Archive for the ‘Statism’ Category

Not all leftists are alike.

I speculated a couple of years ago that there were four types of statists and put them on a spectrum. I put “rational leftists” at one end. If you wanted to pick a nation that represents this mindset, think Sweden. Nice, civilized, market-oriented, but plenty of redistribution.

On the other end of the spectrum were three less-palatable types.

  1. The “totalitarians,” which means a dictatorial state-run economy, as represented by the Soviet Union and China.
  2. The “socialists,” a democratically elected form of a state-run economy, as represented by post-WWII United Kingdom.
  3. The “crazies,” which I confess is a catch-all category to capture visceral, unthinking, and punitive intervention.

And for that final category, I listed Bernie Sanders and Greece as representatives.

And if you want to know why I listed Sanders, here’s some of Jeffrey Tucker’s FEE column from 2015.

Bernie Sanders, that sweet old socialist who we would have to invent if he didn’t exist in real life, elicited guffaws all over the Internet with his now famous comment about deodorant choice. “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers,” he said, “when children are hungry in this country.” …The underlying theory here is that the proliferation of deodorant and tennis shoes come at the expense of food for the poor. There is only a certain amount of wealth in the world, this thinking goes.

In practical terms, Sanders must think the world is zero-sum. I can’t be rich unless you are poor, and vice-versa.

Tucker explains that this isn’t true. Or, to be more accurate, it’s not true when markets are allowed to function.

That’s what was so captivating about the Industrial Revolution. All kinds of people were suddenly getting richer, and not by grabbing other people’s stuff. Wealth seemed to be actually expanding. ..Adam Smith…patiently observed how expansion of the division of labor, innovation, and trade — all based on secure ownership titles and free association — were working together to make everyone better off. This was not a zero-sum world. We escaped that fate long ago. …This was the single most marvelous discovery that economics made.

But because of his visceral disdain for markets, Sanders doesn’t trust free people to make decisions.

People who talk like Sanders imagine themselves in the position of dictators, deciding what social priorities ought to be. …What if they got their way? They would have to override billions of decentralized decisions. They would have to reject the judgements of millions of balance sheets. They would have to use massive force to prevent people from inventing, making bargains, striking deals, and buying and selling. It really does mean the end of freedom… It is for this reason that socialist central planning has brought reduced standards of living, poverty, and economic stagnation and chaos everywhere it has been tried.

And Sanders isn’t the only crazy.

Jeremy Corbyn’s economic views are also astoundingly bad, as explained by Andrew McKie for CapX.

…no matter how clueless and unrealistic the Labour leader is when it comes to Europe, that’s nothing compared with his failure to come to grips with the real world. Corbyn said: “I do not agree with or accept the idea there has to be competition in mail delivery. After all, we all have one letterbox, and it is much more efficient to have one postal delivery person coming down the street rather than three or four from different or competing companies.” …Corbyn isn’t just saying that Labour plans to renationalise the Royal Mail. …wave goodbye to Amazon Prime and next-day delivery from Asos, and say so long to FedEx, DHL or UPS and their guarantees. As for innovations that have just arrived or are in the works, such as universal same-day delivery and the use of drones, forget it.

McKie delves into the many reasons why Corbyn is so misguided.

The extraordinary point is that Corbyn really seems to think that, if there’s one of something, it’s neither realistic nor desirable that there should be any alternative on offer. Heaven forbid that you might think that you could make a choice, or that anyone else might provide a better, a cheaper or – in any way at all – a different service. …Corbyn’s “one-size fits all” approach ought to seem ridiculous, even if no one would laugh if they had to live in a country that operated that way. But he’s not joking; he really seems to think that all the reforms, the improvements in living standards, the economic growth and consumer choice of the last 40 years were a mistake, and that the state-run companies of Britain (then known as ‘the sick man of Europe”) were better. He doesn’t seem to realise that it is exactly the market – the existence of choice and competition – which led to those improvements, which drove innovation, drove up living standards, and drove down prices.

Everything Tucker and McKie says is spot on.

My two cents on this issue is that Sanders and Corbyn are guilty of two huge mistakes.

