WHO CARES?

By Mike Cronin

As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, politicians only “care” about your issues after they have taken care of their own goal: to get (or stay) elected.

The mainstream media cares about 1. Getting ratings, and 2. Trying to tell you what your issues are, so that they can make a crisis out of them in order to 3. Get ratings.

Back to politicians. Guess how politicians figure out what to campaign on? Polls, certainly, but also by watching the news to figure out what the big issues are. Who else uses polls?  That’s right, the media.

Hmmm. The politicians who care about getting votes leverage mass media. Mass media cares about getting ratings, so they leverage and influence political discourse in order to “sex thigs up.” What we have here is a “self-licking ice cream cone.” The missing ingredient? Your interests. Who cares? Not your elected officials, and not the news media.

As a college professor once mentioned to me, any organization that reaches a certain critical mass will begin to behave like an organism.  The first goal of an organism is to survive; the second is to reproduce. Thus, governments at almost any level don’t care about you, they care about expanding. If they can do that by seeming to care about you, that is what they will do. If they grow by steamrolling you, then they will do that. Often, government manages to both at the same time. Who cares?  Not the government.

big corporations behave like organisms, too. They are different from governments in that they must make a profit to prosper and grow, and they cannot do that by killing or alienating their customers – so they take care not to purposely end you – but they are not so caring as to be above hooking you on their products (cigarettes, alcohol, medicine, sugary and fatty processed foods, etc.), and they have big PR machines to show how they (pretend) to care about virtuous causes.  Who cares?  Not big corporations.

College and universities care about bringing in the revenue, and they’ve found the easy button. Every year they raise prices, and every year the uncaring government (led by the uncaring politicians who are watching the uncaring media) obliges them by increasing the amount of money it gives, or loans, to students (or their parents), who then fork it over. Meanwhile, outside of the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), the knowledge, skills, and abilities of graduates continues to decline in value to the employers who might hire them. Who cares?  Not Academia.

We can keep going, but the answer to the question should be becoming apparent. The universe doesn’t care about you. The world doesn’t care about you. Government and politicians and corporations and the media and academia don’t care about you.  Only individuals care about you, or can care about you.

Why should you care?

Because much of the political ideologies popular today (socialism, communism, fascism, etc.) are geared towards promoting some form of collectivism – subsuming your individuality into a massive, unthinking, uncaring organism where every transaction, or even thought, is either compelled or forbidden.  These are the ideologies of people who would kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

How much better to live in a society where the only forbidden transaction is the involuntary one? Where the competitive-cooperative nature of individuals can flourish, and where the more aggressive aspects of some can be channeled into more productive directions?  That is the essence of capitalism – it is the ideology of traders, i.e. it is the philosophy of people who care – about themselves certainly, but also about breeding the geese that lay golden eggs!

The Gouge on Price Gouging

By Mike Cronin

In military slang, the word gouge can mean information or intelligence. For example: One person tells another a trick or hack for getting a task done quicker. The second person might say “thanks for the gouge.”

On the other hand, people are very much not thankful for what they perceive to be the price gouging happening in Houston and the rest of the Hurricane Harvey impact zone.  Loosely defined, price gouging is when a vendor radically raises their prices, as often occurs in and near disaster zones. Potential customers believe such vendors to be vultures, capitalizing on the misery of others.

But is that what is really going on?

In a recent Facebook post, A group called  “Educate the People” shared pictures of a convenience store billboard showing gas prices over $8.00 per gallon, and a case of bottled water going for nearly $45.00.  The caption beloe the pictures read “Heartless Capitalist Texas Store Owners.”

“Educate the Public” indeed! It’s not heartless. If millions of people are trying to “get out of Dodge,”(or stockpile at the last minute) because a disaster is imminent or in-progress, then supply trucks aren’t going into Dodge. When that happens, the things we normally take for granted are suddenly in much more demand, soon to be much scarcer, and thus suddenly much more valuable. When the demand for something skyrockets, but the supply is shrinking, the price must skyrocket as well. It sucks if you want to buy the thing that has quadrupled in price (so you have some to spare), but if you genuinely need it for survival, there just might still be some available because the people who merely wanted it weren’t willing to fork over the cash. It may seem like the store owner is profiteering, but consider: The store is still open and doing business when everyone else is trying to flee or hole-up!

If the store owner left his prices at the normal level (or was forced by the government to do so), he’d be out of stock in hours – or even minutes, with no routine resupply on the calendar. What is he, or his customers most in need, to do then?

The purveyors of “Educate the Public” should consider taking some remedial economics lessons instead of pandering to a generation of Americans who are being taught that they are entitled to something just because they think they need it.

