Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Why the Right Should Embrace “Fairness” in Entitlement Reform

This is a departure from my previous two posts; it’s not about a particular group that has pulled away from the GOP.  Romney pulled a slightly larger share of older voters than McCain did, even if fewer total turned out than in previous years.  That the Romney-Ryan ticket did this while proposing entitlement reform is a substantial feat, but it did involve watering down the reforms a great deal.  For example, Republicans now make a habit of promising that nobody under age 55 will be affected by their reforms.

Why make this concession when the lion’s share of the fiscal problem is current retirees and the many, many Baby Boomers who will retire soon?  Boomers vote, of course, but what motivates them?  I don’t think most seniors could bring themselves to act on straightforward greed; I think they’re voting based on a particular concept of fairness.

Specifically, they paid into the system over a long career, and they believe they should be able to get back what they paid in.  And even though current Medicare beneficiaries get two to six times as much in benefits as they paid in (if this is right), only about a third of Americans think Medicare beneficiaries get any more than they paid in.  As long as they think that way, they’ll continue to oppose means testing and raising the retirement age by wide margins.

You might be tempted to say that our task is to educate them, but it’s much easier to persuade people based on their current beliefs than to convince them of inconvenient facts first.  Republicans basically conceded that cutting benefits to older voters at all would be unfair, and pushed complicated plans that few people aside from Paul Ryan can competently defend.

But we might be even bolder if we just hugged that core fairness principle tighter.

September’s Reason-Rupe poll (PDF – fixed link) asked Americans if they’d support cuts to their own Medicare benefits “if you were guaranteed to receive benefits at least equal to the amount of money that you and your employer contribute into the system.”  It was a blowout: 68% yes, 25% no.  Three quarters of Tea Partiers said yes.

At a stroke, you could slash Medicare in half with a reform based on that principle.  (Their August 2011 poll suggested similar support for applying the principle to Social Security, but the cuts would be much more modest.)

Centering a reform on that principle achieves steeper cuts and seems easier to defend than what Paul Ryan is trying.  Because if Democrats fought us on it, they’d have to make the wildly unpopular case for entitlements as redistribution programs rather than as “insurance” or “savings.”

The kind of coalition the Right needs for sustainable entitlement reform has to include people who highly value fairness (or, as Jonathan Haidt would call it, proportionality).  If we want the project of liberty to be successful, we have to pluck on other heartstrings.

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Why Conservatives Should Embrace Gay Marriage

I already mentioned that marriage, kids, and a mortgage are very strong indicators of conservatism.  Here’s a straightforward causal explanation: when you’re invested in something, you don’t want it to be taken from you, and you’re skeptical of starry-eyed meddlers doing anything that might threaten it.  Probably the best thing done for the cause against gun control was teaching others how to use and maintain a firearm: once people own one, it sharpens the mind to cut through any argument for taking it away.

But a gun is a small investment compared to a committed and intimate relationship, custody of children, and homeownership.  A dollar taxed is one that you can’t spend on your family when they want something, a dollar borrowed is one that your kids will pay back, and that meddler on TV is rolling the dice with a major part of your life.

In the case of immigration, Hispanics are already primed to be conservative because they’re already invested.  With gay marriage, you have a group trying awfully hard to get more invested.

The conservative argument for embracing gay marriage is that marriage seems to be a fine institution that benefits even people who can’t have children together, and that it may strengthen the institution and the country to expand the institution so that a nontrivial minority of the population is on the inside trying to protect it rather than on the outside where their exclusion leads to thorny political issues of respect and tribalism.

Another conservative argument is that if gay marriage is politically inevitable, conservatives should proactively move through legislation to ensure that it goes smoothly without infringing on other freedoms (like those of association and contract), rather than allow this to play out entirely in the courts or in a referendum.  If conservatives keep trying to board the windows, more stuff is going to end up broken than if they just opened the door.

