Stuff I Want My Kids to Know #1: There ain’t no Such Thing as a Free Lunch


By Mike Cronin

Have you ever heard the phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” often abbreviated TANSTAAFL?  Well, it doesn’t just refer to meals.  It means that whenever something is advertised as “free,” there’s always a catch or a string attached. “Buy one, get one free” doesn’t really mean you get one free, it means you get two for the price of one, or two for half-price each. It might be a good deal, but you are not getting anything free.

It’s the same deal when you are offered a “free” gift or a “free” upgrade when you purchase goods or services.  You are paying for the thing that’s free in the price of the thing that isn’t.

Sometimes you really do get a good or a service for no money, but it still isn’t really free. “Free” software often comes with adware or malware that will cost you time, money, or in some other way cause you stress. Even if it didn’t cost you money, you are still paying for it in other ways.

Many times, the catch or the string is buried in the “fine print.”  All of the big, bold, splashy fonts and bright colors on an ad are just a lure. The legal facts are in the tiny text buried in the middle of the insert or at the bottom of the ad. The fine print section is like the ingredients portion of a food label – it tells you what’s really in there.

The bottom line is that you can’t get something for nothing except in very rare circumstances. One way or another you have paid, or will pay, for what you receive.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  For example, when you receive a birthday or Christmas present, in a sense, you have already “paid” for it by being a friend worthy of receiving a gift. The trick is to remember TANSTAAFL whenever you are excited about a seemingly good deal.  If it seems to good to be true, it probably is, because you will pay for it one way or another!

Untangling the Illegal Immigration Knot









By Mike Cronin

Let’s wrap our head around the multi-faceted illegal immigration problem.

  1. If you are an elected Democrat, the problem is that there are millions potential voters out there who cannot legally vote for you or your pals. 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.
  2. If you are an elected Republican, 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. If you are a cunning and morally flexible person, exploiting the stream of immigrants headed north is an attractive option.

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

  1. Economics is the driving factor. As long as immigrants perceive things as better here than wherever they are from, they will come here.  Immigration has always been one of America’s strengths. We can’t stop it and we shouldn’t but we need to do a much better job of managing it. Currently, unless one can claim one of the “Three R’s” (Relative, Rich, or Remarkable), it is next to impossible to attain a green card or citizenship. It should be easy for anyone to come here and start a new life…except for those who would do us harm (i.e. real criminals, terrorists, non-producers, etc.), so we need to secure the border. Immigration policy should be positive (you can immigrate here unless…) not negative (you can’t immigrate here unless…).
  2. We need to wind down the rhetorical panic. “Illegal immigrant” is no more a racist term than “speeder” or “shoplifter.” “Illegal immigrant” isn’t a race, it’s a status. “Mexican” isn’t a race, it’s a nationality.  “Latino” isn’t a race, it’s an ethnic identification. Yes, illegal immigrants broke a law. That doesn’t make them hardened criminals.   Also, “Illegal immigrants” can’t “steal” jobs from Americans, because jobs don’t belong to employees, they belong to employers.
  3. Lastly, as with most big-government problems, illegal immigration is an overlapping symptom, (along with unemployment), caused by another problem: Minimum wage laws. More on that can of worms in a future post.


Discrimination: Weasel Word?


By Mike Cronin

Why is it that advertisements for luxury goods often appeal to those with “discriminating tastes,” yet it is widely regarded as wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of their genetic makeup, physical abilities, or group affiliations? How can it be good to discriminate in one instance, but not the other? I submit it is because the word discrimination has two opposing meanings; one of which is weasel-ease. gives four definitions for discrimination.  The first two seem to be almost completely contradictory to each other. The first, i.e. “an act or instance of discriminating, or of making a distinction,” alludes to judgment. It is the meaning that applies in the case of advertisers appealing to the supposed keen discernment of well-heeled consumers.  The second definition, “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit…” is the kind of discrimination that gets folks into legal and moral trouble.

