Stop the Slander of Inner-City Parents

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A few years ago I wrote an article for this journal urging school choice. Afterward, I received a number of arguments against it — bad arguments. One of these was what I termed the “incompetent parent argument,” which is the one you often hear from the defenders of the present public school system (that is, from greedy rentseekers who benefit from the system, because they are employed by it). The argument is this: school choice will fail because inner-city parents are too ignorant and indifferent to make wise choices about their kids’ education.

This claim is usually proffered sotto voce, since inner-city parents are often members of ethnic minorities. The argument can be accused of having a racist cast, yet the people who offer it are typically politically correct progressive liberals who love accusing the rest of us of racial insensitivity.

But to return to the argument itself. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal exhibits the ultimate refutation of this rubbish. It reports the dramatic swelling of a “crime wave” of inner-city parents who lie about their home address on school applications. Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) recently had to grant clemency to a poor black mother who had dared — dared!! — to use her father’s home address to get her two daughters into a decent school.

For this act of vicious criminality, she was charged with grand theft. After being incarcerated for nine days, she was convicted on two felony counts. If they had remained on her record they would have ruined her chances of getting a teacher’s certificate and becoming a teacher herself.

The lady is not alone. Not hardly. In several states, desperate parents — you know, the inferior inner-city parents who are genetically incapable of the same love for their children that tenured white teachers can feel — have been arrested for trying to do what she did, and are facing jail time or other punishment. School districts around the country are hiring detectives to follow children and see whether they really live where they say they do. Some districts are even using “address-verification” programs to halt the abominable crime of finding a decent education for your kids. One of these programs, VerifyResidence.com, uses “covert video technology” to find the pernicious perps.

Minority parents must care a lot about choosing good schools for their kids, if so many are risking prison for the chance to do so. And of course, these people are hardly criminals. As the article suggests, we can view them as practicing a form of nonviolent protest to achieve their civil rights, in the honorable tradition of Martin Luther King.

A couple of months ago, more evidence that parents are not indifferent but are in fact committed to finding good schools came to light. It was an internal teachers’ union PowerPoint presentation boasting about how the union (the notorious American Federation of Teachers) thwarted parents’ groups in Connecticut from passing a “parent-trigger law” that would have forced a change in administration of any failing school if the majority of the district’s parents voted for the change. If the parents had been as indifferent as rumored, would the union have gone to such Machiavellian means to screw them?




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True Community

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When Americans think of “community,” they imagine warm and snuggly things. The word conjures a host of wholesome associations. It reminds us of neighbors sharing loaves of home-baked bread, of children playing in a safe backyard, of grownups meeting face to face to solve problems with good, old-fashioned common sense. The term sounds very Currier and Ives. Until we step back and take a good, hard look at those who use it.

These days, it’s thrown around by people who seem uninterested in grownups solving their own problems. A more honest term for how we’re seen would probably be “herd.” It seems calculated to keep us bunched together too closely to remember that we are individuals. It’s the way our teachers used to speak to us in the third grade. If you put Currier and Ives into a blender with Lyndon B. Johnson and Mister Rogers, this is likely what you’d get.

We elected a president who touted his experience as a “community organizer.” He stands at the podium and lectures us about what’s best for us, as if we lacked the sense to figure that out for ourselves. The impression that unmistakably comes across is that he thought he was far smarter than any of those dolts in the “communities” he organized. And that as president, he is certain the voters are so stupid we don’t see that his own reelection — his glorious little career — is factored into every move he makes.

Recently, I bought a new computer. I’ve been very happy with it, because it does a lot of wonderful, whiz-bang things. But I am unfamiliar with some of its programs. I had a screenplay to write — something I hadn’t done since college — and I couldn’t figure out how to set up my document in the proper format.

I managed to figure it out by myself, except for one crucial detail. Geek Squad wouldn’t simply answer my question, but they’d access my system from headquarters and fix the problem themselves — for 60 bucks. I threw it out to some online groups, and kept getting people who would gladly give me an answer — in exchange for my credit card number. From “the community,” I must admit, I wasn’t feeling much love.

Are our government-anointed “community organizers” right? I began to wonder. Have we lost the capacity to solve even the simplest of problems without their guidance? A whole industry has arisen to do for us, for money, what we know in our guts we should be able to do for ourselves — or at least with the help of somebody who won’t charge us for it.

People resent this, but their resentment is often exploited by those who don’t believe in private industry. Devotees of the government collective cluck their tongues about the hucksters out there who’ll take our money to answer questions with which they might help us for free. But are they to blame for wanting payment because we lack the imagination to look for solutions we don’t have to pay for? If our stupidity and helplessness keeps a roof over their heads, is that their fault or ours?

Refusing to give up too easily, I went to the meeting of a group to which I belong — one of those voluntary associations we’re forever being told no longer exist. I asked my question to some friends before the meeting, and within minutes somebody provided an answer. Afterwards I went home, tried it out, and it worked. And I was not one penny poorer.

Community — the real deal — still exists. If we’re willing to trust it. What that means is that we must remember how to trust each other. The real community is us, not an organizing "leader." But we can only trust each other if we dare to trust ourselves. When we allow ourselves to be treated like sheep, we are ripe for plunder by wolves.

The best ideas still come, not from any central committee of self-appointed smarties, but from our friends, our neighbors, sometimes even our children, and ourselves. A little bit of resourcefulness, of self-reliance, of trust in the everyday folks we know, can save us a lot of cash. In the long run, it may save our freedom.