To save them some time, here are the applicable points:

Price, cost, and value are not the same thing; however, in a functional system of mutual trade to mutual benefit, they are closely related. If the thing is becoming scarcer because the gap between supply and demand is increasing, the price will go up as a message to the consumer that the scarcity of the thing has increased.

When some force, usually in the form of government, compels a vendor to ration items, or to limit prices, the system is no longer about mutual exchange to mutual benefit. It has become dysfunctional, shredding the relationship between price, cost, and value. The price of an item no longer communicates the scarcity to the consumer. This increases the risk that hoarders and black-marketeers will buy up all the stock in a short amount of time, leaving the shelves bare, and leaving people in crisis with far fewer options. This will in turn lead to more desperation and lawlessness, not less.

In short: price gouging is not evil, though radically increased prices may shock and offend our sensibilities during a crisis, lulled as we are by generations of living in the stability of the largest economy in the world. On the other hand, anti-price gouging and rationing laws just might be evil, because they create more harm than they cure – by causing or exacerbating  shortages in the guise of mollifying the unthinking and easily offended.

FREEDOM FROM FREEDOM

By Mike Cronin

Today we celebrate our nations’ birthday, codified by the Declaration of Independence.  It is one of the watershed documents of human history – not for its eloquence (though it is wonderfully written), but for what it accomplishes. In modern parlance, it is the “vision statement” of a new country (the preamble of the Constitution is the “mission statement,” while the body and the Bill of Rights are the “operating manual”) – one founded on the concept that the purpose of government is to protect the individual rights of the citizens – and not much else.

The kind of freedom espoused in the Declaration does not come freely.  An individual free from government oppression must by definition also be “free” from dependence on government – he or she must be self-reliant.  He or she must produce what they need to survive, either directly, through the hard physical work of living off the land, or indirectly, by doing the hard physical or mental work of producing something worthy of exchanging for the food, water, shelter, clothes, and other goods and services one needs to survive.  Under this vision of freedom, survival is the basic underlying motivation for producing: either you make your own shelter and grow/kill your own food, or you make something to sell to others, or work for someone else in exchange for money so you can buy those things, or you don’t eat and don’t have a roof over your head!

Basic survival is the foundational motivation, but it is not the only one.  Since any surplus produced belongs to the producer who created it, it can be saved for a rainy day, or exchanged for something else – a luxury, perhaps, or something that will make the future effort of producing “a living” go a little easier, i.e. an investment. In this manner, the “rugged individualists” are producers of wealth.  They have no expectation that anything will be given to them, and they demand that nothing be taken from them – but they trade value for value amongst each other. All economic exchanges are conducted voluntarily to mutual benefit. This is how wealth can be created.  It is the essence of Capitalism.

Critics either cannot or will not see this creation of wealth, this “enlargement of the pie.”  To those folks, the “pie” is finite. There is only so much wealth, and if someone has more if than another, they must have stolen the excess, or received it unfairly.  The “pie” (wealth) is distributed, not produced!  They also argue that no one, not even the “rugged individualist,” can go it alone, that each of us must depend on the benevolence of others, or of the state (i.e. the same thing) – under the threat of force, if necessary.  They use that formulation to argue for and justify all manner of violations of our rights by the government (that is supposed to defend those rights), and then point to the artifacts of those intrusions (roads and railways and schools are favorite examples) as proof of their assertions – as if those things have not been and could not be made by private parties.  This is the essence of all forms of Collectivism.

To make it work, they have to cram the word freedom through the Orwellian doublespeak machine. What comes out the other end is all but unrecognizable. To this crowd, freedom means the absence of want or need or responsibility for one’s choices. Since they “can’t” handle the requirements of individualism, they must first hook as many people as possible onto the drug of state dependency, and then they must vilify and penalize those who insist on being individualists.  Therefore, you must want government regulation and government assistance for everything, right? It’s what’s best for you.  Surely, then, you‘ll understand and appreciate the tax man taking 40-50% or more of everything you produce, right? And when that doesn’t cover the costs of all the “benefits” and “entitlements” the government is “bestowing” upon your neighbor, you’ll understand when the bureaucrats will take even more of your wealth by manipulating the value of the currency, right? (Oh, wait, they forgot to teach that part at the government –run schools they “bestowed” upon you.) Thus, the 1800 square foot house your parent’s bought in the Denver area in the 1960’s for $18,000 goes for $350,000 to $400,000 today. The value of the house might have gone up – it might have even doubled or tripled, based on the popularity of the city and the neighborhood, but it didn’t go up 22 times. Rather the dollar has been devalued that much or more over 50 years – and salaries haven’t kept up.  An $18,000 house was an affordable investment for an engineer with ~3 years’ experience, making a $7K or $8K annual salary in the sixties.  How does the salary of an engineer with ~3 years’ experience compare now, relative to the house that has “gone up in value” 22 times? The median pay for an electrical engineer in Denver, CO is $76K per year now.  The value of the house “went up” 22 times, but the pay of an engineer only “went up” 10 times during the intervening 50 years. The lag between rising prices and rising salaries is the stolen wealth zone.

