Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Posts Tagged ‘Justice

Four Factors of Production

leave a comment »

In economics, production does not just magically happen. Generally, there have to be some raw materials. More importantly, there are entities that are necessary to produce wealth, although they are not consumed in the process. These are called factors of production.

According to the Wikipedia page, there are three factors of production in classical economics: land, labor and capital. However, I used to have an economics textbook from around 1950 that identified four, and that is the model I shall use. Each of these factors receives a share of the income produced through the wealth creation activity.

Factor Category Share of Income
Land Rent
Labor Wages
Capital Interest
Entrepreneur Profit

The relative claims to income of the various factors is not fixed. The factors push against each other, each seeking to claim a greater share of the total income. In this way, relative negotiating power matters.

Bottleneck Resources

Eliyahu Goldratt taught us to pay attention to bottlenecks, because that is where the action is. The bottleneck resource constrains the system.

Under feudalism (technically manorialism, which is the economy under feudalism), land is the bottleneck resource that limits the production of wealth. This is not to say that land was much more scarce than it is today, but you had to keep peace on it long enough to grow and harvest a crop. Therefore, land is in a position to dominate the other factors of production, and the feudal tenants, who can keep the peace, own the land. It is a service-based economy; the lord provides security, and the peasants provide labor. A fundamental principal of feudalism is that there could be no land without a lord (nulle terre sans seigneur). When you read that Mr. Darcy has ten thousand pounds a year, he is a landlord, that figure is his income from agricultural rents, and that is a big deal.

The economy cannot even begin to industrialize until there is a government able to prevent the farmers being routinely plundered by marauding gangs. At this point, land is still important, but it does not have to be constantly secured. The relations shift so that capital is now the bottleneck resource, which brings us to capitalism.

Let’s say someone wants to build a water-powered mill to produce flour. He needs to obtain the land on which to build. The choice of land is further constrained, since it must be adjacent to a river or other source of water power. He will need materials to build the mill, and labor to do the building. All this must be paid for before he can go into production and see any revenue. Even if he is able to rent, rather than purchase, the land, the rent is due right away, even though the mill is not yet complete. He will need capital — either his own, or the use of capital belonging to someone else. If the latter, that person becomes his investor, and has significant control over the enterprise of the mill, because without the capital, the enterprise is dead in the water. Without capital, nothing is possible because the expenses are due now and you don’t see revenue until later.

Some people are confused because they see loanable funds washing around the economy looking for something to do. This occurs, but look at the interest rate at which they are available. If you believe that capital is easy to get, start a business and try to get the use of some. Yes, you can start a personal services business on your credit cards; I have done it. But you can’t afford to raise significant capital that way.

Labor Is Not a Bottleneck Resource

It is highly unusual for labor to ever be a bottleneck resource, it requires extraordinary conditions and does not last long. The only time I can think of that even approached these conditions was after the Black Death, which surged through England between 1348 and 1362. This reduced the supply of agricultural labor to the point where wages started to rise. Landowners went to the government to seek relief through laws holding wages down. This was a contributory cause of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. Ultimately, conditions reverted to normal, and land was again more scarce than labor.

Do not construe from this that labor is unimportant. The issue is which factor of production is the bottleneck that constrains production. This resource will be able to command a large share of income, as producers have to compete for it.

Change and Dislocation

Any time the economy shifts so that one factor of production displaces another as the bottleneck, you are exposed to political unrest. When nations industrialize, for example, this means that land is losing relative importance, rents are not keeping up with other forms of income and landowners are losing influence. Nobody wants to lose influence, and nobody who has political influence cheerfully accepts the loss of it. The consequences can be rather severe — that enormous family mansion built with agricultural rents starts to become a millstone, too expensive to maintain. Nobles dependent on rents, such as the fictional Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey, may have to seek out alternative means of keeping their heads above water, such as marrying rich American heiresses.

Less colorfully but more significantly, the British land aristocracy fought hard to hang on to political influence. Not only did they control the House of Lords, but they retained significant control over Commons. The cities of Manchester and Birmingham did not have a Member between them prior to 1832, while several “rotten boroughs” having less than 50 voters, such as Old Sarum, Gatton, Dunwich, Plympton Erle and Callington, had two representatives each. The landed aristocracy did not cherish the idea of admitting grubby merchants and ironmongers into the circle of power, and staged a fighting retreat over the next eighty years.

The Entrepreneur

Note that, even as far back as mid-century, at the zenith of the New Deal welfare state, the contribution of the entrepreneur was recognized. Nobody other than Ayn Rand was claiming that the entrepreneur was some kind of shining moral hero, and very few people were listening to her., Economists did recognize the necessary role of entrepreneurs in getting wealth creation activities off the ground.

Profit — the entrepreneur’s share of income — is whatever is left over after everyone else gets their share. If there is not enough income to go around, it’s a loss, and the entrepreneur gets that. The entrepreneur bears risk in wealth creation. Being an owner really means being last in line to get paid.

