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).

More Comfortable Lies and Painful Truths

By Mike Cronin

Comfortable Lie: Healthcare is a right. The US is the only developed country without universal healthcare. Obamacare reduced the gap. We must close that gap, but the Republican just tried (and failed) to open it back up.

Painful Truth: We have the right to life, but not the right to live at the expense of someone else. We have no more right to use the coercive power of government to take our neighbors’ money than we do to rob our neighbors in person, regardless of whether the loot is to be used to pay for healthcare.  Universal healthcare has been made to sound wonderful by the people who stand to gain the most power by implementing it; and it has been made to sound ghastly by the people who stand to gain the most by not having it. The fact that the US is the only developed country that does not have universal healthcare is irrelevant. We have been the first, or only, country to do, or not do, many things – one of which is to be the first nation established on the principles of individual liberty and freedom – which require individual responsibility and self-reliance. Reliance on the state leads to stagnation and mediocrity and the erosion of liberty and freedom.

Comfortable Lie: “fake news” and “alternative facts” are a recent phenomenon born of the 2016 election and social media.

Painful Truth: All news is fake; some news is useful.  This has been the case since the days of the town crier and before. Events that make the news involve, and/or are witnessed by, people – some of the least effective or reliable data recording and play-back devices known! (Remember the game called “telephone” from grade school?  Line everyone up and whisper a story into the first kid’s ear, then have him whisper it to the second kid, who whispers it to the third, and so on.  By the time the story gets to the last kid, it’s unrecognizable.) Sometime the “fakeness” of the news is due to misconceptions; sometimes it is deliberate, as mentioned in previous posts.  Sometimes the reason for the deliberate fakery seems not worth the effort, as when, in the days long before Photoshop, Life magazine retouched this shot of the infamous 1970 Kent State incident. Were they worried that somehow the public would assume the girl is screaming because a fence post seemed to be growing out of her head (right) in the original, and not because her friend lay dead in the street?

Or: What return on investment did the publishers of TV Guide gain by grafting Oprah Winfrey’s head onto Ann-Margaret’s body?  Did they think a genuine picture of Oprah would not sell as well at the check-out stand?

Comfortable Lie: The “experts” know when to raise interest rates, “inject liquidity,” or otherwise enact some control over the economy.

Painful Truth: An economy is an incredibly complex interaction between independent agents, the items they wish to buy and sell, and the relative scarcity of those items. “The economy” is impossible for even the most brilliant humans to understand at a level sufficient to make effective control decisions.  Invariably, those that try end up making small problems bigger and big problems into disasters. They also manage to steal from us by devaluing the currency we have left after paying taxes.  Consider: The humble candy bar cost a nickel a century ago, now it costs $1.25. The chocolate didn’t become 25 times more valuable in that time; our dollars have lost 75% or more of their buying power!

The Power of “So?”

By Mike Cronin

The 85 Richest People In The World Have As Much Wealth As The 3.5 Billion Poorest

So?  That headline is meant to make us hate the rich and want to see them taxed into submission.  It is meant to create envy and division.  Did those 85 people steal that wealth from the “bottom half,” or did they produce it? If they produced it, it’s theirs.  If they stole it, then prosecute them.  If you want to help the “bottom half” improve their lives, then help them. Appeal to the wealthy for donations all you want, but don’t believe that you can cure poverty by ostensibly playing Robin Hood. He didn’t steal from “the rich” and give to “the poor,” he stole from the government and gave back to the taxpayers!

The Israelis are doing__ against the Palestinians again!

So?  There is a meme circulating that states:  “If the Israelis wanted war, the Palestinians would be wiped out.  If the Palestinians wanted peace, there would be peace.”  It’s not 100% perfectly factual, but there is a high degree of “truthiness” in that statement.

___member of the Trump Administration had contact with Russian diplomats while serving in Congress (or some other governmental or international corporate position) before the election.

So?  That’s what the Russian diplomats are here for!  That’s why we send American diplomats to Russia! It is far better that our leaders have contact with their diplomats than that we stop talking to each other and start rekindling the Cold War in earnest, isn’t it? We’ve already had Vietnam and Korea, and we’ve been stuck in Afghanistan for nearly 16 years.  Syria could easily become the next quagmire if it isn’t already.  Do we really need to increase the likelihood of that happening by not having any dialogue with the Russians?

Sports stars get paid more than military troops and teachers!

So?  Stop paying them! If you think star athletes get paid too much, don’t go to the games, don’t buy the fan merchandise, and don’t pay for sports packages on satellite or cable.  If you think teachers and troops deserve more, write your school board and your congressional delegation and tell them you want to donate more money on top of your paid taxes so they can get a raise. Better yet, gift some money to a teacher or troop of your choice (but less than $10,000, please.  We don’t want to make them pay higher taxes for getting your gift!)