The Collectivists don’t want you to look behind the curtain. They don’t want you to realize that their formula requires you to be a producer so that more and more people who won’t produce can ride on your back – until it gives out and you beg for assistance yourself – but at that point there won’t be anyone left to provide assistance, and we will have become Venezuela…or worse.

When you celebrate our independence today, will you be celebrating independence from tyranny, or independence from reality?

BAD MEDICINE: A DEBATE ON QUORA

Mike Cronin (M.C.):

Yes:

  1. Everyone has the right to life, but not at the expense of other’s rights, such as their right to dispose of their time, skills, knowledge, and materials as they see fit.
  2. Socialized medicine, AKA “universal healthcare,” violates those rights by demanding that others must pay for my care (or vice versa), and it violates the rights of providers by coercing them to to give said care to me at government prescribed rates vice market rates, which means: at a loss.

THE 7-INGREDIENT FORMULA FOR A “LUCKY” LIFE

By Mike Cronin

Have you ever noticed that the people who complain the loudest about wealth inequality, or global warming, or racism, or (insert social malady here) always only ever have one solution? To take something away from you. They say you’ve won life’s lottery, so they need you to “give back.” By that, they mean they are going to take your money through taxes. They are usually also trying to take away some of your comfort by banning or restricting something: low-flow shower nozzles, incandescent light bulbs, plastic shopping bags, etc.

They never seem to admit to even the possibility that the single greatest contributing factor to one’s “station” isn’t “luck,” it’s the life choices one makes. They never seem to admit to the possibility that one can improve one’s standard of living over time.

Superstitious people often cite “seven” as a lucky number.  Well, I have a seven-ingredient formula to have a “lucky” life. It doesn’t require anything from anybody to accomplish, only that you are made aware of its existence. The formula is simple to understand, but hard to follow. It’s almost never taught in school:

  1. As early as possible, adopt the attitude that you are responsible for everything you do or fail to do, because once you turn eighteen, that is the way the law sees it, and that’s the way your employer sees it. The people who will allow you to not see things that way, i.e. the people who would encourage you to always play the victim and blame others, are merely trying to get you hooked on a cycle of dependency: your vote for their “assistance” against your purported “victimizers.” It’s a recipe for a life of perpetual resentment.
  2. Graduate from high school. A diploma is better than a GED, which is better than “dropped out.”
  3. Don’t become a single parent. If you cannot or will not abstain, then Males: wrap that rascal. Ladies: pick a birth control method, AND make him wrap his rascal.
  4. “Live on less than you make.” (h/t to Dave Ramsey.) You don’t need to live like you are rich. Fun fact: many, many rich people became rich by not living like they were rich! You don’t need designer clothes, blinged-out or brand-new cars, the latest model cell phone, flat screen, and Blue-Ray, etc. The people who matter don’t give a crap whether you have those things.
    1. Corollary 1: If you think you can afford something because you can “afford” the monthly loan or credit card payments – you can’t afford the thing! (One exception usually applies: a home mortgage). If you are making interest payments on car loans, credit cards, etc., you couldn’t afford those things.
  5. Improve yourself. Never stop learning. Increase your opportunities to advance by increasing your value to the market place – continuously improve your knowledge, skills, and abilities, and/or continuously add new ones to your repertoire. Note that going $100,000 into debt to pay for a degree from a big-name university is not required. Heck, a college degree is not required (though it is highly advisable!). There are ways to get a degree on a budget and stay out of debt. Bottom line: the more you follow item 5, the higher your income will go, and the easier it becomes to follow item 4.
  6. Invest in yourself. “Spend” money on an emergency fund, a retirement plan, and health insurance. Save up to pay cash for big-ticket items. Again: The more you follow items 4 & 5, the easier following item 6 will be.
  7. Don’t become an addict or a criminal. Just don’t.

Not one of the things on the list requires that one have “white privilege,” or that you start out in the 1%, or that you belong (or not belong) to a certain race, or gender, or religion, or that you grow up in a given neighborhood. None of them require a college degree (although that is often helpful!), professional-caliber athletic ability, cover-model good looks, or keen intellect. Most of them do require understanding the concept of delayed gratification: if you practice some discipline now, the reward will be greater later on!