Capital does not like to bear risk. The risk of not getting income is bad enough; the risk of not being repaid at all is unacceptable. Therefore, those with capital to lend or invest are rather aggressive about imposing controls to ensure that someone else is even farther out on a limb than they are. That someone is the entrepreneur. Capital is the bottleneck resource and knows it. If you want the use of their money, you will play by their rules.

Lenders have very little appetite for risk. The old saying is that the bank will only lend you money if you can prove to them that you don’t need it. In CEO Logic, C. Ray Johnson wrote that lenders often demand triple assets:

If you have $1,000,000 in receivables, a $1,000,000 business tangible net worth and $1,000,000 (liquid) personal net worth, they might lend you $800,000. This is their way of achieving what they perceive as “zero” risk. If your receivables go bad, they have the net worth of your business. If the business fails, they have your personal net worth. If it were legal for them to take your first born child, they would. [p. 189]

“Hey, wait,” some readers might say, “what about limited liability?” If you want the money, you are going to allow them to pierce the veil of limited liability. You are going to have liquid personal assets and pledge them as security for the loan. Otherwise, get your capital somewhere else.

In addition, most lenders will require the entrepreneur’s personal signature, both as additional security and as evidence of the borrower’s real commitment to the venture. As an example of how pervasive it is for lenders to require personal signatures of small businesspeople, a consultant once asked a commercial lender when she would not demand a personal signature on a note. Her reply was, “when your client can’t write.”
— Eric Siegel, et al., The Ernst & Young Business Plan Guide, 2nd Edition.

What if you don’t have your business to the point where it is worth a million dollars? Then you will also have to give up some equity — ownership of your business and control of its activities — to get capital.

The issue here is not hard work; it is risk. There are plenty of people who are willing to work hard, provided they don’t have to take risks. If you don’t believe me, try this simple experiment. Walk into a company and sit down with a group of employees who are on straight salary. Inform them that you are there to change their compensation so that half of it is determined by their performance as a group. Duck when they throw things at you.

Yes, there are also people who don’t want to work at all. Part of the fun of staffing is separating them from the people who do want to work hard. The point is that there is more to being an entrepreneur than working hard. Entrepreneurs bear business risk.

Capitalism without financial failure is not capitalism at all, but a kind of socialism for the rich.
— James Grant, publisher of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer

Justice occurs under capitalism when the people bearing the risk have the opportunities to make a lot of money. Yes, you can pop open your favorite news feed and find contrary examples to that every day. I would need an entirely separate essay to discuss those. The net is that they are not consistent with capitalism. For example, an entrepreneur might lobby the government to build high barriers to entry around his market, thus reducing his risk. That is not capitalism. The fact that this happens is a public policy problem, not a deficiency in capitalism.

Did you find an instance where the managers of a publicly traded company sold their shares before the disclosing the company was in trouble, leaving the employee stock ownership plan holding the bag? First, do not confuse managers with entrepreneurs. Second, this is problem in corporate governance and public policy, not capitalism.

How to Insult Entrepreneurs

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.  I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service.  That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
— President Barack Obama, 2012.

The person who built a business thinks, Yeah, if somebody else made that happen, why do I have everything I own pledged as security? I am looking at my loan papers; none of my teachers co-signed them. Neither did my employees.

Pseudo-neutral fact checking organizations such as politifact.com have published articles claiming that Obama’s words are taken out of context. It is for this reason that I have quoted two paragraphs, so we can have ample context. Nevertheless, there it is: “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.”

Did he mean that, since business is a social activity, other people participated with you? Well, duh. You certainly can’t grow a business without bringing in more people. There are very few you can even start without the participation of other people. Many of those people work hard. They also get paid every pay period, as required by labor law. They are not taking risks.

A committee is a group of people who keep minutes and waste hours.
— Milton Berle

It is rather well known in business that, when you want something done, you give the responsibility for it to one person. When you want nothing done, you give it to a committee.

But then, some people have interesting ideas of what passes for entrepreneurship:

If you count the best-selling books that have brought Obama millions of dollars in royalties, he also knows something about entrepreneurship.
— Louis Jacobson, politifact.com [https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/aug/29/rob-portman/gop-convention-rob-portman-says-barack-obama-never/]

What was it like getting investors to fund his writing? Did Obama have a business plan? Did he do road shows? How much of his personal wealth did he have to pledge as security? Is Jacobson really that stupid, or does he think we are?

Obama’s comments are insulting to anyone, entrepreneur or not, who pulls together a group of people and makes things happen. Small business people were definitely insulted, and happy to see the back of him and his party in 2016. Here is a chart you won’t typically see in the mainstream media that illustrates how happy they were:

[Source: NFIB Research Foundation: http://www.nfib-sbet.org/indicators/]

That is a 10-point leap in small business confidence, and it has not gone down since. Do they all like the way the new President conducts himself? I doubt it. Are they pleased with the trail of chaos he leaves in his wake? Not likely. But at least he doesn’t dispute the idea that, without the small business founder/owner, there would be no business.

