of an epiphany. As for those over 40 being so strongly for capitalism, most of them remember the old USSR and how well socialism worked there.

As you might imagine, there’s an ideological divide as well:

There is a partisan gap as well. Republicans – by an 11-to-1 margin – favor capitalism. Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism. As for those not affiliated with either major political party, 48% say capitalism is best, and 21% opt for socialism.

Compare the results above to a poll taken in December of 2008:

As the incoming Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership scramble for ways to right the U.S. economy, 70% of U.S. voters say a free market is better than one managed by the government.

Just 15% say a government-managed economy is best, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided.

Question: In the intervening months, what system and what players has the Obama administration demonized?

Answer: Capitalism and capitalists.

Gee, I wonder why?

~McQ

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Immigration May Detract From Other Issues

President Obama, has decided that in addition to the health care, energy and education debates, he’ll also crank up the immigration debate:

He said then that comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to make legal status possible for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, would be a priority in his first year in office. Latino voters turned out strongly for Mr. Obama in the election.

“He intends to start the debate this year,” Ms. Muñoz said.

12 million is the low-side estimate. Others estimate the total to be as high as 20 million.

Here is the argument he can plan on seeing prominently pushed from the other side as it concerns legal status for illegal immigrants:

“It just doesn’t seem rational that any political leader would say, let’s give millions of foreign workers permanent access to U.S. jobs when we have millions of Americans looking for jobs,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that favors reduced immigration. Mr. Beck predicted that Mr. Obama would face “an explosion” if he proceeded this year.

“It’s going to be, ‘You’re letting them keep that job, when I could have that job,’ ” he said.

The argument that the jobs immigrants hold are jobs Americans won’t do rings even more hollow in a recession.

Additionally, starting this emotional issue up now, while he’s trying to push the other issues I mentioned is going to diffuse focus and may cost him critical support on health care, energy or education.

This is not a smart political move. But it is one I welcome.

~McQ

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Ooops

Pirates, operating off the coast of Somalia, have grabbed an American flagged ship. Although they’re rare, it’s just not a good idea to grab American flagged ships because it is likely to bring a response that for which the pirates aren’t looking.   I.e., a crew that fights back, and every available American military vessel in the area.

As it turns out the pirates grabbed the Masersk Alabama off the eastern coast of Somalia yesterday. That’s below the Horn of Africa since the Gulf of Aden, their previous hunting grounds, has been pretty effectively policed by TF-151 – a coalition of 12 navies.

It is assumed, since the attack on the Alabama occurred 350 miles off the coast of Somalia, that the pirates came from a “mother ship”, a larger ship from which they launch their attacks in the small, swift skiffs they use.

The pirates grabbed the Alabama early in the morning but by afternoon, the crew had retaken the ship. All except the captain who the pirates somehow kept in their custody. Apparently they negotiated with the crew for a pirate the crew had captured and agreed to an exchange. But the pirates didn’t keep their side of the bargain and kept the captain while the crew gave up the pirate.

The pirates and captain are now, apparently sitting in a lifeboat near the ship, negotiating with the crew. On site are the destroyer USS Bainbridge and some air assets.

My guess is this will go on a couple more days with the military content to let it continue as long as they don’t threaten to kill the captain or try to move out of the area. In the meantime they’ll gather as much intel as they can and formulate a plan to retake the captive.

Lesson to pirates? When they see that flag with a blue field full of stars and red and white stripes below it – let it pass. Not worth the effort. They don’t play patsy like the others do.

Oh – and too those trying to make this a presidential level “crisis”, it’s not unless he injects himself into it (and I don’t think he will). If the Pentagon needs guidance or permission for something, they’ll ask. Otherwise they should keep the administration informed and be left to do their job (here’s an interesting rundown of the last US ships taken in international waters and the reaction of three different presidents).

However, one has to wonder if the seizure of a US flagged ship might not increase calls for this:

Retired U.S. Ambassador Robert Oakley, who was special envoy to Somalia in the 1990s, said U.S. special operations forces have drawn up detailed plans to attack piracy groups where they live on land, but are awaiting orders from the Obama national security team.

“Our special operations people have been itching to clean them up. So far, no one has let them,” Oakley told the Daily News.

The veteran diplomat, who also was ambassador to Pakistan, said teams of Army Delta Force or Navy SEALs “could take care of the pirates in 72 hours” if given the order to strike.

“They have plans on the table but are waiting for the green light,” Oakley said.

A Special Operations Command spokesman at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., declined comment.

A U.S. intelligence official, though dismissive of the pirates having any terrorism links, said “there is a more intense focus” now on these criminal gangs.

We’ll see.  What concerns me about this is the administration may see this as a relatively cheap opportunity to demonstrate its willingness to use military force to protect American interests.  Piracy, while a pain in the rear, is not such a threat that it requires that level of a response (of the 33,000 ships that transit the Gulf of Aden, less that 1% are hijacked).

~McQ

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Smearing Glenn Beck

In what I can only surmise is the latest talking point to emerge from JournoList, Glenn Beck has replaced Rush Limbaugh as

JournoList?