Following the formula is not a guarantee you will have a successful life, nor are you guaranteed to have a crummy life if you don’t follow it…but I estimate that 80% of the people who follow this formula will be better off than 80% or more of the people who don’t.

Some of the things on the list are hard.  I know I only avoided violating number 3 by random chance. Complying with number 4 was touch-and-go for nearly a decade after high school.  But all of the things on the list can be done, and they don’t require anything from anyone besides you (see item number 1).

Another Crack at Illegal Immigration

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Mike Cronin

This is a revision of my post dated November 23, 2014.

President Trump has partially fulfilled one of his most controversial campaign promises.  Earlier this week, he signed an executive order to build a wall along the Mexican border, and his administration floated the idea of a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for the construction.  The mainstream media is predictably up in arms.

While I am encouraged by Mr. Trump’s attention to the illegal immigration issue, I find myself in disagreement that a wall is the right solution – but not for the same reasons as the crowds of critics assailing the president.  I’ll explain in a bit, but let’s untangle the knot a little first:

If you are an elected Democrat, the illegal immigration “problem” is: how to make it legal for illegal immigrants to vote? There are millions potential voters out there who cannot legally participate in national elections. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that simultaneously paint the illegal immigrants as victims who need rescuing and those who see things differently as racists. Then legalize the immigrants (or some portion of them) somehow, and/or prevent the passing of laws that require voters to produce a photo ID proving their eligibility.

If you are in one camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that there are millions of potential Democratic voters out there who might vote illegally or who might become legal voters at the stroke of a pen. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that illegal immigrants are by definition criminals just for being here, and who steal jobs from American citizens, who vote illegally, and who cost us a lot of money in “stolen” benefits and entitlements.

If you are in another camp of Republican lawmakers, the problem of illegal immigration is that you are fearful of alienating constituents of Latino or Hispanic origin, so you go along with Democrats on immigration issues.

If you are in yet a third camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that you receive significant campaign funds from donors who employ illegal immigrants, so you also tend to vote along Democratic lines on immigration.

If you run a manual-labor intensive business that can’t afford to pay the minimum wage, paying an illegal immigrant in cash under the table is an attractive option.

If you are a desperate person from Mexico or an impoverished country to our south, getting to America for the opportunities and freebies is an attractive option.

If you are a cunning and morally flexible person, exploiting the stream of immigrants headed north is an attractive option.

I believe the real problem with illegal immigration is: too much government.  Here’s what I mean:

  1. Our federal and state governments blatantly disregard current immigration law via policies like “Catch and Release,” “sanctuary cities,” and the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” directive (i.e. President Obama’s executive order that established the so-called “Dreamers”). Our federal government maintains at least two federal police agencies (Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol) charged with enforcing those same laws. In so doing, our lawmakers are essentially telling our protectors: “Your written job description says ‘enforce the law,’ but your real job is just to have a job so that I can tell voters I did my job by creating your job.” How dysfunctional is that?
  2. In addition, our current immigration law is too byzantine and restrictive. Currently, it’s fairly easy to visit the US, but unless one can claim to be one of the “Three R’s” (Related to a citizen, Rich, or Remarkable), it is extremely difficult to attain a green card or citizenship.

I think Mr. Trump’s actions show promise for resolving the dysfunctional aspect of immigration enforcement, but a wall is too dystopian, sinister, and unnecessary. Functional enforcement policies and increased presence all along the border will reduce the flood of illegal immigrants to a trickle. On the other hand, the bureaucratic burden to those aspiring to remain here longer than a visa allows still remains to be addressed.

So how do we solve such a multi-faceted problem?  With a multi-pronged strategy that is consistent with limited government:

  1. Enforce existing law
  2. Control the border via increased presence
  3. Update the law to minimize bureaucracy and maximize freedom – by addressing all of the competing interests and reducing or eliminating the motivations that lure our government into violating its own laws:
    • Make it much easier to become a legal “permanent resident” and moderately easier to become a citizen. This benefits immigrants wishing to live and work here permanently, and it would benefit lawmakers in both parties who represent immigrant constituencies.
    • Create a migrant worker visa AND migrant worker wage scale & tax status. This legitimizes hiring migrant workers and paying them less-than-minimum wages. This would benefit migrant workers by making it legal (and safer) to do what they are already doing, and it would benefit industries that can’t be profitable paying the regular minimum wage to unskilled workers. It will be perceived and promoted as a threat to citizen minimum-wage earners…but that is another Gordian knot – which I addressed here.