Advertisements

Taking Religion Seriously

leave a comment »

As part of a series of videos from The Atlantic titled “Unpresidented”, Emma Green, who is a staff writer, presents “Why Don’t Democrats Take Religion Seriously.” She analyzes the support given to Donald Trump by Christian voters and recounts the statistics showing the increasing number of Democrats who self-describe as not religious.

Green uses a video clip where Charlie Cook said, in a 2016 interview, that “The Democratic Party has become a secular party.” She illustrates her argument with the famous incident from 2008 where Barack Obama put his foot in it, saying “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them … as a way to explain their frustrations.”

This would work better if Democrat attitudes toward religion were a simple marketing decision, where they could just stop alienating traditionally religious voters. In fact, the issue is more complicated than that.

The people who are in control of the Democratic Party agenda self-identify as Progressives, and I am going to identify them as such. As we shall see, across all the changes from the Progressive Era through the New Deal to the social justice initiatives of today, there is a fundamental thread that connects them.

Green touched on the difference between Progressives and all Democrats when she cited the statistic that about a third of the Democratic grass-roots opposes abortion, but very few of the national leadership does. The national leadership is Progressive, but not all of the Democratic voters are.

Green also identifies Rev. William Barber II as an inheritor of a Christian spiritual tradition that traces back through Martin Luther King (and, indeed, abolitionists such as Garrison and Phillips), advocating a political viewpoint that is informed by Christian teaching and tradition. However, she notes that he is outside the Democratic Party elite.

For though ours is a godless age, it is the very opposite of irreligious.
— Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (1951).

Whether or not they acknowledge it as such, Progressives already have a religion. They do not worship a supernatural deity. They do not endorse a book claiming to contain revealed truth about that deity. They do not believe that someone can miraculously change water into wine. But these are incidental features; the essential ingredient is faith, and Progressives have that in abundance.

By definition, faith is not open to persuasion. It cannot be proven false. If a believer can be talked out of her faith, it can’t have been very deeply rooted to begin with.

We can compare Christianity and Progressivism, thinking theologically about both of them:

Christianity Progressivism
Focus of faith and worship God The People
Creation Is good
Humanity is given dominion as stewards of creation.
Is good
Humanity is nothing special
Sin I put my will before the will of God I put my will before the General Will, the Public Interest
Judgement You get your reward in Heaven We must make matters right here and now
Redemption Acceptance of Jesus as savior Acceptance of the General Will
Is intrusive? No, you have free will Yes, the power of the state must be used to coerce right behavior from the unbelievers
Grace An unmerited gift of God Earned by right thinking
As a believer, you cannot deserve Grace The results of your efforts
Human nature Conflicted: good and evil contend within and for the soul of every person All good; evil is external to the person
“Love and do as you will”
Cardinal virtues Temperance
Prudence
Fortitude
Justice
Tolerance
Compassion
Guilt
Social Justice
Sacraments Baptism
Holy Eucharist
(Roman Catholics have five others)
Environmentalism
Multi-culturalism
Community service
Self-criticism
Prophets from before the common era Moses
Elijah
Isaiah
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Auguste Comte
Karl Marx
Bearers of wisdom in the common era Paul, born Saul of Tarsus
John Chrysostom
Augustine of Hippo
Theodor W. Adorno
John Rawls
Michel Foucault
Salvation is Individual Collective
Eschatology Jesus shall return to judge the living and the dead; his kingdom shall have no end Social progress shall reveal the truth, allowing us to transcend politics; history will end

A sacrament is defined as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Christians obtain sacraments by ritual actions. Progressives obtain sacraments by ritual promotion of beliefs.

Progressives do not believe that five thousand persons can be fed from five loaves and two fishes, but Christians do not believe that the entire world can be fed without honest effort by all persons.

Even though many Progressives have turned their backs on technological progress or economic progress, their faith in social progress is central. They believe that history will prove them out, justifying their beliefs and repudiating those of the people who disagree with them. They like to say that those who disagree with them are “on the wrong side of history.” For this reason, I find they are properly identified as Progressives.

A faith in The People also requires a priestly class to interpret the inexpressible will of The People. Just walking up to actual people and asking them what they want appears to be both unreliable and unsatisfactory. One needs special abilities to discern between the public interest and one’s own special interest, much the same way that not everyone can discern between the Will of God and their own wills.

There are, to be sure, persons who are both Christian and Progressive. They are serving two masters; if they think otherwise, they have another think coming. The People are also a jealous god, demanding that the faithful have no gods outranking The People. The two beliefs of human nature and the two concepts of spiritual authority are wholly incompatible.

