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).

Social Justice: Still a Weasel Word

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By Mike Cronin

Some time ago, I wrote about the squishy-ness of the term “Social Justice.” It still rankles.

In addition to this blog, I frequently answer questions on a forum called Quora.  Therein, I recently had a debate with a fellow over “social justice” in general, and whether whites should pay reparations to blacks to atone for slavery/Jim Crow/Segregation specifically.

I’ll state right up front: Reparations are a bad idea, and no, I don’t hate blacks.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I believe in individual liberty, limited, rights-protecting government, and Capitalism.  I am also a bit of a skeptic, mildly contrarian, and I tend to prefer rational responses over emotional ones.  I don’t waste energy on hatred, I don’t see any race as superior or inferior to any other race, and I generally deal with people as individuals vice members of some group. It also means I think of justice and injustice in terms of individual action and consequence.

This brings us back to Reparations.  I can’t support the idea because, regardless of how blacks were oppressed or injured by slavery (or later on Jim Crow laws and Segregation), the people who were slaves have been dead for generations – just as the people who held them as slaves have been dead for generations. Treating blacks as a race of sub-humans then was a morally repugnant act committed by more than a few whites, most especially the relatively few whites who actually owned slaves.  But not every white person was an oppressor then, nor were all slave owners white, nor was every black person a slave.

In my mind, government-sponsored racial discrimination based on benign prejudice is just as noxious as discrimination inspired by malicious prejudice.” – Clarence Thomas

Indeed, social justice warriors seeking to impose reparations on whites always seem to ignore or forget that 360,000 Union soldiers, mostly white by far, died in the service of reuniting the country and limiting the spread of slavery to the west.  The Union Army and Navy killed 260,000 Confederates, again mostly whites, who were trying to keep the South, which was wholly dependent on slavery, independent.  Let’s make that point a little more succinct: Whites trying to reunite the country and limit, if not outright eliminate, slavery fought and killed other whites – by the hundreds of thousands, to do it. Between the end of the butchery of the Civil War and Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil eloquence, most blacks (but not all) were still treated poorly by many whites (but not all). Black incomes and living conditions took an overall upward trend.

Then came the War on Poverty.  Welfare. An insidious form of wealth transfer. Take money from those who earned it, and give it to those who didn’t.  It put many blacks (and others) right back into bondage – into the slavery of perpetual dependence.  Reparations is a smoke screen word to do more of the same.

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During the exchange, I attempted several different ways to make the case that the historical injustice done to the blacks who were slaves and the subsequent victims of post-bellum hatred and discrimination can never be corrected – because the victims and victimizers are long gone.  No one alive today can be responsible for transgressions committed generations in the past – because they weren’t even alive, much less involved, in committing the transgressions.  Thinking that one race is responsible for, and must atone for, the plight of another race is every bit as racist a notion as thinking that one race is superior to another.  It is a large step down the path to perpetual grievance and resentment that plagues much of the rest of the world.

I maintain that “social justice” is a weasel word.  Seeking “social justice” in the form of unjust “wealth transfers” and reparations can never correct the uncorrectable sins of the past.  Real justice can prevail when everyone stops attributing the traits, or actions, or intelligence, or habits, or crimes, etc. of individuals to all the members of a race, or tribe, or nation, or ethnic group, or gender, etc. and starts treating individuals as individuals.

Despite my denunciation of social justice and my espousing of individualism, my interlocutor kept pressing me for details of my plan to bring social justice to blacks today.  We were both using English words, but he was speaking weasel-ese.

 

Random Matter 2

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By Mike Cronin

The tidal wave of angst unleashed by the election of Donald Trump is not wholly explainable by his crudity, political outsider status, media and polling industry failures, hacked emails, possible election tampering, or Hillary Clinton’s campaign style.

For too long, the beltway establishment has been driving this country down a two-lane country road that ends at a cliff: tyranny. When the liberals where at the wheel, the conservatives would call the cliff “socialism” and say the Democrats were racing us towards it, while the liberals would say that conservatives were steering us headlong towards the “fascism” cliff when Republicans had the wheel.

It was always the same cliff.

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Now the liberals are howling that Trump will stomp on the accelerator, and the “Never Trump” branch of the conservative establishment isn’t sure that he won’t do just that.  Nor am I.

What I am more confident of is that for perhaps only a brief moment, by electing Trump, the passengers have made ALL of the drivers slow down and take notice of the impending danger. Even if Trump turns out to be wise at the wheel, we may be in for a period of painful adjustment.

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Have you ever been irritated by Pecksniffian pipsqueaks who take any statement that does not absolutely validate or corroborate what they say and allege it means exactly the opposite?