  • First, they think the economy is a fixed pie, which is laughably false. Just watch these videos by Don Boudreaux and Deirdre McCloskey. The simple lesson is that everyone can become richer at the same time. At least if they have decent policy.
  • Second, they have no idea of the valuable role of “creative destruction” in encouraging ever-more efficient and less costly ways of generating ever-more valuable goods and services. Watch this video and this video for more details.

You don’t need to be an economist to understand why Sanders and Corbyn are wrong. Normal people can look at how fast various nations grow (or don’t grow) and draw the appropriate conclusions.

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Since I called Trump a big-government Republican during the 2016 campaign and just condemned his capitulation to a spendaholic budget deal, it goes without saying that I’m not a huge fan of the President.

Heck, I also recently criticized his protectionism, warning that additional barriers to trade could offset the pro-growth effect of lower tax rates.

But I like to think I’m fair in my criticisms. I stay away from the personal stuff (other than for humor purposes) and and simply focus on whether liberty is increasing or decreasing.

Today, though, I want to quasi-defend Trump because a professor from the University of Richmond wrote a really strange column for the Washington Post with a very bizarre assertion about Juan Perón, the populist post-World War II president of Argentina.

It’s en vogue for enraged liberals to compare Trumpism to Argentine Peronism, wielding the analogy as a warning about the potential apocalypse that they fear is about to engulf us. …Like so many familiar historical cliches, however, this one is incomplete, if not downright wrong.

The professor who wrote the piece, Ernesto Semán, wants us to believe Perón is someone to admire, sort of the Argentine version of Bernie Sanders.

…the core of Peronism was a vision that is the exact opposite of Trumpism. Peronism led a process of expanding economic equality, collective organization and political enfranchisement. …Juan Perón presided over a process of massive wealth redistribution on behalf of the emerging working classes. …his government increased its intervention in the economy and provided…free public health care and education for everyone, as well as a wide array of union-managed social services. Peronism enacted strong regulations on private capital… Argentina’s social transformations resembled in some ways those that took place in the United States during the New Deal. Perón certainly thought so…in 1946 quoted entire paragraphs from President Franklin Roosevelt’s second inaugural address.

And he says that today’s Democrats should embrace Perón’s policies.

…comparison of Trumpism to Peronism…ignores how in fundamental ways the two are polar opposites… Instead of fearing Latin American populism, …Democrats should look to it as offering a potential path forward for a more equal and fair country.

Wow. This isn’t quite as bizarre as arguing that Venezuela should be a role model (looking at you, Bernie Sanders, Joe Stiglitz, and others), but it’s close.

Here’s everything you need to know about Peronism, from a 2014 article in the Economist.

The country ranked among the ten richest in the world…its standing as one of the world’s most vibrant economies is a distant memory… Its income per head is now 43% of those same 16 rich economies… As the urban, working-class population swelled, so did the constituency susceptible to Perón’s promise to support industry and strengthen workers’ rights.

Takes a look at this chart from the article showing Argentina’s per-capita GDP relative to other nations. As you can see, the country used to be much richer than Brazil and considerably richer than Japan. And all through the first half of the 20th century, Argentina was not that far behind the United States and other wealthy nations. But then look at the lines starting after Perón came to power in the late 1940s.

In other words, Peronist policies reduced the comparative prosperity of the ordinary people.

Just like similar policies have reduced the comparative prosperity of ordinary people in Venezuela.

What makes these numbers especially powerful is that convergence theory assumes that the gap between rich nations and poor nations should shrink. Yet statist policies are causing the gap to widen.

I put together a chart back in 2011 showing the relative rankings of both Argentina and Hong Kong. As you can see, Argentina used to be one of the world’s richest nations. Indeed, it was the world’s 10th-richest country when Perón took over. And Hong Kong was relatively poor. But look at what’s happened over time. Perón’s statist policies produced a steady decline while Hong Kong’s laissez-faire approach has now made it one of the richest jurisdictions on the planet.

Yet Mr Semán says we should copy Perón. Go figure.

Let’s conclude by circling back to Trump. Semán is upset because some people are equating Trump (who he despises) with Perón (who he admires).