In the late 1800s there was the Social Gospel movement. Leaders of this movement called for social redemption of the entire community, giving this priority over redemption of individual believers. As John Taylor summarized it, “The Social Gospel adherents considered it to be their mission to fulfill, in this life, the New Testament’s call to bring about the perfect Kingdom of God.” One Social Gospel leader, Charles Sheldon, introduced the question, “What would Jesus do?”

The problem for the Social Gospelers was that, if the goal is to achieve social salvation on earth, God is at a disadvantage compared to the State. As noted above, God is not intrusive; the State has the means to be very intrusive, marshaling its police power to coerce desired behaviors. Thus, for those whose goal was to be the reform of society along these moral lines, the State was a much surer bet than God. Instead of sitting around praying for change, you can seize power and make people obey. In this way, the Social Gospel served as a gateway ideology, leading many persons to a point where they would switch their faith to The People and the power that sits at the right hand of The People, the State. This is entirely consistent with Comte’s three-stage theory of societal development, and John Dewey is a notable example of a person who followed this path.

The so-called mainline Protestant churches tried to square the circle, to endorse Progressive agenda items while remaining Christian. These churches include the Episcopalians, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA) — distinct from the Presbyterian Church in America and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church — and the United Church of Christ. As Lyman Stone wrote for Vox.com, they “focus more political efforts toward Christian social relief rather than Christian moral teachings.” And they are losing membership, while eyeing with envy the full parking lot at the evangelical church down the road.

So, while Green calls upon Progressives to make peace with those faithful to traditional, deity-centered religions, they really have no room to do so. Progressives have a religion to which they are strongly committed. I argue that Progressives do have moral beliefs, just that those do not sit well alongside Christian moral beliefs. It is unfair to accuse Progressives of not having moral beliefs; they think their beliefs are fully moral. Their ideas of what people deserve, whom ought to be helped in society and on what terms are rooted in their faith. Their beliefs about justice, equity and a good life are informed by their faith every bit as much as the parallel beliefs of Christians and Jews are informed by theirs.

The culture wars are over; they lost, we won. … For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line (“You lost, live with it”) is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.)
— Mark Tushnet, “Abandoning Defensive Crouch Liberal Constitutionalism“. Balkinization, 6 May 2016.

(To be fair to Tushnet, he did recognize at the end of his essay, “Of course all bets are off if Donald Trump becomes President.”)

The normative pull Tushnet cites is the moral basis of his beliefs, founded in his faith and those who believe along with him. The only element of hubris in his argument is his assertion that the issues are already settled (and his history would have you believe we adopted the Morgenthau Plan). I sincerely doubt he would say that he is having a hard time talking about morality. He has a simple moral message: We’re right; they’re wrong. Come to think of it, James Carville wrote a book with that title in 1996.

The foundation in faith is what makes the issue really matter. My disagreement with Green’s analysis is not an idle point of theory — and give her proper credit: her essay is a great starting point. We need to understand the religious nature and righteous characteristics of Progressive faith in order to really understand how much trouble we as a society are in.

I do not want to reduce this discussion to the idea that, If Progressives would just shape up and get with our faith, we wouldn’t have all these problems. That has already been said; meanwhile Progressives are saying similar things about others, including me. There is no room to persuade people. How does one be heard if one says, I know your faith calls you to do A, B and C, but you really need to compromise on B and C to get A? No group of faithful believers has ever been receptive to this kind of message. If you truly believed, would you want to back down and settle for half a loaf because someone is arguing with you? Militant faith demands that you go out and get it all, or die in the attempt. Anything less is moral degeneracy and faithlessness. There are souls out there depending on you.

Sir, let me tell you that which is true, if you do not break them, they will break you; yea, and bring all the guilt of the blood and treasure shed and spent in this kingdom upon your head and shoulders; and frustrate and make void all that work that with so many years’ industry, toil, and pains you have done, and so render you to all rational men in the world as the most contemptiblest generation of silly, low-spirited men in the earth, to be broken and routed by such a despicable contemptible generation of men as they are; and therefore, sir, I tell you again, you are necessitated to break them.
— Oliver Cromwell

This is how you get a holy war, like those that consumed Europe after the Reformation. When Mary I had Protestants burned or John Calvin had Michael Servetus burned, they thought they were following the only moral course of action. The various dissenters were putting their wills before the will of God. They would lead everyone astray if they were allowed to do so. Such behavior cannot stand, especially if we are ever going to get to Jerusalem. You are necessitated to break them.

What we have here is a holy war in the making. At this time, we cannot say how hard is the road ahead. We sense that it will be hard going indeed, and we sensibly fear it. But we cannot turn from it. It is a road we must travel to get to our destination.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
— Abraham Lincoln, “Cooper Union Address”, 1860

On the Other Hand, There’s a Fist

with one comment

(With apologies to Jona Lewie, whose album by this name was part of the 1978 Be Stiff release.)