Somebody offended me!

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So? Call the whaaambulance and wait for it in your safe space, ya simpering snowflake!  You have a right to free speech AND you have a right not to listen to the free speech of others. You don’t have right to not be offended.

They gave the Best Picture Oscar to the wrong movie.

So? Does that have any bearing at all on your life?  It’s mildly interesting to watch the antics of celebrities, but we only fuel the worst aspects of their personalities by obsessing over their affairs and faux-pas.  Maybe we need that spectacle to distract us from the real issues, which would be fine if that’s all Hollywood did (i.e. produce distractions). But that’s not all is it?

(Pick any Hollywood celebrity) said (something pontificating or pious about national or international issues)

So? How does a career as a professional pretender confer to anyone the bona-fides to provide a value-added perspective on …anything that matters?

My World View, Pt. 2

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By Mike Cronin

I left off last week by asking, “…how can we overcome the pain of the past without inflicting all new pains now and in the future?”  In my world view, the answer lies in the opposite direction from what most politicians, pontificators, and pundits would have us follow. The answer lies in treating human beings as individuals first and foremost, not as mere units of whatever contrived victim or oppressor collectives the “divide and conquer” crowd has tried to bin us into. In other words, quite often the pathological power seekers in this world seek to divide us in the name of diversity, while the way to a just, peaceful, and united society is by recognizing and protecting individual rights and liberty.

That means tolerating all kinds of behavior and relationships one might find personally distasteful – so long as such behavior violates no one else’s rights.  In my view, there simply should be no government purview to ban any intoxicants a competent adult might chooses to use – but neither should it allow intoxication to mitigate any criminal or negligent act taken while intoxicated.  It also means the government should have no interest in regulating consensual activities between competent adults.  That means there should be no laws against – nor any kind of tax breaks for – any kind of consensual domestic relationships. The only role government should play is in the realm of contract enforcement: Those who choose to register their relationship and codify any such agreements in writing may turn to the government for dispute resolution if necessary.

Of course, that would also mean the tax code would have to be reformed. As well it should be.  There is only one reason for the government to levy taxes:  to pay for the legitimate, Constitutional functions of government. Likewise, there is only one morally acceptable way to apportion taxes: According to how much government one “consumes,” not according to how much income one earns.  Of course, collecting taxes via income confiscation is right out.  A consumption tax, such as The Fair Tax, is the way to go in my book.

Speaking of books, when did the United States of America become a democracy?  According to more than one of the social studies text books my kids have used over the years, the US is just that: a democracy.  That can be taken in two related ways. The first is simply common usage. At some point in the past, the term “democracy” was corrupted from its original meaning to accommodate nearly any government that has adopted some form of constitution, has separation of powers, leaders chosen by elections, and has a more-or-less open market.  The other way to take it is that some of the same corrupt people who want to chivy us into collectives are in charge of the education-industrial complex.  They want to smuggle into our heads the idea that our government operates according to the concept of majority rule (i.e. pure democracy) vs. the rule of law (i.e. as a republic) – with the ultimate goal being to amass enough of a collectivized majority to gain control of all three branches of government at the same time, undo the Constitution, and turn the US into a Venezuela – all the while believing they are making it into a Sweden (or at least, what they imagine Sweden to be like).

Indeed, one such lament we are always hearing from such quarters is that our “public” school system is failing, always accompanied by the clamor for more and more money to fix it. What if our government schools are not failing?  What if they are doing exactly what they are designed to do?  Given the model our school system is based on (Prussia’s) and the sentiments expressed by many of its promoters and pioneers, (e.g. “The role of the schoolmaster is to collect little plastic lumps of human dough from private households and shape them on the social kneading board.” Edward Ross, Sociologist, and “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” –Woodrow Wilson) a strong case can be made that our school system is just fine: It is not designed to produce critical thinkers; it is designed to produce compliant mass consumers, and it does.  When the most pious prophets of the public school systems tell you the system is failing, they mean that it hasn’t yet succeeded in removing all independent thought from the labor and middle-management classes quite yet!

Now don’t go thinking that because I’m critical of government schools that I must be a snob for a snob for parochial schools.  Faith-based private schools, at least of the Catholic variety (of which I have some passing familiarity) may have a better record of producing literate, college-bound graduates than government schools, but they are very comfortable following the Prussian model as well, in some ways to an even greater degree than government schools (case in point: Uniforms and corporal punishment).  It just would not do to give your flock too great a taste of independent thinking, lest they come to question their faith, and ultimately the Church!

Conventional Wisdom?