Pipsqueak: We have to raise the minimum wage for the poor. (Sips his latte.)

Host: But won’t that mean there will be fewer jobs?

Pipsqueak: Hate speech! What do you have against poor people?  Are you a one-percenter? I can’t believe we still have troglodytes like you in this country!

Host:  But I was just-

Pipsqueak: I have to go. My limo is double parked, and I’m late for therapy.

***

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Congress is now considering bills that would make it mandatory for females to register for the draft with Selective Service.  In my opinion, obligatory service of any kind is anathema to freedom.  You cannot protect freedom by taking it away. It is also not very effective to staff a high-tech, professional military with conscripts. It takes an inordinate amount of effort to train, motivate, and discipline people who are potentially there against their will…though it can, and has, been done.

It is far more efficient, effective, and easier to train qualified and self-motivated volunteers.

Wisely, the US stopped the draft in 1973…but unwisely kept the Selective Service, and is now taking a step in the wrong direction, IMO.  Instead of making females register, it should stop requiring anyone to register!

On the other hand, I would be in favor of examining the idea that we stop automatically conferring citizenship by birthright.  The idea that one should have to earn citizenship, with public service being one avenue to that end, has some interesting potential.

Comfortable Lies and Painful Truths

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By Mike Cronin

Comfortable lie: The one-percenters have too much money. They should have to pay their fair share of taxes so the rest of us can have more government benefits.

Painful truth(s): 1.The 99-percenters in the developed world (especially in the US) are the one-percenters compared to the rest of the world. If you have food, (even if it wasn’t prepared by a private chef) a car (even if it’s a used beater), a roof (even if it’s a crappy apartment or trailer), multiple changes of clothes (even if you got them second hand), air conditioning, a microwave, and a flat screen TV (or could have those things if you didn’t blow your money on tattoos, booze, drugs, or lotto tickets) then YOU ARE NOT POOR, even if you are living “below the poverty line.” 2. Regardless of how much money a rich person has, it is their money.  If you elect politicians to take money from the rich via taxation, you are no different than a gangster who hires thugs to rob people at gunpoint (unless it can be proved that a given rich person obtained their wealth via theft, exploitation, or other criminal means – and even in such circumstances, the only people who deserve their “fair share” of that wealth are the direct victims, not the rest of us).

Comfortable lie: Your employer owes you a “living wage” and medical benefits.  People who don’t get those things are being exploited.

Painful truth(s): 1. Your employer owes you what you agreed to work for when you signed on and not a dime more.  2. The idea that your employer OWES you medical coverage is fallacious – unless such coverage was part of the compensation you agreed to before you started working there.  The practice of offering medical insurance became popular as a way to increase compensation to deserving employees during World War II without violating the government-imposed wage freezes of the time.  3. You OWE IT TO YOURSELF to increase your knowledge, skills, and abilities in order to increase your worth to your current employer (in order to merit raises and promotions) or to progress up the career ladder at subsequent employment – if you want to increase your income, increase your value.   4. You OWE IT TO YOURSELF not to start, or increase the size of, your family while you are working low-wage/low-benefit jobs. 5. If the pay in your chosen field is generally lower than you might like, it’s probably because there is no shortage of people waiting in line that can take your place. If people with similar skills sets to your own aren’t scarce, there is no need for employers to offer higher compensation. Again – if you want to increase your income, increase your value.

Comfortable lie: We have a right to life, liberty, and happiness. The government must take care of all of our needs from birth to death.

Painful truth: You have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The government is supposed to protect those rights by not allowing others to interfere with you, so long as you don’t interfere with others.  The government cannot “take care of” everyone without violating those very same rights.  Consider: if the government MUST provide your health care, then it MUST force doctors and other medical professionals to deliver that care. In so doing it has violated the medico’s right to life and liberty and pursuit of happiness (because the government has directed, under threat of penalties, how some portion of the medic’s life is to be spent).

Comfortable lie: We must nurture every kid’s sense of self-esteem by awarding participation trophies, de-emphasizing grades, and eliminating every objectionable word or insensitive influence, etc…

Uncomfortable truths: “If you look like food, you will be eaten.” (Clint Smith) 1. All life is competitive. Predators have to catch prey; prey has to outrun predator. Even plants compete for sunlight.  If you try to protect your kids from competition instead of teaching them how to function in a competitive environment, you are doing them a disservice. (Oh, and by the way, sports are an excellent place to do that…but they are not the only arena!) 2. A kid who has never felt the sting of losing or the “thrill of victory” isn’t going to have healthy self-esteem; he or she is going to have a dysfunctional sense of being entitled to things he or she didn’t earn.