I watched the State of the Union speech last night. Donald Trump had a respectable outing. Given his track record, it’s only a matter of time before he squanders it with an ill-advised tweet. I think the over-under is about 36 hours.

However, he also demonstrated his vision for the Republican Party. Reading the speech carefully, you can understand how he won the Republican nomination over what has been described as “the GOP’s deepest White House field in a generation.

Michael Goodwin understands this. Writing in the New York Post yesterday, he claims “Donald Trump is teaching Republicans how to fight.

Yes, those responsible for writing this address deserve credit. However, so does Trump. Just like I discussed with Napoleon, the advisers and staff can advise and plan, but someone in an executive role has to sit at the table and act with his own chips. Donald Trump had to have the will to pursue this line, or the speech would have ended in the wastepaper basket.

Laughing Tonight

Last night on the post-game — er, post-speech wrap-up (have you noticed how political coverage and sports coverage have converged?), CNN’s Jake Tapper was critical of Trump for having offended Democrats (the horror!):

What you saw tonight was President Trump, I think, with one hand reaching out his hand to Democrats, and with the other hand holding up a fist. And this is almost the conundrum of Donald Trump. In addition to more Republican positions, such as tax cuts, talking about strong borders, etc., there is in his Trump Republicanism — nationalism, populism, whatever you want to call it — room for Democrats to work with him. He talked about changing trade deals. He talked about lowering the cost of prescription drugs, spending money on infrastructure, paid family leave, prison reform, path to citizenship for dreamers. There is that there. But by the same token, I think President Trump doesn’t quite necessarily understand just how offensive many Democrats in that chamber are going to find some of the things he proposed and some of the things he said, in terms of “there are Americans who are dreamers, too”, etc. … And this really is the mystery of Donald Trump.

Conundrum? Mystery? Are you serious?

The only mystery is why it took Donald Trump to address the Republicans’ inability to stand up for their beliefs and push back effectively. Goodwin summarized it perfectly: “After all, that’s what Republicans usually do — soften their tone and, badgered by a liberal Washington press corps, give in to big government ideas.” It is why the electorate was fed up, why they started talking about “cuckservatives“, why they were ready to take a chance on Donald Trump.

Republicans are supposed to decline the opportunity to offend Democrats? Let’s review:

You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
— Barack Obama, 2008

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
— Barack Obama, 2012

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.
— Hillary Clinton 2016

How does it feel to be flipped off? Democrats appear to believe they can say anything they want to, because they’re the caring people. They mean well, so any kind of sanctimonious attitude is to be given a pass.

[Oh, by the way, Government research did create the Internet, but there was no intention of creating it as a means by which the commercial sector could make money. The government exposed the Internet to the public, and people in commercial enterprises promptly figured out how to use it to make money. That’s what we do.]

Feeling Stupid

The Democrats and their sympathetic friends in the press are masters at showing the human costs of the problems they are trying to solve. I can’t fault them for that; that’s good messaging. Conservatives have typically been horrible at humanizing their ideas, preferring to present dry, abstract arguments that do not reach ordinary people effectively.

So when Trump presents the human costs of letting the MS-13 gang into this country, he is taking a page out of the Democratic playbook. Democrats don’t have a patent on this approach. Van Jones was lame when he accused Trump of a “smear” on dreamers:

What he said about those young people, he implied — and he did it deliberately — that Dreamers are gang members

This is the standard Democrat response: anything other than full rollover is morally unjustifiable. Jones inferred that Trump was saying that dreamers are gang members, but it was an unwarranted inference. You can make the inference, if you want to, but you can’t lay it at Trump’s doorstep. Trump specifically addressed the dreamers:

Here are the four pillars of our plan: The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age. That covers almost three times more people than the previous administration covered.

At the same time, Trump promoted his program for border security. Republicans have historically shied away from taking on these issues, whether because they didn’t know how or they were afraid they would get it wrong.

I would have liked to see some discussion of how our drug policies have enabled cartels, destabilized Mexico and created further incentives for Latin Americans to try to get into this country by any means possible. Nevertheless, I recognize that Trump is not going to follow that line. Instead, he is going to assert the need for border security and immigration restriction. And, to his credit, he effectively humanized the costs of not doing so.

I’ll Get by in Pittsburgh

Also in the Post, Salena Zito profiled the experience of one exurban Pittsburgh family watching the State of the Union address.

The children in the family noticed how Democrats on the floor sat through the speech in stony, unresponsive silence. Their fourteen-year-old daughter mused, “I just wonder if they thought this through past their politics, on many of these things all of America is applauding while they are sitting.”

These are people who do really want to take care of people who, they feel, deserve to be taken care of (I’m married to such a person). They don’t want to deport people who were brought here as children, and know no other country. But they also want laws enforced and borders secured.

When Democrats get righteous, when they start equating objections to their policies with racism, when they paint themselves as the caring people but are selective in their choices of people about whom to care, these people want Republicans to stand up, push back and, without apology, represent their concepts of equity and justice.