And here's an important point: those in government who claim they will solve our problems for us will not do it for free. That is always the assumption, when they insist on helping us. But it's never true. We will pay for everything we get — and often for things we don't get — in money, time, inconvenience, and anger. And it increasingly looks as if the price they’re demanding is our very souls.




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Thoughts on Crony Capitalism

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The Obama regime has become synonymous with the kind of crony capitalism that characterizes, say, Russia. Crony capitalism is a sort of faux capitalism found in a society where many citizens desire socialism but don’t want to embrace it openly, because of the disrepute into which socialism has fallen. The 20th century was the century of socialism, and it cost the lives of perhaps 150 million people and brought unrelieved poverty to the nations that succumbed to its siren call of “equality.”

Crony capitalism characterizes regimes, such as Vladimir Putin’s, that follow the collapse of overtly socialistic economic systems (which invariably die, sooner or later, whenever — as Dame Thatcher famously observed — they run out of other people’s money). It also characterizes regimes such as Obama’s that occur in countries where the elites want socialism but realize that they can’t openly sell it to the public in its naked form.

A crony capitalist regime is sustained by favorable economic feedback loops between the regime’s leaders and key, corrupt leaders in the “private” sector (such as business and labor organizations). The regime’s leaders award these favored business and labor leaders (the “cronies”) sweetheart contracts for governmental projects; arrange financing from the public purse or banks that are funded by the public but controlled by the regime; use regulatory and tax policies to reward their supporters and punish their competitors; and so on. The regime’s players are paid back by the corrupt private sector players in various ways: by cushy jobs given to the bureaucrats when they “retire” from “public service;” by favorable deals for buying homes or business franchises; by monetary bribes (campaign “contributions,” or — especially when the regime is located in a third-world cesspool, such as Uganda or Chicago — in cash). The regime thus increases its power, and is able to pay off more corrupt businesses.

It is all very convenient for the players, however inconvenient it may be for the ripped-off taxpayers and the honest businesspeople who are denied a level playing field.

The crony capitalism of the Obama regime comes in several major flavors — that is, the many industries it has corrupted or hijacked. Lately on display is its crony green capitalism. The regime has received massive financial support from various wealthy investors in so-called “green” energy technologies and from the major environmentalist groups. It has repaid them by doing its best to block domestic drilling for oil and gas, even as it pushes grotesquely inefficient wind and solar technologies. The crony green capitalism has been exposed to the light of public notice in the Solyndra case and others.

But we must not forget the regime’s crony car capitalism. It created Government Motors in a colossally corrupt bankruptcy that stiffed secured creditors and stockholders alike in favor of the UAW, a lavish supporter of the regime. This led to the waste of billions in taxpayer dollars, a huge tax preference given to GM and Chrysler to the disadvantage of Ford, the UAW being given obscenely unjust stakes in the new companies, and later to the singling out, by the regime’s secretary of transportation, of a competitor of Government Motors (Toyota) for harassment.

Crony capitalism is a sort of faux capitalism found in a society where many citizens desire socialism but don’t want to embrace it openly.

As a result, the UAW — which should have been decertified by its members for destroying the companies for which they worked — was given new life. Lately it has been portraying itself as a trustworthy companion to automakers, existing only to help improve worker morale. It has gotten some traction, amazingly, with a German automaker, Volkswagen.

The latest interesting wrinkle is that Ford felt compelled to pull a highly effective ad that implicitly criticized its American competitors for taking part in the corrupt bankruptcy deal.

Ford ran a series of ads that had actual customers telling what made them buy a Ford. What caused a flap was the testimony from a man named Chris McDaniel, who said:

I wasn’t going to buy another car that was bailed out by our government. I was going to buy from a manufacturer that’s standing on its own: win, lose, or draw. That’s what America is about is [sic] taking the chance to succeed and understanding when you fail that you gotta pick yourself up and go back to work. Ford is that company for me.

Not only does Chris McDaniel feel that way, but others do too. A Rasmussen poll recently revealed that nearly one in five Ford buyers chose Ford because they resented the government-manipulated bailout of its competitors. Nevertheless, the ad aroused fury in the sycophant media. Some even accused Ford of hypocrisy, because it had in the past accepted loans from the government and lobbied the government for support.

But that doesn’t pass the laugh test. The fact stands that Ford didn’t collude with the feds and the UAW to screw its creditors in a jury-rigged bankruptcy, while GM and Chrysler surely did.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the same critics of Ford’s alleged hypocrisy were conspicuously silent when GM ran ads in the wake of the Toyota brake hysteria, saying that GM cars were safer — thus hypocritically ignoring its own sorry record of recalls. These critics were also silent about GM’s attempt to get a class-action lawsuit dismissed, a suit by owners of Chevy Impalas wanting GM to honor its warranties. Considering the number of people crippled and killed over the decades by its own defective vehicles, GM was being hyper-hypocritical.

After Ford pulled its ad, Chris McDaniel honorably stuck to his guns. As he later put it,

I still stand by what I said, and that is, as Americans, we need to decide if we’re going to be run by a government or if we’re going to be run by free enterprise. That’s really the debate we are facing today. So I applaud Ford, still, to this day, for having the courage to put that ad on the TV and spur the debate.

Indeed, sir.

Now, an interesting theory has been aired by no less a writer than Daniel Howes, associate business editor for the Detroit News. He has suggested that Ford pulled its apt, accurate, and reasonable ad after a phone call from the White House expressing, well, discontent. Howes noted that the White House later denied the story. But we have a right to be skeptical.

After all, this is the most mendacious regime in recent history, Nixon notwithstanding. In a short time, it has lied and deceived about more major matters than any others.