Here’s the rub: a person who takes such action for or against another solely on account of race, creed, gender, etc., is actually indiscriminately applying their prejudices or stereotypes against their victims. They are in fact failing to discriminate based on individual merit. That’s the exact opposite of the primary definition of discrimination, and it is the essence of collectivism. “Discrimination” has entered the weasel lexicon.

Weasel Words: Social Justice


By Mike Cronin

When you hear someone speak of social justice, what comes to mind?  The first time I heard the term, I recall wondering why justice needed a qualifier. Over time, I came to realize that it was simply another corruption of language the weasels have been using to push us towards more collectivism; in this case: it sounds so righteous, but it is really just code for the same old thing collectivists always seek: group “rights” and wealth redistribution.

To their way of thinking, it is unjust for a few to accumulate substantially more wealth than others, or for there to be a large difference in incomes and holdings between the wealthiest and the poorest members of society. The supposed goal of social justice is a community wherein there is at least rough parity in the economic outcomes for everyone. The goal is to be obtained regardless of whether there might be a huge disparity in the productive inputs between everyone, and in ignorance of the economic concept that it is possible to create wealth vice distribute it. More broadly, but in the same vein, the term social justice is also used when collectivists seek “rights” for groups that do not exist for the individual.

Here are some of the problems with the concept:

1.            When opponents argue that the term social justice means equal outcomes without equal inputs, proponents argue that they don’t mean absolutely strict equality…but they fail to identify just what an acceptable range of differences might be, and they blank out discussion of input entirely – as if it were axiomatic that all input effort is equal.

2.            Proponents of social justice have no recourse but to use the coercive power of government to obtain “equality of outcomes.” In other words, to tax the incomes and/or confiscate the wealth of those who have been the most industrious, in order to give it to those who have been less industrious.  This deters productivity and rewards mediocrity – where is the justice in that?

3.            Polish political commentator Janusz Korwin-Mikke (a.k.a. JKM) opines: “Either ‘social justice’ has the same meaning as ‘justice’ – or not. If so – why use the additional word ‘social?’ … if ‘social justice’ means something different from ‘justice’ – then ‘something different from justice’ is by definition ‘injustice.'”

4.            Valid rights are negative in nature. That means they require no positive action on the part of others, merely that one restrain oneself from violating another’s rights.  The group “rights” social justice proponents argue for are really privileges, obtained at the expense of others. Two examples: If one has a “right” to housing (as opposed to the right to attempt to buy or rent shelter through mutual agreement with an owner or landlord), then one has a “right” to the time, materials, and labor of construction workers, tradesmen, planners, landscapers, and other human beings involved in the production and marketing of the house. If one has a “right” to health care (as opposed to the right to seek out health care from a willing provider in exchange for some mutually agreed upon value), then one has the “right” to the time, effort, skill, and materials of doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmaceutical producers, and all of the other people engaged in the provision of one’s care.

How awesome for you if you’re getting some of that social justice the politicians have been promising! How cool is it that now you have such rights! But how long will it be until no one will design new technology, or build a factory, or rent a house, or grow crops, or slog through years of medical school anymore?  Ever wonder why there is a shortage of engineers and doctors, and an overabundance of lawyers in this country? Where will you get your social justice when such people extract their own form of justice from society?

Elevating “Minority Rights” over Individual Rights Yields Chaos


By Mike Cronin

Free market advocate Richard Maybury often mentions the two “laws” of human civilization: Do all that you have agreed to do; and do not encroach on others or their property. According to him, every place that has based their justice systems on these two fundamental principles (wittingly or not) have been relatively more prosperous and free than the places that have not adopted them. Maybury even coined a term for the places where these two principles hold no sway: Chaostan. It comprises, roughly: The Balkans, most of Eastern Europe, Russia and the rest of Asia (minus Japan), North Africa, and the Middle East.

The current troubles in Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan are the most recent manifestations of the chaos endemic in that region.  As long as, and to the degree that, the two laws of civilization hold no influence in that part of the world, it will remain conflicted and embattled. We should take note as our own government takes ever more liberties with its own laws (as if governments do not have to obey the same laws as individuals) and leaves us with less freedom, less order, and increasing chaos.