JournoList?

the token leader of the Republican Party, against whom all manner of mud will be slung. Reminiscent of the Clinton years, talk radio hosts are being assailed as the progenitors of hate, and even being blamed for recent shootings such as that in Pittsburgh. All of this nonsense, of course, but the smears will be cast about by lefty cohorts just the same.

The most recent offering is from Michael A. Cohen writing at Politico, entitled “Extremist rhetoric won’t rebuild the GOP”:

Watching Fox News’ new sensation Glenn Beck is not for the faint of heart. It is a disquieting entree into the feverish mind of a conspiracy theorist who believes, among other things, that the government wants to remotely control our thermostats, that the relaxing of the ban on stem cell research — as well as efforts to prevent global warming — is reminiscent of Nazism, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be setting up concentration camps and, finally, that the country is on the path to socialism or possibly fascism but definitely some “-ism” that should be avoided.

Frankly, that is all you really need to read of Mr. Cohen’s piece to understand what he is on about. The short version is that rightwing leader, Glenn Beck, is spreading dangerous conspiracy theories that hurt the GOP and the nation. The problem, as always, is that the charges just aren’t true.

Taking them one by one from the cited paragraph, here is what Cohen asserts are the product of “the feverish mind of a conspiracy theorist”, and why his assertions are false:

(1) “the government wants to remotely control our thermostats”

I don’t know to which Beck comments Cohen is referring, but the fact is that the California government proposed exactly such a law:

Next year in California, state regulators are likely to have the emergency power to control individual thermostats, sending temperatures up or down through a radio-controlled device that will be required in new or substantially modified houses and buildings to manage electricity shortages.

The proposed rules are contained in a document circulated by the California Energy Commission, which for more than three decades has set state energy efficiency standards for home appliances, like water heaters, air conditioners and refrigerators. The changes would allow utilities to adjust customers’ preset temperatures when the price of electricity is soaring. Customers could override the utilities’ suggested temperatures. But in emergencies, the utilities could override customers’ wishes.

Clearly, it takes no “feverish mind” to grasp the fact that such programs are being considered.

(2) “the relaxing of the ban on stem cell research — as well as efforts to prevent global warming — is reminiscent of Nazism”

Well that does sound pretty bad. At least, until you track down what Beck actually said. In an interview with Professor Robert George of Princeton University, Beck rehashed why allowing progressive political interests to be in charge of steering “science” in the name of the public good was not necessarily desirable:

GLENN: I tell you, it’s so disturbing. I’m getting a lot of heat today because yesterday on television I talked about this and I said, you know, it was the progressives and the scientists that brought us eugenics. The idea that science — if evolution is true, then science should be able to help it along, and it was the guys in the white jackets. It was the scientists and the doctors that brought us the horrors of eugenics and it’s because –

PROFESSOR GEORGE: Glenn, can I fill you in a little bit? Because you are absolutely right. Let me tell you a little bit of the history. It’s fascinating. Those guys in white coats were not even during the Nazi period. These weren’t guys working for the Nazis. This was years before the Nazis during the Weimar Republic.

GLENN: It was here.

PROFESSOR GEORGE: When progressive, as they were then called, doctors and lawyers and others, decided that there were some lives unworthy of life. And two scholars, a guy named Bending and a guy named Hoka (ph) who were not Nazis who were opposed to the Nazi federy and so forth, they saw them as really sort of lower class thugs. But these two guys, a law professor and a medical professor, wrote a book called Lebens unwürdig von Leben, life unworthy of life which was a roadmap for taking the life destroying the lives of retarded people, people regarded as inferior because of their low intelligence or physical impairment or so forth. That was the roadmap. It was before the Nazis. You are 100% right.

GLENN: And a lot of this stuff, I mean, started here originally, did it not? Didn’t some of the original thinking –

PROFESSOR GEORGE: Well, it didn’t just begin in Germany. It’s certainly true that there was a strong eugenics here among the elite, among the progressive, the people who regarded themselves as the forward thinkers. Just the name, one figure from my own field of philosophy of law, Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great American jurist and philosopher and eventually Supreme Court justice who was with the program entirely of eugenics before the Nazis gave it a bad name. So it was here in America just as it was in Germany.

GLENN: So here’s what I’m afraid of and, you know, call me crazy, but whenever you unplug from ethics and you put science at the top and then you surround it with a bunch of progressive elitists, that usually doesn’t spell, you know, spell out anything that’s good.

With respect to the dangers of separating ethics and embryonic stem cell research, the conversation also included this tidbit:

GLENN: The guy who started embryonic stem cell research, I heard a quote from him yesterday, said if you haven’t — if this whole concept of research on embryos hasn’t given you pause, then you haven’t thought about it enough.

PROFESSOR GEORGE: Oh, yes, that’s Jamie Thompson you are quoting who was the first person to isolate human embryonic stem cells. He is a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin. And he said that in explaining why he had done path-breaking work, very important pioneering work to create alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells, pluripotent just means like embryonic stem cells, cells that are able to be manipulated to become any sort of cell tissue so they would be very useful in regenerative medicine if all things work out. But Thompson was explaining why he went down another path and created a technology for which he’s likely to win the Nobel Prize called induced pluripotent stem cells which can be created without using embryos or destroying embryos or killing embryos. So yes, even somebody like Thompson recognizes that there’s a huge ethical issue here. But President Obama’s just swept past it, just swept past it.