Some of this has come to the attention of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Oversight Committee, who sent a letter to Ford asking whether it removed the ad under White House or other pressure. Ford responded on Facebook and Twitter that it hadn’t removed the ad permanently, but Issa wants a response in writing.

I suggest that what Issa really needs to do is to hold hearings on the whole affair: the crony bankruptcy, the UAW funding of Democrats over the period leading up to the crooked affair, the subsequent federal actions devoted to running GM and hurting GM’s competitors, etc. Let’s see all the internal memos, emails, and other documents, and let’s question everyone involved — under oath before the House Committee. Turn over this rock, and shine a light on the roaches underneath. Then we will all understand the nature of crony capitalism better, and in more detail.




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Financial Responsibility

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The recent recession, which some call the Great Recession, has been around for years, yet it simply refuses to go away. I believe that American business is strong enough that not even Obama’s socialist agenda can permanently destroy our prosperity. But even if a Republican is elected in 2012 and this recession ends, what is to prevent another one?

The question of what causes recessions is perhaps the single most important and most highly political question that the science of economics seeks to answer. The Keynesians and socialists have one answer, the Austrians have quite another. Perhaps the Federal Reserve’s manipulation of interest rates has caused or exacerbated the recession. However, I think that from an empirical, factual standpoint the linchpin of the Great Recession was the American public's financial irresponsibility, as manifested in the collapse of the real estate bubble. Many thousands of Americans irrationally believed that home prices could only go up, and they incurred real estate mortgage indebtedness far in excess of what a financially responsible person would incur. When real estate prices collapsed, very many mortgages went into default, which led to foreclosure sales, which further reduced home values, which triggered a downward spiral. It is probably true that government efforts to encourage low-income home ownership and government home mortgage guarantees contributed to inflating the real estate bubble. But the disaster would not have been so widespread if more home buyers had been committed to living within their means or had been more risk-averse.

This is the most dangerous matter, and also the easiest to correct. If the American public, especially the lower middle class, learned to understand the concept of “financial responsibility” then this syndrome would never happen again.

What precisely is financial responsibility? I think that the main point that people should understand is that money does not grow on trees, and there is no such thing as a free lunch or easy money, and that money is not magical and cannot be created by waving a magic wand. The great Randian contribution to economic theory is the idea that in a free market people trade value for value, and to “make money” is to create value. (Yes, Ayn Rand did not invent this idea, but she perfected it.) In order to make money you have to do work to produce the value; in other words, you need to make the money that you trade with others when you buy things from them. If you don’t produce value, then you have nothing to trade.

This not only means that people earn and deserve their salary by working at their job; it also means that people do not deserve to consume more value than what the other traders in the free market are willing to purchase in exchange for money. From each as he chooses, to each as he is chosen, to quote a Robert Nozick saying that captures this concept.

Financial responsibility is the understanding that you cannot spend more money than the amount you earned because of the work you did, unless someone gives you charity or you steal wealth from others, and that you cannot consume a value that has not been produced by someone. To use Rand’s old-fashioned phrasing, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, or as I would prefer to say, you can’t eat your cake before you bake it. Understand this, and you will probably not spend money that you don’t have or use borrowed money to buy stuff when you can’t repay your loans. If you want to buy something, then you will be more likely to do the work necessary to earn the money before trying to get what you want.

This understanding that money is finite and must be created before it can be spent is the essence of financial responsibility. Implicit in the concept, however, is the notion that charity and theft are exceptions, and the general rule is that you, and only you, must do what is necessary to make your own money and control your individual financial destiny.

But if you understand this principle then you will be very careful about economic risk, because you will understand that you will be required to assume responsibility if you make a mistake.  You will be on the hook for your losses and no government will bail you out. Financial responsibility means being held responsible, which means that you are held accountable and you will accept the rewards and punishments that result from your economic choices. Thus, you will not assume risks in excess of the amount of sweat or skill you are willing to put in to compensate for your mistakes. A person who is financially responsible would not assume a gigantic mortgage on real estate he had an annual income in the lower-middle class range, because he would understand that the debt would actually need to be repaid.

If the public were financially responsible, it would not put up with a government that steals money from others or borrows excessively and spends money that it does not have.

It seems to me that the solution to the problem is for high schools or colleges to incorporate personal finance management training into their liberal arts educations. Simply teaching people how to write up a personal budget that matches income and expenditures, sort of like a balance sheet, would go far toward creating the practical skills of financial responsibility. Some high schools have such classes, but they are treated like trivial afterthoughts compared to the more important subjects. Also, merely teaching students how to spend money is not enough; the financial responsibility class would somehow have to simulate earning income in proportion to productivity, possibly by tying fake money to GPA or class performance, to give students a feel for the fact that you cannot spend what you have not earned. The ideal personal finance class would teach career ambition, how to budget to spend within your means, and the crucial importance of saving money and not borrowing beyond your ability to repay.

One would expect the poor to appreciate the crucial importance of saving money. But it is precisely the low-income families that are most vulnerable to financial irresponsibility. The poor face a dark temptation to borrow beyond their ability to repay and not worry about repayment until it is too late, so that for a short time they can live a more affluent lifestyle before their debts catch up with them. The temptation to take shortcuts to one’s desires is deeply seductive even to rational, honest people. But people with no money to spare can least afford to make mistakes. Good finance classes in high school would help poor families budget properly, save for retirement, and avoid predatory lenders. This would help the poor much more than all the modern-liberal nonsense of entitlement spending, welfare, food stamps, etc.