At this point, it looks like Donald Trump is the only person who has any idea how to do that.

Written by srojak

January 31, 2018 at 10:14 pm

Not Following the Logic

leave a comment »

The whole flap over pro football players kneeling during the national anthem has gone to a new level this week. Let’s sort it out.

Thumbing Your Nose

Kneeling during the national anthem is thumbing your nose at the entire country. It is a posture, an affectation. People who do it are poseurs. Where else could they go to make this kind of money doing what they do?

A football player does not get to tell us how to interpret his disrespect to the nation. Yes, I am talking to you, Richard Sherman. Kneeling during the national anthem is an act of disrespect to the entire country, including most of us who have no influence over how the criminal justice system treats black people in the inner city. Sherman is too intelligent not to know that.

Having a Complaint

Do black people have a complaint regarding the way they are treated by the criminal justice system? Hell, yes. Many people, not just black people, have a legitimate beef. The shenanigans in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, should offend every voter in this country. Municipalities and counties using law enforcement as a revenue center should offend every voter in this country.

The number of persons under correctional supervision (in prison, on probation or on parole) is appalling. According to a 2012 article by Adam Gopnik, there were more black men under correctional supervision at that time than there were in slavery in 1850; the total population of America that is under correctional supervision was over six million and growing. Contrary to popular lore, many of the people in prison are there for drug offenses or offenses against “public order”. Since black people are in prison at a disproportionately higher rate than Americans in general, yes, there is a genuine issue.

Taking Action

So what should a politically aware black football player do? How about taking some of that large NFL salary and putting it to work in community action? How about sponsoring court appeals on behalf of people who are being exploited by municipalities? Put your money where your mouth is.

White House Invitations

Back in 2011, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup and were invited to the White House. Goalie Tim Thomas declined the invitation. This writer maintained that Tim Thomas had no business declining the invitation.  I disagree. Similarly, Stephon Curry has every right to decline an invitation to the White House, given that he disagrees with the politics of the President.

The President is the Chief Executive, the Head of State and a high profile political figure. If a person disagrees vehemently with the political viewpoint of the President, by all means, do not accept his invitation to the White House.

Donald Trump’s Statements

Yes, Donald Trump made inflammatory and provocative statements on this subject. In other news, Lindy made it!

Really, who reasonably expected that, if this issue made it to Trump’s radar at all, he would make a nuanced, empathetic statement that would uphold respect for the nation as a whole while recognizing the real problems that people have encountered at the hands of governments? Did anyone really think Trump would call for national reflection on the issues that black athletes are raising while asserting that the nation deserves respect even if specific people in positions of authority have abused their power?

And there was every reason to expect Trump to weigh in on this issue. It is red meat to his base, many of whom a) love America and b) watch football. Trump has demonstrated that he has a laser focus on his core constituency, his political “investors”.

Trump’s statements are off the table for purposes of this discussion. There is nothing new here. The themes have not changed at all during the year. There really is not anything else to say.

Donald Trump is my President, in that he was duly elected through the recognized Electoral College process, just like Barack Obama was. Trump does not represent my viewpoint, and I would have wanted a more nuanced response. However, I recognize that Trump doesn’t do nuance. There is no point in flogging this horse anymore. He is what he is, and he is not going to change.

 

Written by srojak

September 24, 2017 at 11:22 pm

US Constitiution 1.1

leave a comment »

In 1979, Theodore Lowi released the second edition of his book The End of Liberalism: The Second Republic of the United States. Lowi teaches at Cornell and would be characterized as a liberal; for example, he advocates government planning. However, he is also a proponent of the rule of law. The evolution of the political processes away from law and representative government toward bargaining and interest-group government began to trouble him by the time he wrote the first edition of the book ten years earlier.

Where contemporaries saw government departure from formalism as pragmatic, Lowi saw it as corrupt. Where reality deviates from formalism, we find arbitrariness, influence-peddling and injustice. He wrote the best defense of political idealism I have seen:

The gap between form and reality gives rise to cynicism, for informality means that some will escape their fate better than others. There has, as a consequence, always been cynicism toward public institutions in the United States, and this, too, is a good thing, since a little cynicism is the parent of healthy sophistication. However, when the informal is elevated to a positive virtue, and when the gap between the formal and the informal grows wider, and when the hard-won access of individuals and groups becomes a share of official authority, cynicism unavoidably curdles into distrust. Legitimacy can be defined as the distance between form and reality. How much spread can a democratic system tolerate and remain both democratic and legitimate?
The End of Liberalism, p. 297.

Although he did not use the term, the mechanisms that Lowi describes are that of corporatism: public-private partnerships in rule-making and governance. Although Lowi did not name it, he described it well enough:

The state grows, but the opportunities for sponsorship and privilege grow proportionately. Power goes up, but in the form of personal plunder rather than public choice. If would not be accurate to evaluate this model as “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor,” because many thousands of low-income persons and groups have provided within the system. The more accurate characterization might be “socialism for the organized, capitalism for the unorganized.”
Ibid, pp. 278-9.