Two recent examples of chaos encroaching:

  1. The Ninth Circuit Court’s arbitrary ruling in California that in effect promotes Mexican culture and the “rights” of a group (Cinco de Mayo celebrants) over American culture and the rights of individuals (see my post from March 2nd).
  2. The recent cases in Colorado and Arizona that in effect promote minority rights over the rights of individuals – as if they were different. In this set of cases, the state governments have created a “right” for homosexuals to not be refused service by business owners. In other words, in Colorado and Arizona, the government is compelling business owners to conduct business that may be potentially offensive to them (providing goods or services to same-sex weddings) in order to not offend the homosexual constituency. In both cases, authorities have:

-Failed to recognize individual rights. One group does not accrue special privileges over another simply because they have lacked special privileges in the past, or because they are a minority. (If we stop and ask “what is the smallest minority?”  The answer: the individual.)

-Failed to apply the basics of the two laws: in the California case, it is no infringement, or encroachment, on the rights of the Cinco de Mayo celebrants for other student to wear patriotic American clothing, nor should it be considered an infringement for those wearing patriotic Americana to have to tolerate the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. In other words, such displays of cultural enthusiasm ought to be protected as free expression, with the realization by the celebrants that doing so does not grant a right to be protected from competing cultural enthusiasm in a public forum. In the Colorado and Arizona instances, there is no violation of individual rights if the owner of a private business refuses to do business, (i.e., declines to associate) with anyone for any reason, though it may indeed be discriminatory, bigoted, and economically unwise.

No one has the right to not be offended, but our governments are trying very hard to make it a crime to offend…some people some times.

When the government encroaches on others by telling them how they can or cannot express themselves, or compels them to conduct business that offends them, it is making a mockery of the concepts of free expression and free association and displacing the concept of the rule of law with the chaos of rule by influence and pressure.

Weasel Words: Crony Capitalism


By Mike Cronin

No doubt you’ve heard the term “crony capitalism.” It’s a “weasel word.” Weasel words are terms or phrases that are used to steer your thoughts or beliefs away from the hard truth.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, both of the dominant political philosophies in American discourse today, liberalism and conservatism (each weasel words in their own right, to discuss in separate posts!) tend towards the collectivist end of the political spectrum vice the individualist side. Neither school wants fully unchecked free market capitalism. The liberal school believes capitalism is exploitative, but it knows that without a productive economy that is at least semi-free, there will be no wealth to “redistribute.” The “establishment” branch of the conservative school professes to hold capitalism in high regard, but has never given up political power by totally de-regulating our economy and giving us a truly free market, despite having had occasional chances to do so. (The “Tea Party” branch of conservatism espouses capitalism and free market economics, but it has yet to achieve enough power in Washington to affect any changes to our mixed-economy system.)

Hence, members of both camps use the term crony capitalism in place of the term “corporatism” as a way to attach a negative connotation to pure capitalism. Corporatism is the result of industries, large corporations, unions, and other pressure groups essentially “buying” the laws and taxes and tariffs they want in order to change the game against their competitors. The competitive principles of bringing the best product to the buyer at the best price are replaced by using the coercive power of government to penalize or prevent the activities of newer, smaller or foreign businesses, or to rake in subsidy and bailout money.

Capitalism, and the free market, is the politico-economic system that develops as a natural result of government that recognizes and protects individual rights and liberty. It rewards achievement and is free from governmental coercion. We have never had a fully free and unfettered market in the US, yet our greatest periods of economic growth and prosperity have occurred during the times when our market was freest and our government was most constrained. China has risen to become the world’s second largest economy over the last 30 years because it shed many aspects of communist central economic planning and adopted some free market reforms. If China ever allowed its 1.4 billion people the same amount of political and economic freedom as we have enjoyed from time-to-time in this country, it would easily eclipse the US as an economic power. In essence, China’s rise is commensurate with the degree it has adopted free-market economic principles, and the decline of the US is commensurate with the degree corporate and other pressure groups, via government coercion, have shackled our economy.