Middle- and upper-income people could also benefit. A study cited on Yahoo claims that the average New Yorker is $200,000 in debt and the average Californian is $300,000 in debt. The American economic system encourages credit card debt, home mortgage debt, and student loan debt. I personally have struggled with handling my finances, which were recently made worse by roughly $90,000 in law school student loans that I needed to incur; and I wish that there had been a serious class in this subject that I could have taken, particularly in college where young people are supposed to learn how to live like adults.

If such classes were commonly available, the average American would actually be exposed to the concept of financial responsibility, and the odds of another recession happening would be greatly reduced. If it were customary for every American student to take a class in financial responsibility, it would be more likely for voters to vote for financially responsible fiscal policy. And if American politicians had taken such classes, they might have better training in the art of living within a budget and be more appreciative of a balanced budget and the dangers of excessive debt.

Of course, if the public were financially responsible, it would not put up with a government that steals money from others or borrows excessively and spends money that it does not have. So the leftists who control most colleges and the teachers' unions who control the high schools would fight to keep people from understanding the truth about financial responsibility and how to prevent another recession.  But while government is the primary source of economic problems, even in a libertarian anarchy they would still exist, if the majority of individuals were financially irresponsible.




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Obama, the Soaring Sofa

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Clichés are an inexhaustible subject. I’ll always have more to say about them. It’s interesting to watch them come and go — preferably go.

Take “soaring rhetoric.” (Please!) I don’t know who started that, but once somebody did, it became the phrase almost universally employed in speaking of Candidate Obama’s speeches. I could never understand this phenomenon. His speeches sounded to me like nothing but a tissue of . . . well, clichés. And not very good clichés. If you don’t share that view, please quote a memorable passage from any one of Obama’s utterances. You can’t do it, can you? But, for better or worse, you can quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” You can recall “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” You can remember “This government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” The difference is that those passages became clichés, whereas Obama’s remarks were clichés to begin with.

But the popularity of his words was something to behold. Immediately they were observed to soar. Maybe that’s why no one could remember them — they flew away too fast. The very description of Obama’s clichés became a cliché. Every time he said anything whatever, his rhetoric soared. But then a bad thing happened. Soaring appeared more and more in adversative expressions, such as, “Despite the president’s soaring rhetoric, listeners commented on the apparent lack of substance in his address on Tuesday”; and in embarrassing questions, such as, “Can soaring rhetoric pull the president out of his political difficulties?”

Gradually it dawned on people that the only salient phrase (all right, the only cliché) that Obama actually generated, the only one he didn’t just adopt from others, was “hope and change.” And that wasn’t a saying that started out good or useful and got tired from over-use. It was bad in itself. It was empty, imageless. It pictured nothing; it evoked nothing concrete, or even symbolic. It was an abstraction chasing some other abstraction. In that respect, it was the image of its author’s mind. But it was the best cliché that Obama (or, to be fair, the Obama forces) could come up with. All his other clichés were quotations from sources known but to God.

Immediately his words were observed to soar. Maybe that’s why no one could remember them — they flew away too fast.

Today I went to Google and typed in “obama speech text,” prepared to discuss whatever came up first. It turned out to be his congressional “jobs” speech on Sept. 8. Here are some passages from that speech, which were also selected virtually at random. I’ve put most of the president’s blank, anonymous, deadening clichés in italics.

American “men and women,” the president said, “grew up with faith in an America where hard work and responsibility paid off. They believed in a country where everyone gets a fair shake and does their fair share — where if you stepped up, did your job, and were loyal to your company, that loyalty would be rewarded with a decent salary and good benefits; maybe a raise once in a while. If you did the right thing, you could make it. Anybody could make it in America.

“For decades now, Americans have watched that compact erode. They have seen the decks too often stacked against them. And they know that Washington has not always put their interests first.

“The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we’ll meet ours. The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy. (Applause.) The question is — the question is whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.

“Those of us here tonight can’t solve all our nation’s woes. Ultimately, our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers. But we can help. We can make a difference.”

You could write a book about the sheer ignorance of these remarks. The president actually believes that “fairness and security . . . defined” America since its “beginning.” If they had, isn’t it odd that neither “fairness” nor “fair” nor “security” nor “secure,” in any economic sense of those words, appears in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution? “Secure” and “security” are there, but only in such contexts as the second amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This is one source that Obama certainly didn’t intend to allude to.

Gradually it dawned on people that the only salient phrase that Obama actually generated, the only one he didn’t just adopt from others, was “hope and change.”

But look at what he did intend, and reflect on it. What personal security had the early settlers of this continent, who died like flies on the Atlantic shore? What economic fairness had the slaves languishing in the southern states? What fairness or security had the builders of new industries, new financial institutions, and new methods of communication, whose investments might at any time be swept away by American governments trying to provide economic security for other people?

What aspect of fairness was entailed by the bribes that businessmen had to pay to get their railroads through some of our more rapacious western states? What fairness was evinced by southern laws stipulating that slaves could not be freed, even by their owners, or by southern and northern laws prohibiting free persons of color from living in certain states?

Whoever believed that “anybody could make it in America”? Whoever believed that there was a “compact” guaranteeing him “a decent salary and good benefits”? Who wrote that compact? Who signed it? Where can it be read?

Yet these words were spoken, not only by the president of the United States, but by a lawyer and instructor of law.

Obama’s ignorance of history is extraordinary, even among politicians. His ignorance of grammar and diction is more representative of the tribe. The president believes that “our nation’s woes” can be “solved,” as if woe were a problem, rather than a response to problems. “Oh baby, lemme solve your woes.” He thinks that “everyone” — “everyone” — is plural: “everyone gets a fair shake and does their fair share.” He thinks that “recovery” can be “driven,” like a goose or an SUV. He pictures contracts — “compacts” — as things that “erode,” like farmland or, metaphorically, like confidence in our current president. I can picture confidence slowly diminishing, eroding away; I cannot picture a contract undergoing the same experience. Can Obama picture these things, or is he merely speaking word after word, sentence after sentence, without anything in his brain at all?