As with immigration and Hispanics, marriage may not be gays’ top priority, but it matters, and the way Republicans approach and discuss the issue can signal that “you’re not one of us,” which is poison for coalition-building.

The flip side of that coin doesn’t have to be pandering; given the consciousness of gay communities about targeted violence and bullying, it’d be awesome if conservatives taught more gays how to use and maintain firearms.

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Economic Statistics for 8 Nov 12

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

Late yesterday, the Consumer Credit report showed another steep $11.4 billion increase in consumer credit for September, following August’s very large $18.4 billion increase. One of the main contributors to the increase was student loan debt.

Initial claims for unemployment fell 8,000 last week, to 355,000. The 4-week moving average rose 3,250 to 370,500. Continuing claims fell a sharp 135,000 to 3.127 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 0.3 points to –34.3, the highest reading since spring.

The U.S. international trade gap in September fell to -$41.5 billion from -$44.2 billion in August. Exports rose 3.1%, and imports rose 1.5%.

~
Dale Franks
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Dear CO and WA – good luck with those marijuana legalization laws

The imperial “federal” government knows better than you what is good for “the people”:

“This is a symbolic victory for (legalization) advocates, but it will be short-lived,” Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to the Obama administration’s drug czar, told reporters.

“They are facing an uphill battle with implementing this, in the face of … presidential opposition and in the face of federal enforcement opposition,” Sabet said.

Because everyone knows we are a country in which state’s rights exist and the people get to decide.   And we certainly know prohibition worked extraordinarly well in the 1920s.

Let freedom ring.

Forward.

~McQ

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Election summary – time to move on

OK, look, I’m done with the election.  It’s over.  Romney lost.  Time to move on.

Most of us who follow politics understand the reasons and have a pretty good idea of why he’s going home and the Obama’s are staying in the White House.  Short version: They let the left define the election issues.  It was a masterful job of distraction aided and abetted by  a complicit media (hey, “60 Minutes”, you have NO credibility anymore). Period.

Guess what those issues weren’t?  The winning issues: Jobs.  Economy.  Debt. Deficit.  ObamaCare.  Benghazi. Fast and Furious.

Result?  Lost.

Lesson:  Don’t let your opposition define the issues.  A lesson as old as politics.  Romney’s campaign blew it.  It allowed the left to make it about “lady parts”, abortion, contraception, Bain Capital, class warfare and racism. They made being successful something of which to be ashamed.  And, of course, a couple of idiot GOP candidates at state level who came off like jackasses talking about “legitimate rape”, etc.  who made it even worse (because the complicit media made their stupidity national stories — unlike jobs, the economy, debt, ObamaCare, Benghazi and Fast and Furious.).

And that scared the usual suspects enough to turn out and vote (ye olde and reliable low information voters in swing states who scare easily) and dampened GOP turnout (didn’t even get the number out that McCain got for heaven sake).

That’s the election in a nutshell.

So?

So, now we put that behind us and deal with the inevitable aftermath.

~McQ

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Why Conservatives Should Embrace Free Immigration

After the election, Righty circles are naturally engaging in some soul-searching, finger-pointing, and bickering.  Some of this is unproductive venting, but it’s also the start of the process of working out how to move on and improve, and there’s no time to waste.

My conversations with fellow Righty operatives and bloggers have spurred me to suggest several ways Republicans could simultaneously make the party more attractive (or less repulsive) to voters and achieve more conservative results.  This post is about immigration and reversing the trend of Hispanics rapidly abandoning the GOP; the next is about gay marriage; and the final post is about entitlement reform.

First, let’s dispense with the notion agreed upon by many on the Right: seal the border first, so that whatever follows is more controlled and orderly.  This is an expensive fantasy.  Conservatives need to apply their skepticism of huge, complex, market-distorting government plans to every issue surrounding immigration, starting with any plan to spend tens of billions of dollars on thousands of miles of fence, surveillance, unionized government employees, and a verification system forced on every employer in the country.