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By Mike Cronin

A million people can’t be wrong.  Oh, yes they can.  Look no farther than religion. There are dozens, if not hundreds in existence now, and there have been thousands throughout history.  Each believes that all the others are wrong.  They certainly can’t all be right. Don’t go there?  OK, how about: Environmentalists vs. global warming “deniers,” the medical community vs “anti-vaxers,”or “the moon landings were fake” crowd vs NASA?”   Would you believe there are still people who think the earth is flat?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  As an adage for leaving things alone that are working well enough and focusing on genuine problems, this is not bad advice.  However, when it morphs into an attitude it becomes counter-productive.  If humans all held this attitude, we’d still be sleeping in caves, picking lice off our neighbors, and dying of old age or tooth decay in our twenties and thirties.

It’s a free country.  Not as free as it’s supposed to be.  Want to open or run a business?  Get a license, or two, or ten.  Comply with state and local compensation and workmen’s comp laws. Pay estimated taxes every quarter. Want to drill a well or build an addition on your own property?  Do you have the water and mineral rights?  Got a permit? Have you thought about homeschooling your kids?  Again: do you have the right permits?  Are you following the prescribed curriculum? On and on: permits, regulations, licenses, red tape.

The police will protect me.  They don’t have to.  They have to protect society as a whole, not you as an individual. If the police had to protect all of us individually, each of us individuals would have to be a police officer.

Teachers deserve more money. The good ones do. The mediocre ones don’t.  The bad ones should be fired.  Regardless, school districts have no economically compelling reason to pay more.  It’s a simple case of supply and demand.  The overall supply of trained teachers and freshly-minted teaching candidates is roughly double the demand.

Pro athletes don’t deserve million-dollar salaries.  Then stop paying them. Once again, supply and demand is at work.  Professional-caliber athletes are exceedingly rare and highly sought-after, so they command dream-come-true salaries.  If you refuse to buy sports packages on cable, stop buying fan gear, and stop going to games, the teams will lose money and athlete salaries will drop.

We’re fighting a war on __(drugs, poverty, terrorism, obesity, etc…) No, we are not.  Wars are fought against enemies, not chemicals, circumstances, tactics, or conditions.  Generating a “war-fighting” mindset is a tactic used by people who want you to give up some of your freedom in exchange for a little more security – which they can’t really provide.

Not wanting to pay your fair share of taxes is greedy.  1. How much is a “fair share?”  Who gets to decide? 2.  If I am “greedy” solely for wanting to keep what I earn, what word applies to those who think they have even more right to take my money than I have to keep it?

I have a Constitutional right to__.  Nope.  The Constitution protects our rights by establishing a limited government; it does not grant rights.  It seems like a subtle distinction, but it is the thing that made the fledgling United States of America unique in the history of the world:  the first nation established based on the principle of limited, rights-protecting government established in the service of a free people.

Electric cars don’t emit carbon dioxide.  Not directly, but indirectly, the power plant that produced the electricity to charge the car’s batteries most likely did (unless it was nuclear)…and the industrial activity used to mine the ores and smelt the metals to make the batteries themselves sure did.

Recycling is good for the environment. Really? How much energy is saved when you have to produce double the number of plastic bins and operate twice the number of fuel-guzzling, traffic-congesting big trucks to service them? What about the recycling plant itself?

Everyone hates Congress. Then why do Congress members have such high re-election rates over time?  Apparently, we love our own Senators and Representatives and only hate the rest of Congress.

Testing our Constitution

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By Mike Cronin

Today ought to be a national holiday.  229 years ago today, the Constitution was created.  It was ratified and became the highest law of the land two years later in March of 1789.  Contrary to popular opinion, or even popular “fact” taught in many of our schools, the Constitution didn’t give us a democracy, even though it specified certain democratic processes for electing the president and members of Congress and for proposing and enacting legislation.  It gave us a republic – a form of government where the people’s rights were protected by law and could not be voted away at the whim of the majority.  It gave us the first country in the history of mankind founded on the ideal of individual liberty and personal freedom.

The Constitution, and our republic, has been under attack, either literally or rhetorically, ever since.  Some, like Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, would have us believe the Constitution is a “living document,” i.e. open to re-interpretation through whatever cultural lens exists at a given time.  The Framers knew better than that.  They knew America would not be the same in 1887 or 1987 as it was in 1787, so they crafted a mechanism into the Constitution that would allow for it to be changed: via amendments. They deliberately made the amendment process challenging, but not impossible.  It has worked just fine at least 17 times over the last 229 years.  The most recent, the 27th Amendment, was ratified in 1992.  (Yes, there are 27 amendments, but the first ten were enacted simultaneously as the Bill of Rights, hence 17 instances the amendment process has been carried out.)