But perhaps the worst thing, if there could be anything worse than that hokum about fairness and security, is the enormous trust that Obama places in his words, never realizing how dull they are. As usual with him, the clichés in this speech are a dusty collection of game and sports metaphors (“stepped up” [to the plate], “decks too often stacked”), movie memorabilia (“did the right thing,” as in the 1989 film by Spike Lee), and Rotarian and labor union filler (“make it in America”). People who are a hundred years old have been hearing this kind of thing all their lives. If you’re going to borrow a cliché, you might at least borrow it from Lincoln or Jefferson or the Bible or Citizen Kane, not from some source that long ago drowned in the marshes of Lethe.

What about the Republicans, the wretched Republicans? It isn’t just Obama’s remarks that make one leap for the remote control.

And if you’re going to use a cliché, you might at least use one that makes sense. Consider “We can make a difference.” I’m not a big admirer of President Kennedy, but can you imagine him trying to work some kind of climax out of “We can make a difference”? The same can be said of President Reagan. His rhetoric was ordinarily not as good as Kennedy’s, but would he ever have intoned, “Mr. Gorbachev, we can make a difference”? No, no more than Kennedy would have considered saying, “Ask not how your country can make a difference for you; ask how you can make a difference for your country.” Nothing, not even the biggest bottle of Scotch or the most urgent ongoing national crisis, could have induced either of those gentlemen to put that phrase in a position of prominence.

Well, why not? Because anybody with sense, upon hearing “We can make a difference,” would ask the obvious questions: What kind of difference? How much of a difference? Can I get by with making just a little difference? Is it OK if I make a difference, but it makes things worse? It’s usually easier to make things worse — would that be all right with you?

Pause.

When I reached this point in the column, my conscience began to bother me. All this attention paid to Obama . . . . What about the Republicans, the wretched Republicans? It isn’t just Obama’s remarks that make one leap for the remote control. Why not give his opponents some attention, also?

It’s true, Republicans are just as addicted as Obama to saying that we need togrow “the economy,” or “jobs,” or anything else that can’t actually be grown. It’s as if they had never heard those common and useful words develop, increase, expand, improve. They are just as willing as Obama to tell you that they won’t sit idly by while this or that goes on. And they are just as willing to beat a phrase to death — a tendency that is especially regrettable when they accidentally find a good phrase, such as “class warfare.”

So, remembering the manifold and grievous sins of the Republicans, and mindful also of the fairness that defines this nation, I decided to see what House Speaker John Boehner had to say about Obama’s jobs proposal, and take a few swipes at Boehner’s soaring rhetoric. Unfortunately, however, when I pulled up the long “jobs” speech that Boehner gave before the Economic Club of Washington on Sept. 15, I found little that was worth satirizing. It wasn’t a bad speech.

Admittedly, there were a few syntactical problems. And the speech showed that Republicans as well as Democrats can fall back on socialist clichés, derived from the labor theory of value (conclusively disproven a mere 140 years ago). "Our economy,” Boehner said, “has always been built on opportunity . . . on entrepreneurs, innovators and risk-takers willing to take a chance — because they're confident if they work hard, they can succeed.” If hard work guarantees success, then what “chance” are the “risk-takers” taking? And hard work means nothing if people aren’t willing to buy the products of your work. Isabel Paterson, the author of many books, said the final word on this subject: “You could put a great deal of energy into producing something nobody wants very much. This disconcerting fact is peculiarly noticeable in the production of books.” Well, maybe the final word should have been “speeches.”

In the moments when people attend more closely to the president, the emptiness of his words allows them to derive almost any meaning that they want to find.

But the “work hard” passage was the worst feature of Boehner’s talk. If you want soaring rhetoricat least rhetoric that isn’t the verbal equivalent of some extinct, flightless bird — you’d do better reading Boehner than Obama. That’s a terrible thing to say about anyone, but it’s true. Our president, so famous for words, is really, really bad with them. He’s pretentious and humorless; his vocabulary is severely restricted; his rhetorical techniques can be numbered on a horse’s fingers; he cannot tell a story; his range of serious allusion is virtually nonexistent; his sentences are mere parking lots for cheap clichés. He is dull, dull, dull. So why do people think he’s a good speaker?

The first reason is that they happen to agree with him. The second reason is that they happen to agree with him. The third reason is that they happen to agree with him.

But there are other reasons. He’s not bad looking. He’s a mechanical speaker, but he speaks with confidence, and that is a guaranteed grab for at least a third of any audience. He also speaks rather rapidly; unlike most other politicians, he doesn’t remind you of a cow systematically chewing its cud. His speeches are usually far too long, but that doesn’t matter on TV; studies show that people are almost always multi-tasking when they watch the tube. Obama has nothing to say that would interfere with checking the curtains or heating up the microwave or regretting that Junior tracked in some more of that mud. In the moments when people attend more closely to the president, the emptiness of his words allows them to derive almost any meaning that they want to find. His clichés — so insipid, so repetitive, so predictable, so soporific . . .

Pardon me; I just dozed off.

Soaring rhetoric? Obama is the oratorical equivalent of a sofa. But there’s something about a sofa — it always gets worn out a lot sooner than you think it will.