For the second edition, Lowi reverse engineered a new constitution for the government from actual practice, in an attempt to highlight the spread between form and reality.

There ought to be a national presence in every aspect of the lives of American citizens. National power is no longer a necessary evil; it is a positive virtue.

Article I. It is the primary purpose of this national government to provide domestic tranquility by reducing risk. This risk may be physical or it may be fiscal. In order to fulfill this sacred obligation, the national government shall be deemed to have sufficient power to eliminate threats from the environment through regulation, and to eliminate threats from economic uncertainty through insurance.

Article II. The separation of powers to the contrary notwithstanding, the center of this national government is the presidency. Said office is authorized to use any powers, real or imagined, to set our nation to rights by making any rules or regulations the president deems appropriate; the president may subdelegate this authority to any other official or agency. The right to make all such rules and regulations is based upon the assumption in this constitution that the office of the presidency embodies the will of the real majority of the American nation.

Article III. Congress exists, but only as a consensual body. Congress possesses all legislative authority, but should limit itself to the delegation of broad grants of unstructured authority to the president. Congress must take care never to draft a careful and precise statute because this would interfere with the judgment of the president and his professional and full-time administrators.

Article IV. There exists a separate administrative branch composed of persons whose right to govern is based upon two principles: (1) the delegation of power flowing from Congress, and (2) the authority inherent in professional training and promotion through an administrative hierarchy. Congress and the courts may provide for administrative procedures and have the power to review agencies for their observance of these procedures; but in no instance should Congress or the courts attempt to displace the judgment of the administrators with their own.

Article V. The judicial branch is responsible for two functions:
1. To preserve the procedural rights of citizens before all federal courts, state and local courts and administrative agencies, and
2. To apply the Fourteenth Amendment of the 1787 Constitution as a natural-law defense of all substantive and procedural rights.
The appellate courts shall exercise vigorous judicial review of all state and local government and court decisions, but in no instance shall the courts review the constitutionality of Congress’ grants of authority to the president or to the federal administrative agencies.

Article VI. The public interest shall be defined by the satisfaction of the voters in their constituencies. The test of the public interest is re-election.

Article VII. Article VI to the contrary notwithstanding, actual policymaking will not come from voter preferences or congressional enactments but from a process of tripartite bargaining between the specialized administrators, relevant members of Congress and the representatives of self-selected organized interests.

How did he do? How closely did he bring the form of his constitution to matches what actually happens?

Written by srojak

October 15, 2016 at 2:48 pm

For What Office Is Hillary Clinton Running?

leave a comment »

I watched the acceptance speeches of both candidates at their respective conventions. Hillary Clinton’s speech was not as scary as the speech given by The Ego That Ate Cleveland. Still, there were several disturbing themes in her speech that ought to give us pause.

Clinton’s speech laid out a deeply considered program for a priest-king. I though we were electing a President, a chief executive whose function is to execute the will of Congress. There is a substantial separation between the two.

Michael Wolff, writing in The Hollywood Reporter, summarized the speech this way:

Her speech, proper homework for anyone actually paying attention, proposed that the nation elect her because she was a good person, one without a clear point of view other than an eagerness to help: a do-gooder good at do-gooding.

Wolff is right about the homework, so let’s dig in. All quotes are from Clinton’s speech, as rendered by this link from the Los Angeles Times.

Lauren Manning, who stood here with such grace and power, was gravely injured on 9/11. It was the thought of her, and Debbie St. John, and John Dolan and Joe Sweeney, and all the victims and survivors, that kept me working as hard as I could in the Senate on behalf of 9/11 families, and our first responders who got sick from their time at Ground Zero.

In this campaign, I’ve met so many people who motivate me to keep fighting for change. And, with your help, I will carry all of your voices and stories with me to the White House.

I have been back and forth through Article II of the Constitution, and I just can’t find the part that says that the actions of the President should be informed by the thought of various citizens she personally knows who have encountered hardships. What about the people whose hardships are not known to the President? Shall we have National Appeal Day, during which we all present our pleas for executive relief?

At my first full-time software development job, the VP of Development liked people with whom she had a bond and looked out for them. Just coming in, doing your job quietly and going home was the road to ruin. She used such people like tools. The key was to be a person with real needs to her. She could make that work in a shop of about ten people; it is completely unworkable in a nation of 300+ million. Yet I thought of this model of executive behavior often while listening to Clinton speak.

My primary mission as President will be to create more opportunity and more good jobs with rising wages right here in the United States… From my first day in office to my last! Especially in places that for too long have been left out and left behind.

In my first 100 days, we will work with both parties to pass the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II.  Jobs in manufacturing, clean energy, technology and innovation, small business, and infrastructure.