One of those amendments, the first in fact, is being tested right before our eyes today. There is a public controversy over several NFL players who are refusing to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.  As a veteran, I am in the curious position of both feeling pained and proud.  It pains me to see people disdain the anthem, because so many have fought and died to protect the freedom and liberty the flag stands for. And yet, the very first freedom protected by the Bill of Rights is the freedom of expression.  As much as it galls me to admit it, our country has not always acted in accord with its own highest law.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, for nearly a century after the Constitution was ratified, men could own other men in this country…if they were black. Our history has other examples of its failure to abide by the Constitution and the principles of individual freedom it protects: Confiscatory income taxes. The draft. Excessive bureaucracy and scandalous deficits and debt. Spying on citizens. Obamacare. Failures to hold officials accountable for their transgressions in office. The list is not short.

So when an NFL player refuses to stand for the National Anthem, and no government sanction ensues, I can be proud to witness an instance where the Constitution itself is being honored by the government, even if those who have given everything in its defense are being dishonored.

Of course that works both ways.  Just as those few players have the right not to stand, the fans, the teams, and the league have the right to express their displeasure at the offending players.  It would not pain me at all to see the league fine, or the teams discharge, the players in question!

The Death of Income Taxes

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By  Mike Cronin

Imagine three of your neighbors come to you and tell you that as a group you are all going to vote on raising $10,000 for a playground. You’re don’t have kids, or they are grown and living on their own, so you vote no.  The other three all have kids, so they vote yes…and demand that you pay your “fair” share or they will beat you up.  They also decide that the more money you have, the more you have to pay.  Since you kids have moved out, you have more disposable income than any of them, so your “fair” share turns out to be half of the cost, or $5000, while each of their fair shares turn out to be about 1/6th of the cost, or about $1666 each. The three neighbors enter your house, find your safe, demand you open it, then they take $5000 from you.  They also demand that you assemble paper work that proves you don’t actually owe even more than the $5000, and give it to them by mid-April. You decide that it’s better to pay the $5000 and show proof that you don’t have to pay even more than to get beat up, so you spend several hours digging through your banking documents, and submit your financial “proof” that you paid enough.

The above scenario is a microcosm of how our tax system works today. The majority voted to take the property of the minority and use it to pay for something the minority didn’t ask for and doesn’t need or want. Our current system is confiscatory, that is, your money is confiscated from you. Worse, as your income goes up, so does the percentage the government (i.e. your neighbors) takes from you.

There are few ways you have of influencing the amount that’s taken from you: You can hide money at the risk of getting beat up by your neighbors and having even more money stolen (i.e. income tax evasion); you can make less money so you have to pay less (lowering your income – at the expense of your quality of life); you might find ways to protect some of your money for now in exchange for paying later (like certain retirement plans); and you might try finding different neighbors who will promise (but fail) to steal less of your money (i.e. elect a different set of politicians). Regardless of whatever trick you use to make the taxes a little less painful, you take it for granted that such a parasitical system is a permanent fixture of life.

It wasn’t always like this, and it doesn’t have to stay this way. The modern income tax didn’t become a constant monkey on the backs of Americans until 1913.  Imagine that: from 1776 until 1913, with a few exceptions, our government managed to function without stealing money from us.  It can be that way again.

What if instead of coercing you to pay for a playground (or any other bit of government) you don’t want, your three neighbors find enough like-minded folks to form a corporation, pitch in some seed money to buy or lease land, get the playground built, then they charge a small access fee to use it? No one forces anyone else or intrudes on their financial life. Government involvement is reduced to providing an enforcement tool for the contracts between the playground company and the builders, and providing routine police protection and emergency response. Government stays small, because it isn’t involved in building facilities or providing services that can and should be offered competitively in the private sector.  Your burden is tiny – your sales taxes pay for contract enforcement, emergency response, and the courts.

This method of raising funds for government is called a consumption tax.  You only pay for what you use, and only for how much of it you use. No one steals your money, and you don’t have to prove anything to anyone about your finances.

There have been various proposals for such a system.  The most comprehensive that I’ve seen is called “The Fair Tax.”  You can learn about it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsqjW3_5Lhw

The Fair Tax is not perfect, and it has no shortage of critics.  Most of those critics would lose something if the Fair Tax were enacted.  IRS employees would no longer be required. Tax preparation businesses would become obsolete.  If our tax system wasn’t confiscatory and hideously complicated, there would be no reason for that entire industry to exist. Politicians would lose a lot of power under such a scheme. Regardless, the Fair Tax is a system that does not punish productivity or operate via the threat of force, so it is by default better than what we have now!