7 Reasons People use Coded Language


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By Mike Cronin 

Have you ever wondered why lawyers and doctors use a lot of Latin and Greek terminology? Or why the military and police are so fond of acronyms? Lingo, jargon and ___-speak are everywhere. Here are seven reasons people use coded language:

1.            Exclusivity or elitism. If you are a member of a profession, or a trade, or a group, learning and using the lingo is part of the culture. Outsiders will sound clueless if they try to use your lingo and fail; you get a measure of validation as a member when you know how to talk the talk. Academics are guilty of this. Have you ever tried to decipher the impenetrable prose of a college course description?  Consider this satirical gem: “Math 420: Numerical Methods & Queuing Theory. Students learn to quantitatively assess aggregated items, compare their magnitudes to an arbitrary constant, and enter an appropriate queuing schema accordingly.”  Translation: Count your grocery items and get in the correct checkout line!  (Credit to the Washington Post Style Invitational, Week 630, Oct 2, 2005)

2.            To (try to) impress. Some people might think they sound very knowledgeable or smart when they toss around multi-syllabic words like paraphernalia (gear or equipment) or acronyms like VB-IED. After all, why would anyone use a simple term like “car bomb,” when they could bloviate by using a mouthful like “vehicle-borne improvised explosive device?” Having a large vocabulary may be a sign of intelligence and education, but “brevity is the soul of wit.” (William Shakespeare). Trying to force or fake a large vocabulary can easily backfire. I once had someone walk into my office rubbing the lymph nodes under his chin. As he was doing this, he told me in all seriousness that his gonads hurt.  My stomach hurt after that episode.

3.            To “talk around” a subject, that is, to have a “secret” conversation while in the company of others. Parents do this around their kids – think “B.R.” (Baskin-Robbins), “Golden Arches” (McDonald’s), or “T.R.U.” (Toys R Us). Kids figure it out sooner than their parents think!

4.            To shorten a conversation, such as on a busy radio network, in order to convey the maximum amount of information while taking up the least amount of air time. The military, police, and pilots do this with their “pro words,” “brevity codes,” and clipped speech. Of course, cell phone texters are the all-time champions at abbreviating words (if not necessarily conversations), IMO.

5.            To perpetuate a mystique. Lawyers are especially guilty of this. “Legalese” can be complicated. Sometimes that’s for a very good reason: precision. I know that if I ever get charged with a crime I didn’t commit, I’d want a lawyer who could pick apart every nuance and technicality in the statute in order to get me off the hook. On the other hand, the statute was written by other lawyers in the first place!  Sometimes legalese is there for a very lucrative (to the legal profession) reason: To reinforce the idea that you need to pay an attorney a lot of money to read and write the proper legalese. “…having lawyers write the laws is like having doctors create diseases.” — Matt Beauchamp

6.            To fool you. Contractors and service providers may try to pull the wool over your eyes by diagnosing your home or car or appliance with complicated-sounding but bogus problems. If you have a mechanic tell you your car needs new muffler belts, or the halogen needs to be replaced in the light bulbs, you’re being scammed. Here’s an example of such techno-babble. In this video, the “spokesperson” (actor) is extolling the virtues of the “retro-encabulator.” As you watch, keep in mind that every device or feature he mentions is made-up. It’s all 100% hornswoggle. In this case, the video is meant as hilarious entertainment for an audience of engineers or other technical types; shown perhaps to lighten the mood at a conference. The script has been around in various forms for decades.  If the computer repairman tells you your machine is failing its “capacitive duractance” test, will you be able to detect the male bovine excrement?

7.            To obscure meaning.  Closely related to ‘talking around.” Euphemisms are the hallmark of this. When someone dies, we might try to soften the blow by saying they “passed away.” The military or CIA might say a target has been “neutralized” to soften a hard reality: people were killed.