To be fair, whenever Nazism or fascism enters the fray, noses are sure to get bent out of shape and even clearly expressed thoughts will be missed. However, as easily surmised from the snippets of conversation above (much less the whole thing), it’s quite clear that Beck was not comparing stem cell research to Nazism, but instead warning against allowing progressive scientists to drive the debate without regard for the ethical issues. By referencing an historical consequence of blindly following such advice, Beck is simply making a useful comparison to illuminate his point. Nowhere does he compare stem cell research to Nazism.

(3) “the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be setting up concentration camps”

Of all the accusations leveled at Beck by Mr. Cohen, this is the most egregiously false. In my opinion, the charge would fairly support a suit for defamation against Cohen, even under the heightened “actual malice” standard set forth in New York Times, Co. v. Sullivan. Far from asserting that FEMA was setting up concentration camps, Beck actively and thoroughly debunked the conspiracy theory [HT: Allahpundit]:

How Cohen could make the assertion he did is simply bewildering. Even the barest amount of research would have shown how wrong he was. If nothing else, Cohen should immediately retract his claim and apologize to Beck.

(4) “the country is on the path to socialism or possibly fascism but definitely some “-ism” that should be avoided.”

After delving into pure libel, Cohen quickly steers into idiocy. The assertion here is that Beck’s opinion that the Obama administration policies are grounded in statist/collectivist ideology is a conspiracy theory. Missing from Cohen’s analysis is any mention of the last eight years of BusHitler! droning. Nor is there any explanation as to how an opinion regarding the underlying ideology of the President’s governing philosophy could be a conspiracy theory. Typical of liberals nowadays, Cohen simply likens any mention of similarities between Obama’s agenda and actual socialist/fascist/statist policies as fear-mongering worthy of no examination, and what’s wrong with socialism anyway? Apparently ignorance of recent events is not Cohen’s only forte, as he is also seemingly unaware of anything that has happened over the last century or so.

Regardless of how one might feel about Glenn Beck, and whether you agree with him or not, he is being unfairly smeared by Mr. Cohen. The sorts of attacks set forth above will only broaden in scope unless confronted, and they will be used to discredit any similar veins of thought no matter how tangential to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or any other strawman leader the left chooses to hang around the necks of those opposed to statist politics. Hit these rhetorical bullies in their lying collectivist mouths now, or face the unfortunate consequences of letting them drive the agenda and control the language of the debate.

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The Great Obama European Concert Tour

Now that the dust is beginning to settle, what, really, was accomplished in what Anne Applebaum likens more to a sold out concert tour than a diplomatic tour-de-force.

Well in the latter category it was more of a diplomatic tour-de-farce.

The Obama administration had two goals in two important meetings on the continent. The first was the G20 and the goal was to talk the Europeans into buying into increasing government spending to unprecedented levels, as the US has done, in order to “stimulate” the world’s economy. Epic “fail” in that department. However, the Euros did manage to talk Obama out of another 100 billion for the IMF.

The second goal was associated with NATO, and it was to talk our NATO allies into a large commitment of combat troops for Afghanistan. Again, an epic “fail”. As predicted by those who understand Europe, and thus NATO, that was a non-starter from the beginning. NATO instead offered up 5,000 troops, 3,000 on a temporary basis to help with the election, the rest as trainers for the ANA and ANP. But where troops are needed most – in combat positions – none, nada, zip, zero.

So, although you wouldn’t know it given the adoring media reports and the dutiful reporting of the administration spin on the trip, Obama ends up 0-2 in his first attempt at global diplomacy.

Applebaum notes one thing that struck her as “strange”:

Still, someone has to say it: Although some things went well on this trip, some things went badly. The centerpiece of the visit, Obama’s keynote foreign policy speech in Prague — leaked in advance, billed as a major statement — was, to put it bluntly, peculiar. He used it to call for “a world without nuclear weapons” and a new series of arms control negotiations with Russia. This was not wrong, necessarily, and not evil. But it was strange.

Yet, while Obama mentioned nuclear weapons reduction to Russia, he apparently didn’t mention Iran’s nukes or the fact that Russia’s shipment of the S-300 missile system to Iran is likely to destabilize the region by pushing Israel into finally striking Iran before ths system can be installed.

And then there’s North Korea’s decision to launch its ICBM at the very moment Obama was addressing nuclear weapons reduction. A bit of an in-your-face in diplomatic terms, by Kim Jong Il.

In other words, ridding the world of nuclear weapons would be very nice, but on its own it won’t alter the international balance of power, stop al-Qaeda or prevent large authoritarian states from invading their smaller neighbors.

I’ll be interested to see whether anyone gives a more sober assessment of the trip among the talking heads (as Applebaum did) or whether it will continue to be characterized as something it wasn’t.

~McQ

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