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Why Obama is Losing the Latino Vote

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The recent news regarding President Obama’s support in the Latino community is quite amazing. In the 2008 election, Obama won 67% of their votes. But his support among Latinos has now slipped below 50% — 49%, to be exact, in a recent Gallup Poll. Why the slippage, and what does it mean for coming elections?

One suspects that (in part) Obama’s remarkable loss of Latino support is of a piece with his loss of support among independent white voters. It has to do with broken promises, specifically, and a failure to deliver economic health, generally.

Consider independent white blue-collar voters. Running for office, Obama played the role of Post-Racial Man. He insinuated that he understood white workers' anger at racial preferences in college admissions, hiring, and promotions. When it was discovered that he was a long-standing member of a “black liberation theology” church, he feigned ignorance and dropped out of church.

But in office, he has pushed race preferences with a vengeance, appointing two unabashed Quota Queens to the Supreme Court. And Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, has seemed to many to be racially biased in the way he has handled several issues, such as the case against the Black Panthers who were charged with voter intimidation in a lawsuit filed in 2009 by the Justice Department.

The point here is that when someone has little record in office and a mainstream media completely supportive of — nay, sycophantic toward — him, he can portray himself as anything he cares to look like. But once in office, he will have to make choices, and those choices will then define him.

In his campaign for Latino votes, Obama cleverly played the part of the Universal Minority Man, a victim-just-like-you kind of guy, promising to listen to Latinos in a way that the hate-filled nativists on talk radio could never do. He would solve the seemingly intractable problem of immigration, and open the doors to everybody who wanted to come in.

In doing so, he deliberately obscured some issues that would have troubled Latinos, had he spoken openly about them.

For one thing, he never revealed to Latino audiences that as senator he did virtually nothing to help Bush and McCain get their compromise comprehensive immigration reform bill through Congress. It came close to passing but died under a firestorm of populist anger, fanned by the “talkerati,” the conservative talk-show hosts. In fact, Obama voted for an amendment to strip the legislation of its temporary worker visa program, thus helping to scuttle the bill. It isn’t clear why he did that. Part of the reason had to be an attempt to curry favor with those in organized labor and in his own ethnic community who are fearful of more workers coming in.

This last point touches another topic Obama sidestepped during his campaign: African-American antipathy toward Latinos. In many segments of the African-American community, there is a deep resentment of Latinos. Latinos are seen as competing for many of the same jobs that African-Americans want to get, as well as for the same space in the same neighborhoods. Even more galling, Latino activists are viewed as pushing their own “victimhood” narrative, which dilutes the spoils of the victim status that African-American activists have taken for granted for decades.

After all, affirmative action — usually a euphemism for hiring a less qualified “minority” over a white or Asian male — is obviously more beneficial to African-Americans if “minority” means only “African-American” than if it means “African-American, Latino, Pacific Islander, Native American, Asian woman, white woman, or GLBT.”

In office, Obama has given Latinos more reasons to become disenchanted with him.

For example, Obama — who, to be fair, had signaled during his campaign that he held NAFTA to blame for costing American jobs (a stance that cost him the primary election in Texas against Hillary Clinton, whose husband had signed NAFTA into law) — started a trade war with Mexico the minute he got into office.

Yes, the newly elected Obama decided to throw a bone to the Teamsters union (which had supported him lavishly in his campaign) by denying even a small number of Mexican truckers the right to drive American routes, on a trial basis — a right given to them by NAFTA. The president didn’t just stiff the truckers; his supporters spread the nasty story that Mexican truckers are inferior drivers and that Mexican trucks are all unsafe, even though under the earlier agreement, those trucks would be constantly monitored.

Mexico was rightly furious and retaliated by slapping massive tariffs on a wide range of American products, especially agricultural ones. These tariffs cost upwards of 25,000 American jobs, many of them held by Latinos. So an act intended to hurt Mexican workers wound up hurting Mexican-American ones far more.

Then there was Obama’s conspicuous failure to deliver on comprehensive immigration reform. For two years his party completely controlled Congress, and could easily have passed — probably with bipartisan support — a reasonable reform bill. But Obama showed no particular interest in the topic; much less did he push any such bill through Congress, in the way he rammed through Obamacare. In fact, he didn’t even push the Dream Act through Congress when he controlled it. This, unlike his earlier, covertly obstructive actions regarding the Bush-McCain legislation, Latinos noticed, because now he was president.

While Bush tried his best to get an immigration reform bill through a Congress he couldn’t control, Obama never tried to do the same when he virtually owned Congress.

Of course, when the Republicans won back the House of Representatives last year, Obama tried floating the narrative that he desperately wanted comprehensive immigration reform, but the Rascally Racist Republicans were in the way. He taunted the Republicans in a speech before a primarily Latino audience in El Paso in May of this year, saying that when the Republicans were urging him to protect the border, they were being disingenuous and silly: “Maybe they’ll need a moat. . . . Maybe they’ll want alligators in the moat.” But the stark reality facing Latinos is that while Bush tried his best to get a deal through a Congress he couldn’t control, Obama never tried to do the same when he virtually owned Congress.

Other major reasons for Obama’s loss of Latino support are his two major policy changes on the handling of undocumented workers, both of which have produced large unintended, and unfavorable, consequences.

The first concerns companies that employ illegal aliens. In 2009, Obama’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department started aggressively auditing companies to see if they hired undocumented workers, and severely punishing companies that did. That is, Obama had his myrmidons deliberately transfer to business the burden of securing the border. If ICE catches a company employing illegal aliens, the company is subject to heavy fines and sanctions, while the workers go free.