Since government is not a wealth-producing entity, what devices would be available to Clinton to create jobs? What are they going to be manufacturing and innovating?

Nevertheless, her ability to spend the money is going to be sharply circumscribed. She still wants affordable health care for everybody. And, to top it off:

If you believe we should expand Social Security and protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions… join us.

We’re not just going to protect Social Security; we’re going to expand it. Call and raise! So after all those entitlement sweets are handed out, there won’t be any room for stimulus spending.

Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all! We will also liberate millions of people who already have student debt.

So the people who are never going to go to college and whose kids are never going to go to college are going to pay more for other people’s kids to go to college? Yeah, that will be a hit with the Trumpkins.

Why do we have an education system that fails to prepare kids to be effective economic participants by the time they graduate high school? Can’t much of the undergraduate program, particularly core course materials, be moved up and taught in high school?

Come to think of it, why do we have citizens graduating high school and knowing so little about the Constitution that they don’t understand the roles of the President and Congress? I don’t believe this is what Jefferson had in mind. I am damn sure it is not what John Adams had in mind.

Why do we have kids graduating high school thinking that we can vote ourselves rich?

It’s just not right that Donald Trump can ignore his debts, but students and families can’t refinance theirs.

She has a point there.

And here’s something we don’t say often enough: College is crucial, but a four-year degree should not be the only path to a good job. We’re going to help more people learn a skill or practice a trade and make a good living doing it.

That sounds like a great idea. If she is elected President, what means does she have available to accomplish that?

In the mid-90s, the Chicago Tribune ran a series of articles about families where one of the kids wanted to learn a trade instead of going to college. There was a lot of back-and-forth discussion about the relative merits of going to college vs. learning a trade. However, to me the most important finding of the series was this: Not one family who was interviewed would allow their last names to be used in the article. So whatever came out of people’s mouths about the advantages of going into a skilled trade, it was a sufficient source of shame to the families that they didn’t want their names attached to it.

How would Hillary Clinton cause millions of Americans to reverse their attitudes? What levers would she have available to her to raise the perceived social standing of people in trades up to the level of, say, entry-level white-collar workers? Would she declare them statutorily exempt by executive order, and therefore free from having to punch a clock? If she did, what would happen to overtime for those who are presently qualifying for it?

There are an awful lot of teachers hanging around the Democratic Party. Could Clinton convince them to treat the parents in trades with the same respect as the white-collar, university educated parents? Would she even try?

I will be a President for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. For the struggling, the striving and the successful. For those who vote for me and those who don’t. For all Americans.

If she really means this — if these are not just high-sounding empty words — here is the place to start: Understand that what you and your friends think of as justice is what many of us find to be injustice.

When I was in school, I had a classmate, Greg, who was really good at math. The only thing he was good at was math — and physics, which is basically applied math. Our Algebra 2 teacher would not give Greg the 99 he earned because, as she explained it, he didn’t work for it. He didn’t have to, and he still earned it. To the teacher, she was acting out of justice, but to us, it was injustice.

The repackaging of Hillary has been going on for some time. Apparently, we are witnessing the release of Hillary Clinton 5.0. All the Clinton loyalists want to assure us that she is sincere, earnest, well-intentioned, caring, and people-centered. Let’s believe them, because there is no risk in doing so. Believing this about her tells us nothing useful as citizens. Earnest, caring, well-intentioned people also go wrong. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Just like in high school: what happens when the well-intentioned teacher who wants to change the world bumps up against people who just don’t see the world the way she does and don’t see the change she wants to implement as a good thing?

[Clinton’s mother] made sure I learned the words of our Methodist faith: “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.”

Sounds great: God-fearing, moral and well-intentioned. But when you peel back the surface, you find problems. A woman cannot serve two masters: God and the State. We know the State can use its police power to compel people to do what their leaders believe they should want; this has been a driver for progressives since Herbert Croly. There are a lot of themes here that are troublesome when you peel back the smiling surface layer. The slogan “Stronger together,” for example, is disturbingly reminiscent of “Strength through unity,” a core principle of fascism.

Earnest, caring and well-intentioned are great qualifications for a priest-king. A President is not supposed to need them. A President exists to execute the will of Congress and uphold the Constitution.

And in the end, it comes down to what Donald Trump doesn’t get: that America is great – because America is good.

Does Clinton really believe that America is good? It is impossible to square that with her actions and her statements. At all evidence, America needs Hillary or America won’t do right. Without her earnest, well-intentioned hand on the tiller, the country is just going to sink into a swamp of exploitation, ignorance and injustice.

It is that moral purpose that helps her reconcile cutting any corner, because the end justifies the means. We don’t trust Hillary Clinton because she doesn’t trust us. She thinks she knows better than we what we should want for our country and has to get through this excruciating campaigning process somehow so that she can wield executive power and force her vision down our throats.

 

 

 

Written by srojak

August 7, 2016 at 11:10 am