It’s a joke that the Republican Party, which is practically defined by marriage, babies, and mortgages, holds at arm’s length a whole demographic (Hispanics, especially foreign-born) that tends to be more religious, marry younger and longer, and have larger families than the average American voter.

Mass immigration could work for the GOP if the GOP went with the tide instead of trying to stop it.

  • If Republicans want school choice, they should have natural allies among those who are religious, have large families, and see their children suffer under the worst public schools.  When you hear complaints that Hispanic immigrants don’t speak English, suggest vouchers and education savings accounts for private-school English language instruction.
  • If Republicans want to revive farms and stop the population drain from rural areas, make legitimate cheap labor more available: open up a bunch of farm worker visas.
  • If Republicans want to cut the cost of new housing so that young people can form households and families, make legitimate cheap labor available for that too.  Heck, why not try to break various trade unions by inviting enough skilled immigrants to swamp or bypass their system?
  • So the entitlement system is a problem?  Yeah, Milton Friedman famously said you can’t simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.  Shouldn’t the Republican response be “Bring on free immigration“?  If math dooms Medicaid and the subsidized industrial-age hospital model, why not make the math even harder?
  • Conservatives have longed to shift taxes away from production and toward consumption.  Nobody wants to remove labor tax wedges (AHEM: the payroll tax) as much as someone in a labor-intensive business, the kind that tends to thrive when there’s a lot of cheap labor available.  That goes for both employers and the employees whose compensation is tilted toward wages rather than benefits; we know it suppresses the Hispanic savings rate.  And the payroll tax, of course, helps to maintain the accounting fiction that SocSec and Medicare are like savings.

Now, about the security problem: is it easier to pick out a genuine security threat in the crowd if everyone just has to pass a security check, or if hundreds of thousands of people are trying to cross the border undetected because the only legal route is a seven-year byzantine process?

Heather Mac Donald at NRO offers a potential counter-argument: Hispanics are more suspicious of Republicans for supporting class warfare than for opposing immigration according to a poll (from March 2011), and a majority favor gay marriage, so they’re not such a conservative bunch.  But:

  • Immigration may not be most Hispanics’ top concern, but it isn’t trivial either.  And because politics is so tribal, there are many ways to alienate a group without actually disagreeing on policy – many of which Republicans blunder into when discussing immigration.
  • Finally: social issues.  Mac Donald points out that a majority of Hispanics favor gay marriage.  I’ll argue in my next post that conservatives should proactively embrace gay marriage, which should resolve this issue nicely.
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Obama Re-elected

And I was dead wrong.

When you get it wrong, what you normally should do is check your premise.  Mine was that the polls couldn’t have it right running a D+ anything.  That, based on 2010 and the resounding GOP victories then,  the 2008 model wasn’t valid anymore.  But it was, or at least D+ was.  Not as much as 2008 but still a plus.

Part of my premise rested on the assumption that the conventional wisdom of “this is a center-right country” was correct.   That particular bit of CW has been shaken to its foundations by this election.  I’ll never again make that assumption.

So, a tip of the hat to the pollsters who I claimed had it wrong.  They had it very right and tight.  The only consolation I have with my prediction is that I didn’t say “landslide”.  I knew it would be tight, but the other thing that let me down apparently, was my feeling I had read the “atmospherics” right.

Unlike 2008, I didn’t see the same level of enthusiasm on the left that I had seen then.  And actually, the results bear that out, but not at all to the degree I thought it would.  There was obviously just enough to see Obama through.  Romney did better than McCain but not “better” enough.

I knew my prediction was in jeopardy fairly early when NC and FL lingered and lingered and lingered without a winner being declared.  As I write this, FL is still lingering very near mandatory recount territory – not that it matters.

By any measure this was a close contest.  But when the dust has settled, Obama has won.

It will be interesting, in the coming days, to dissect the exit polls and try to determine why.  There are likely a myriad of reasons, some of which will be surprising and others which will likely surprise no one.