This essentially reversed the policy of prior presidents, which had been to deport illegal aliens when caught, but not necessarily punish the companies employing them (unless there was specific evidence of intent to employ illegals). No doubt Obama’s decision grew out of his instinctive, visceral animosity toward business, as well as his desire to regulate and control it.

However, this policy has bitten deep, as ICE has hammered employers it considers “magnets” for illegal workers.  Companies like American Apparel (in 2009) and Chipotle Grill (in 2010) got hit hard, with ICE looking especially closely at companies in the agricultural, construction, food processing, and restaurant sectors. And there are a lot of these companies — nearly 2,400 were targeted last year alone.

The fines have often been brutal. One company, Yamato Engine Specialists, had to pay a $100,000 fine — for employing a couple of dozen undocumented workers. American Apparel had to pay $35,000, not to mention losing one fourth of its work force.

In this policy as in most of his others, Obama sought a dramatic increase in the regulation and control of private industry. Immigration activists — who are typically ardent leftists with a deep-seated aversion to business — originally supported it. But they quickly learned a lesson in the law of unintended consequences. Employers dumped a lot of illegal aliens who, yes, weren’t deported. However, that in turn meant that while those workers by and large remained in America, they also that they had to take worse jobs or remain unemployed — displeasing both the undocumented workers and the pro-immigration activists. And the businesses targeted now have a powerful reason to avoid hiring any Latinos, which has got to displease Latinos generally.

No doubt Obama’s decision grew out of his instinctive, visceral animosity toward business, as well as his desire to regulate and control it.

The other policy change regarding the treatment of illegals is one that Obama's Homeland Security Department has been implementing since 2008. It's the Secure Communities Program, “S-Comm” for short. When local or state police arrest anyone, they run the suspect’s fingerprints through the FBI criminal database to see if he has a criminal history. Under S-Comm, the cases in which an illegal alien has been arrested and looks as if he may have a criminal background are sent to the DHS so ICE can determine whether this person should be deported. In the past, states could choose to participate in the program if they wished, but now it is becoming mandatory for all states. The idea of S-Comm is to prioritize deportations, so that convicted criminals are deported first.

ICE head John Morton has said that 90% of those deported over the last two years — nearly 400,000 per year — have been either criminals or people who had earlier been ordered to leave the country.

But there have been a number of bad unintended consequences. Start with the fact that 28% of those deported under S-Comm actually had no criminal records. Some had just gotten traffic tickets.  S-Comm has clogged the immigration courts, as people wrongly nabbed fight to keep from being deported, which often means a breakup of a family. Worse, many of the non-criminals were picked up on the database check not because they themselves had criminal histories but because they had worked with the police in a criminal investigation (as witnesses or informants). Thus S-Comm discourages cooperation with police in solving serious crimes.

Yet another major reason Latinos are abandoning Obama is the high unemployment rate among their population (which typically has lower than average unemployment rates), because of Obama’s baleful economic policies. Nationally, while the general unemployment rate is about 9%, Latino unemployment is at 11% — or about a fourth again higher than the country as a whole. It has not escaped the notice of Latinos that Mexico now has a much lower unemployment rate (at 4.9%) and a much higher economic growth rate (at 4–5% annually) than the United States. It is almost insufferably rich that California has lost about 300,000 illegal immigrants since Obama took office, with many of them moving back to Mexico, where they report that it is easier to buy a home and send their kids to college.

One last reason for the drop in Obama’s support among Latinos should be noted. This one is harder to quantify precisely, but in my view is still immensely important. Latinos culturally are extremely enterprising and entrepreneurial. While they attend college at lower rates than Asians and whites, they run small businesses at a disproportionately higher rate than the population as a whole.

But Obamanomics has been especially pernicious when it comes to the formation and flourishing of small businesses. Regulations that are merely onerous to big businesses (with their large accounting departments and access to legal power) are death to small ones, because they find it harder to absorb or pass along the costs. And the essence of Obamanomics is the dramatic increasing of regulations of every sort.

The news of the collapse of support among Latinos has obviously rocked the White House. It has recently taken steps to reverse or mitigate its earlier policies, obviously wishing to recover that support.

First there was Obama’s complete capitulation, two months ago, in the trade war he started with Mexico. Bluntly put, the great American-Mexican trade war ended not with a bang but with an Obama whimper. Under a deal signed in July, Mexican truckers will be allowed to drive American routes. As soon as the first Mexican truck is allowed entry, Mexico will end its tariffs completely.

Obama must have calculated that the labor support he would lose by throwing the Teamsters under the bus — or more exactly, the truck — was a sacrifice he would have to make to help regain his standing in a crucial ethnic group.

Second, and seemingly out of the blue, the White House recently announced that it is changing its policies on handling illegal immigrants. It now will review the cases of 300,000 illegal aliens awaiting deportation and allow those who are not criminals or threats to public safety to remain here. While the administration portrayed this as a way for federal agencies to better their focus on real security threats, the claim was clearly a rationalization.

Obama’s difficulties with Hispanic voters offer the Republican Party an extremely rare and important opportunity to reshape American electoral politics for generations to come. It is clear that there is a demographic shift under way, with the percentage of Latinos in the population rising. If the GOP can start to split that vote more evenly with the Democrats, or perhaps to win the majority of it, the GOP will be well served.

Obama must have calculated that the labor support he would lose by throwing the Teamsters under the bus was a sacrifice he would have to make to help regain his standing in a crucial ethnic group.

This requires two things at least. For one, the Republican Party needs to learn to play ethnic politics better. It needs to actively groom and advance lots of conservative Latino political leaders. It has made a modest start, offering a number of impressive politicians, including Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Ted Cruz of Texas, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and most prominently Marco Rubio of Florida. But the Republicans are going to need many dozens of such leaders at all political levels.