A Matter of Perspective

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By Mike Cronin

No doubt you know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west once every 24 hours.  It has done so for billions of years and will continue to do so for billions more.

Fact: The sun rises and sets about 16 times per day.

Fact: The sun rises and sets once every two weeks.

Fact: The sun doesn’t rise or set at all.

All of these facts are true.  How can that be?

Each is true from a certain perspective – and false from other perspectives.  The first is true from the perspective of people on the earth’s surface.  The second is true from the perspective of an astronaut onboard the International Space Station.  The third is true from the perspective of an astronaut on the surface of the moon.  The last is true from the perspective of the sun itself.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that in so-and-so’s world, XYZ is quite different than in your world. Maybe you were taught to think of Western Europe, the US, the British Commonwealth, and Japan as the “first” world, and places like Haiti, Somalia, and Afghanistan as examples of the “third” world. Yet we all live on the same planet, so how can we be living in different worlds?

The first, second, and third worlds aren’t really separate worlds; they just appear that way from certain perspectives.  Sometimes using such metaphors can be useful in helping us frame our understanding of the actual world; sometimes the metaphors become euphemisms and are used to evade harsh truths.

For example: Haiti is the poorest, least-developed country in the western hemisphere.  It occupies part of an island called Hispaniola; the remainder of the island is taken up by the Dominican Republic. Compared to Haiti, the Dominican Republic is doing well. Some folks who call Haiti a failed state and a third-world country may be setting a scene or weaving a narrative (i.e. depicting things from a certain perspective) in order to ask you for donations to help the poor souls that live there.

Such people may mean well, but the solution to Haiti’s troubles probably depends on understanding things from a more difficult perspective.

Consider this: The 2010 earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince (Haiti’s capital) was followed less than a month later by an even more powerful earthquake in Chile.  Both earthquakes caused about the same amount of destruction in terms of the value of the property destroyed, yet the death tolls were staggeringly different.  In the Haiti quake, nearly a quarter of a million people lost their lives.  In the Chilean quake, the death toll was three orders of magnitude smaller. (A little over 500 people died).

Why was there such a vast difference between the two? How can a more powerful earthquake cause far less loss of life, but the same amount of property damage?

In Chile, there are building codes, insurance, robust first response capabilities, adequate hospitals, and property rights. In Haiti there are not. The property damage was the same from the perspective of cost, but vastly different from the perspective of number of buildings destroyed.  In Haiti, a good portion of the buildings in Port-au-Prince collapsed outright, including the president’s palace.  In Chile, many buildings suffered damage that will be expensive to fix…but far fewer buildings actually collapsed – because most were built to code to withstand earthquakes.

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The Haitian presidential palace after the 2010 earthquake.

Why did Chile have those benefits and not Haiti?  Because for most of its history, Chile has given at least some recognition to the concept of individual and property rights.  Chileans had incentive to achieve and build and protect their investment.  Haiti, though its existence as a nation is essentially the result of a slave rebellion, never really adopted the concepts of individual freedom or property rights.  It has been ruled by a series of thugs, some worse than others, who would simply take what they wanted.

The harsh truth in the more difficult perspective: Sending aid to Haiti may help some Haitians stave off the reaper a little longer, but no amount of aid can help the Haitians adopt a philosophy of recognizing and respecting rights.

Understanding that a difference in perspective can be trivial (as in the case of knowing astronauts see 16 sunrises per “day”) or pivotal (as in the case of sending aid to Haiti), and how differing perspectives might be compared or judged against each other, is a critical skill to develop – one many of our elected leaders have failed to acquire.

Random Absurdities, Pt. 2.

 

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By Mike Cronin

It’s OK to kill our (human) enemies, but we dare not name them.  On the other hand, we have no compunction about conducting war against all sorts of things that aren’t enemies: Terrorism is a tactic used by our aforementioned unnamed enemy, but terrorism itself is not an enemy. Drugs are a commodity sold by enemies taking advantage of the risk/reward conditions our drug laws create, but drugs themselves are not an enemy. Poverty is a condition often perpetuated by people who refuse to accept that they are responsible for the choices they make.  Poverty is not an enemy, but the “War on Poverty” often treats the most productive among us as foes.

The “Occupy Wall Street” types who made a stink a few years ago railing against capitalism were often seen wearing name-brand clothing, drinking coffee from famous-brand cafes, and calling and texting each other on smart phones.  How can one accept an anti-capitalist argument from spokes-dudes wading up to their necks in the products, goods, and services created at the hands of some of our most effective capitalists?