Three Tips for Filtering the Feed

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By Mike Cronin

Last year I wrote about the war on Christmas. This year the election of Donald Trump has overshadowed the usual brouhaha over nativity scenes at City Hall. So this year I thought I’d go with something a little more practical. The guiding purpose of this blog is to make sense out of the vast array or “manufactured truth” that we are constantly bombarded with. Here are a few tips and tricks to deal with it every day:

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  1. Consume news skeptically: the first thing you need to remember about the news media is that their first concern is to sell advertising. Their second concern is often to reinforce a narrative or advance an ideological or even partisan agenda. Running in third place is actually informing you about the new events of the day. There has been much ado recently about fake news. Given the first and second criteria just outlined, almost all the news is fake to one degree or another. When there is some crisis happening, such as 9/11, and the news “breaks in” to tell us about the event as it’s happening, they haven’t had much time to adapt it to their preferred narrative. In those cases we are usually getting real news, even if some of the details are inaccurate while the debris is still falling or the smoke is still rising. As soon as one of these stories acquires its own theme music, it’s no longer breaking news. At that point you must start taking it with a grain of salt. In reality, the best way to glean something of the truth may be to examine headlines from multiple news sources, to include some foreign outlets such as the Economist, BBC, and perhaps even Al Jazeera or Xinhua.  Even so, while those sources may tell you what’s happening and why, they seldom articulate what it means and what will likely happen because of it. Personally, I like to scan the news headlines, but I also like to read intelligence. One of my favorite sources is StratFor; a private “intelligence” firm that uses the lens of geopolitics to explain the world.

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  1. Geopolitics, as you might have guessed, is not just about geography or politics, but about how geography enables or constrains political and/or economic action between nations and other actors. For example: The United States is largely regarded to have the largest economy and the most powerful military, and we are generally thought of as being the world’s only superpower. But it is not only our military might or our form of government that has led us to this condition. The United States is this way in part because of where it’s at and what it has. The most striking example of this is our river and coastal waterway system. “The Greater Mississippi Basin together with the Intracoastal Waterway has more kilometers of navigable internal waterways than the rest of the world combined. The American Midwest is both overlaid by this waterway and is the world’s largest contiguous piece of farmland. The U.S. Atlantic Coast possesses more major ports than the rest of the Western Hemisphere combined. Two vast oceans insulated the United States from Asian and European powers, deserts separate the United States from Mexico to the south, while lakes and forests separate the population centers in Canada from those in the United States. The United States has capital, food surpluses and physical insulation in excess of every other country in the world by an exceedingly large margin.” (From StratFor’s “The Geopolitics of the United States.”) Give these advantages, it would have been a shock if the US had not become an economic powerhouse! By way of contrast, consider the difficulties faced by a landlocked country. Afghanistan, for example, is estimated to have over $1 trillion worth of natural resources in the form of valuable ores and minerals. Yet owing to the difficulty of getting to and from Afghanistan and navigating within its borders, and the fractured nature of its tribal society, Afghanistan has never realized its economic potential, and is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. Where the United States has abundance of access, Afghanistan has a dearth. Geography has dealt a difficult hand to landlocked countries, but there is at least one way to overcome that difficulty: adopt a Western form of governance that recognizes individual rights and promotes liberty. Switzerland is the epitome of a country that can overcome geographic isolation by staying neutral in the conflicts of its neighbors and giving its people freedom.
  1. Like most, I’ve had geography classes, and classes on US. Government, but I never had a “geopolitics” class per se in my formal education. Our schools are set up to teach material as discreet subjects, but our brains are not set up that way. We learn and make memories by association. Another example might be economics. The word economics conjures up thoughts of central banks, such as the Federal Reserve, changing interest rates and conducting “quantitative easing.” Those elements of economics were among the set popularized by John Maynard Keynes, and “Keynesian Economics holds sway among the vast majority of economists today.  9i7jfxdepbiuxmllhv6wxoykazrjmeynuapn20ngnu0But in a broader sense, economics is the study of human activity. This goes hand in glove with geopolitics, as does history. Come to think of it, so does psychology. What if there was a way of learning economics (and other subjects) in a way that more closely mimics the way the human brain learns? Under such a rubric, there would be far fewer barriers between what we think of as the traditional subjects. Such a field exists.  It’s called “praxeology.” In short, praxeology is the study of volitional human action, and it is a basis for the Austrian school of economic thought.  We can borrow the concept to help us understand the world without trying to become economists ourselves.

Using these three tools (skeptical news consumption, understanding how geography can enable or constrain political and economic action, and removing the artificial barriers between “subjects,” and examining human action holistically), we can better learn to Filter the Feed.