I’d like to say I’m not disappointed, but I am.  I still think Obama is a disaster and I haven’t seen anything in his recent campaign to change my mind. In fact, it did nothing but reinforce that feeling and add “meanspirited”, “small”, “petty” and “vindictive” to discriptors of the man.  Again, not that that matters in the big scheme of things because more Americans than not disagree with my assessment.

That brings me to the question of “why”?  Why did he get a 2nd chance?  And the answer lies somewhere in this shift to the left throughout the  electorate I believe.  Many Americans, apparently – and at least according to some of the exit polls I heard last night – are looking for someone to “take care of them”.  That’s quite a change and sort of sounds a death knell to the now “myth” of American self-reliance.  It also signals a profound change in how we view government.  I find that unsettling.

Another thing that bothers me is accountability.  I’ll make this a general statement.  For the most part, we don’t hold our politicians responsible for what they do or don’t do.  That very basic mistake is one of the reasons we’re in the shape we are now, in my opinion.  It is my assertion that Obama should have been held accountable for his failure to do what he said he’d do in his 4 years.  He hasn’t been. He failed miserably and he’s being given another chance.  No accountability, just excuses for his failure. Ironically, about half the country still holds George Bush responsible while apparently not holding Obama accountable for much of anything.

I’ve been through this before with Bill Clinton and other Democrat presidents.  However, even while I was not happy with them or their presidencies, we survived.  The difference, however, was I at least felt that they had some level of competence.  I have no confidence in Obama’s competence and, with nothing to lose now, expect to see the next 4 years devolve into something of a nightmare scenario.

But, in the end, we’ll survive it.  I’m not sure what the country will look like in 4 years, but it’ll still be here.

I now concede the floor to the predictable commenters who will show up to crow.  Go for it.  And even to the drive-by trolls who will show up this once to do the same.  It’s your day.  Just remember, I’m going to hold your comments up to this man’s performance over the next 4 years and compare “results” with promise.  I think, as we did in this 4 years, we’ll find the results to be sadly lacking.

The good news?  We’ll have plenty to write about here at QandO.  But we’d have had that had a Republican won as well.

~McQ

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Obama Wins

So, I was as wrong as it’s possible to be. Hideously, egregiously, spectacularly wrong. Apparently, we aren’t a center-right nation any more. We will re-elect a president with the worst economic record since the Great Depression.

I made the mistake of being optimistic. I see that now. But not anymore. Pessimism, cynicism and sarcasm are really the only rational responses to the country that we’ve turned into. There will be no sudden resurgence of liberty. No diminution of government. No "Atlas Shrugged" moment, where the clear light of reason dawns on the electorate. We’ve become a country where a critical mass has latched onto a single demand for government: "Pay for all the things!"

So be it. In any democratic system, the people get the government they deserve, because it’s the government they’ve chosen. Fine. I say let the Democrats have everything they want. Higher taxes? Great. No problem. Hike ‘em up however you want. Universal health care? Fine by me. Massive defense cuts? Let’s start tomorrow. Continued debt expansion? Go for it.

At this point, I guess the only way to let the people see how bankrupt the Leftist ideal is, is to give them their fill of it. We’re headed in that direction anyway, why slow it up by occasional, gentle taps on the brakes? It’s gonna happen inevitably. The country I was born in is long gone. The country that’s taken its place is headed down the path to failure, and I find I no longer care much for it anyway.

If I’m going to be relegated to simply playing Cassandra, then let’s go the whole Trojan route. Let them burn it down.

Burn it all down.

~
Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 6 Nov 12

 

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

In weekly retail sales, Redbook reports only a 0.8% increase from the previous year. ICSC-Goldman reports a weekly sales decrease of –0.2%, and a weak 1.4% increase on a year-over-year basis. Obviously, these numbers are the result of Hurricane Sandy’s disruption.

That’s all the economic news for the day. Other than that, I can’t think of a single event that I might talk about today.

~
Dale Franks
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