Scientifically speaking, anything with a carbon molecule is organic. Virtually all of the food items we eat, with the exception of water, salt, and trace minerals, are organic in the most factual sense possible: they contain carbon atoms and molecules in the structures of carbohydrates and proteins.   The idea that a vegetable or box of cookies or a can of soda might not be legally “organic” when they are factually “organic” is a semantic absurdity fostered by the pipsqueaks of panic.

Ditto for “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs).  Virtually every domesticated food plant and animal produced and consumed today is a result of genetic modification that has been going on since the dawn of agriculture.  Here again, the pipsqueaks are pandering to fear.  It makes no difference to your body if a tomato or grape or a chicken was modified over many generations in the field or one generation in a test tube.  You are going to eat the stuff, draw energy from it, and eliminate it, not blend it into your genetic code. Eating “Franken-food” will not cause you to turn into a shambling mutant!

I am reliably informed that airline pilots for most of the big domestic airlines (American, United, Delta) are paid by the hour, from the time the jet is pushed back from the gate at the departure airport until the door is opened at the arrival airport.  Is it not absurd to incentivize your highest-paid hourly employees to NOT be efficient in an industry with such low profit margins that attention to efficiency is essential for financial success?

The concept of “white privilege” has been instigated as a way to induce guilt in white people for (supposedly) causing, or at least not having to suffer, the woes (real or imagined) of every other demographic. It is a racist concept, and it absurd.  It is racist because it attributes advantage to whites solely on the basis of their skin color.  It ignores the fact that there are many non-white people who attain as many, or more, rewards and advantages in their lives than most whites.  It is absurd when applied to Americans because all of us in the US enjoy far more “privilege” (in the form of better living conditions, more freedom, and more opportunities for some, and sadly, also in the form of government handouts for others) than most people in most countries around the world.  The constant stream of immigrants pouring into this country (legally and illegally) aren’t coming here seeking to be oppressed by the man!

We are supposed to take it for granted that income inequality is a bad thing and accept all kinds of wealth redistribution schemes to help resolve it.  There is never any allowance for the possibility that income inequality might be a direct result of ingenuity inequality or effort inequality. That would mean that people are responsible for their own achievements (or lack thereof).  We can’t have that – it would be absurd!

The Minimum Wage Makes Minimum Sense

 

By Mike Cronin

Minimum wage laws, which are meant to reduce poverty, actually cause dysfunction and increase poverty and criminality. The political architects of such laws know this, or remain purposely blind to it, so that they can make promises, get votes, and gain or remain in office.

So how does a mandated minimum wage increase poverty?  While the person who has a minimum-wage job may or may not be defined as poor, it is the person who can’t get a job that suffers the worst effects of minimum wage laws. Since there is no corresponding minimum revenue laws, minimum wage laws dis-incentivize job creation.  Business owners, especially small business owners, have to make a certain amount of money in order to break even, that is, just to pay for their business loans, employees, suppliers, landlords, taxes, and whatnot. Yet there is no law forcing anyone to buy the offerings of a given business.  If a business doesn’t earn enough revenue, they can’t afford to pay even the minimum wage to their employees, so they either have to hire less people than they otherwise might have, they have let people go, or they have to go out of business. In any of those cases, jobs were either lost or not created, which makes it harder for unskilled people to find work, which leads to increased unemployment and poverty.

For example:  If you are old enough, you might remember the days when movie theaters had ushers.  It’s an extremely low-skill job; you could teach it to a high-school kid in an hour or two – and pay him or her correspondingly low wages. There was a match between worker skill level, worker responsibility level, and worker pay.  These days, no one is going to pay a kid $8.00 or $10.00 an hour just to usher, so the usher’s duties got blended into other jobs (assistant manager?) and the job all but disappeared.

Similar entry-level jobs are hard to find anywhere, which makes it harder for high school kids to find work and establish an employment track record.  Instead, such kids either remain with their parents longer, causing the parents to have to support a child longer than they had planned, reducing the parents’ own wealth; or the kid lives on the streets, greatly increasing the likelihood he or she will resort to criminal conduct to survive.

There is a another way some employers skirt the minimum wage laws and pay cheap rates for low-skill labor: They pay illegal immigrants illegally low wages in cash under the table.  This incentivizes illegal immigration, which, in effect, imports more poverty. The illegal immigration “infrastructure” is an underworld, and it attracts other crime: tax evasion, prostitution and other forms of human trafficking, narcotics, gunrunning, gambling (esp. on illegal dog and cock fights), ID forgery, and so on.

To be sure, the minimum wage laws aren’t solely responsible for poverty, illegal immigration, and vice.  Rather, they are a large and obvious contributor to those maladies, even as they fail to produce the promised positive effect.  But they sure sound good.