Parenthetically, knowing that Obama has now got to fight for the Latino vote, Marco Rubio is more compelling than ever as a choice for Vice President by whomever wins the Republican nomination for President next year.

But even more importantly, the Republican Party has to come to some kind of reasonable agreement on immigration reform. Put together a compromise solution of wide appeal, and build it into the party platform. The GOP needs to get this incubus off of itself for good. If that displeases some of the more nativist talkerati, so be it. One such host — who ran parodies such as “Jose, Can You See” and talked about “another stupid Mexican coming across the border” — without doubt cost the GOP enormously in several states where those comments were played in Democratic campaign ads. That is not the sort of person to whom the GOP needs to cater.

The talkerati are after higher ratings, and will try to get them by spewing whatever populist clap-trap they think will appeal to their listeners. But the GOP needs to position itself for the future, and can do so if it can finally get real about ethnic politics and immigration policy.




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Hail to the Victor

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Joseph Ho, a writer for Liberty, tells me that on September 10 he was in Ann Arbor when the University of Michigan was preparing to meet its traditional rival, Notre Dame, on the field of Michigan Stadium. Threading his way through the pre-game crowds on the downtown streets, Joseph was accosted by a small boy, who ran up to him and shouted, “Hail!”

As you may know, Michigan’s fight song begins with the words, “Hail to the victors valiant!” That’s what the little boy was repeating, in his way; and Joe was charmed by his greeting.

But if there is one pleasure more intense than that of being hailed, it is the pleasure of finding someone you want to hail. It is therefore with great pleasure that I hail the publication of a book of essays by Leland Yeager, a distinguished economist and longtime contributor to Liberty. Confronted by Yeager’s additions to learning, the rest of us should feel like small boys. Yet we have something to hail.

Yeager calls his book Is the Market a Test of Truth and Beauty?: Essays in Political Economy. I won’t spoil the pleasure you’ll have in reading it by revealing the answer to the title question. It’s a great question, a fundamental question, and Yeager’s answer will not only inform but entertain you. As for the rest of the book — I couldn’t put it down, literally. I read it in bed, I read it in supermarket lines, I read it while I was supposed to be working. It’s a fascinating book.

Leland Yeager is a professional economist. That’s fine, but only a few professional economists have ever had his skill at developing the principles of their field. Much less have they displayed his breadth of interest in intellectual and historical issues. The 28 essays in this 500-page book have all the world as their subject, from the nature of the various schools of economics to the problems of democracy to the debate about free will to the theories of dear old Henry George to the writing of speculative and alternative histories. Every essay shows a mind that is individual, alert, probing, and knowing; every essay develops both the essential ideas and the curious ramifications of its subject. And every essay is interesting; every essay makes you want to know its author, as well as its subject, more. Fortunately, Yeager gives you 28 occasions for doing that.

Anyone who reads this book will learn the nature, scope, and analytics of libertarian economic theory (and practice, too). So it isn’t just for libertarians. But libertarians will benefit the most from it, because Yeager’s question-making mind constantly brings up new topics for us to consider. They are all vital topics, and Yeager’s rigorous intellect carries us far down the road in thinking about them. You may agree with him — as I ordinarily but not always do (I have debated with him in these pages)— or you may sharply disagree. But you will find him an excellent companion. I don’t need to tell you how seldom that can be said of other economists.

I’ll go farther. In an ideal world, scholars and academics would write nothing but the truth, as they found it, fully displaying their logic and evidence, and courting the most vigorous debate from informed opponents. Unfortunately, the academic world seldom lives up to that ideal. Yeager does, and it takes courage to do so. It takes courage, these days, to write real English, instead of academic jargon or (in Yeager’s field) the kind of analysis that substitutes numbers and formulas for thought. But Yeager always addresses himself to the intelligent person, not the narrow and desiccated specialist, and he treats the intelligent person as his friend in a great intellectual adventure, an adventure in which any thinking person would want to partake.

Here is true achievement. Hail!

 

 


Editor's Note: Review of "Is the Market a Test of Truth and Beauty?: Essays in Political Economy," by Leland B. Yeager. Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2011, 538 pages.



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Bachmann the Ominous

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“Don’t settle!”

So Representative Michele Bachmann shrilled repeatedly in a speech at Liberty University in late September, a speech rebroadcast on C-SPAN. Curiously, she never said what she meant by that theme of her entire speech. To judge from all the recounting of her own religious experiences, she meant: “Don’t settle for less than total commitment to Jesus Christ.”

But a campaign speech must have meant more than that. By implication, anyway, Bachmann meant: “Don’t settle for less than ideal public policies; do not compromise or even discuss compromise or delay.”

Bachmann described miserable conditions in the Plymouth Colony in 1630, when the colonists were nevertheless persuaded not to return to England. The lesson she was evidently drawing was: “Stick to the projects you have embarked upon,” and, by implication: “Never change course; never recognize and learn from mistakes.”

For scientific research, “Don’t settle” is sound advice. Scientific questions are not settled by compromise, by counting scientists’ heads, by argumentum ad hominem or ad populum, by personal abuse, or by what Ayn Rand called “argument from intimidation.” Scientific questions are settled, but only provisionally, by evidence and reasoning, with scientists double-checking each others’ work and being willing to revise their own judgments.

But Bachmann was not delivering a speech on scientific method. In her political context, she meant: “Don’t compromise on ideal public policy as it has been infallibly revealed to me and to you.” Such a mindset is ominous in anyone and especially in an aspirant for high office.




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