I’m vaguely sympathetic to part of his argument. He’s right that Trump’s version of populism is not the same as Perón’s left-wing version of populism (basically the Bernie Sanders agenda).

But since I care about the less fortunate, I have nothing for disdain for Semán’s assertion that Perón’s policies should be adopted in America.

P.S. Given his remarkable level of  economic illiteracy, you won’t be surprised to learn that Pope Francis was influenced by Peronism.

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In TV debates, I’ve asserted that folks on the left are “neurotic” and “guilt-ridden.” And I shared a make-believe divorce agreement that exploited every negative stereotype about left wingers.

So I’m not averse to philosophical mockery, at least if it’s done with humor rather than malice.

As you might imagine, this is a two-way street. Folks on the other side make fun of libertarians quite frequently.

And not always with a smile. According to one leftist academic, we are borderline autistic.

Speaking at New York City’s Unitarian Church of All Souls…, MacLean…answered an audience member’s question about the motivations of the late economist James Buchanan, whom she considers to be one of the founders of libertarianism. In response, she suggested that Buchanan might have been on the “autism spectrum.” “It’s striking to me how many of the architects of this cause seem to be on the autism spectrum,” she said an hour into the talk. “You know, people who don’t feel solidarity or empathy with others and who have difficult human relationships sometimes.”

I don’t know anything about how autism is measured, so I can’t agree or disagree with her assertion. Though I’m tempted to reflexively disagree because MacLean’s book on Buchanan was incredibly shoddy.

But I will admit that libertarians can be a bit dorky. Heck, I’ve specifically shared humor noting our nerdy tendencies.

Moreover, Jonathan Haidt, who is a serious and non-shoddy academic, has done some work quantifying the libertarian psyche.

We’ve been deluged in recent years with research on the psychology (and brain structure) of liberals and conservatives. But very little is known about libertarians — an extremely important group in American politics that is not at home in either political party. …In a project led by Ravi Iyer, we analyzed data from nearly twelve thousand self-described libertarians, and compared their responses to those of 21,000 conservatives and 97,000 liberals. …The findings largely confirm what libertarians have long said about themselves, but they also shed light on why some people and not others end up finding libertarian ideas appealing. Here are three of the major findings:

Here’s how libertarians score on “moral values”.

Libertarians match liberals in placing a relatively low value on the moral foundations of loyalty, authority, and sanctity (e.g., they’re not so concerned about sexual issues and flag burning), but they join conservatives in scoring lower than liberals on the care and fairness foundations (…e.g., they don’t want a welfare state and heavy handed measures to enforce equality). This is why libertarians can’t be placed on the spectrum from left to right: …They really do put liberty above all other values.

Here’s how they score on “reasoning and emotions”.

Libertarians have the most “masculine” style, liberals the most “feminine.” We used Simon Baron-Cohen’s measures of “empathizing” (on which women tend to score higher) and “systemizing”, which refers to “the drive to analyze the variables in a system, and to derive the underlying rules that govern the behavior of the system.” Men tend to score higher on this variable. Libertarians score the lowest of the three groups on empathizing, and highest of the three groups on systemizing. …On this and other measures, libertarians consistently come out as the most cerebral, most rational, and least emotional. On a very crude problem solving measure related to IQ, they score the highest.

And here’s what characterizes libertarians on “relationships”.

Libertarians are the most individualistic; they report the weakest ties to other people. They score lowest of the three groups on many traits related to sociability, including extroversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. They have a morality that matches their sociability – one that emphasizes independence.

In other words, based on the final category, maybe there is some truth to the stereotype that we’re introverted, disagreeable, and self-centered.

I don’t know if that means we are more likely to be autistic, but dorkiness might be a semi-fair insult.

But folks on the left should be careful about stereotyping since they have vulnerabilities of their own.

Here’s a story from the U.K.-based Times, for instance, on how leftists are more likely to be weaklings.

A study has found that weaker men are more likely to be in favour of redistributive taxation. …That is one interpretation of research by academics from Brunel University, who assessed 171 men for how buff they were – looking at strength, bicep circumference, weight and height. Writing in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour, they found that those men who looked more formidable were…much less likely to back policies that redistribute wealth. Michael Price, from Brunel University London, said that this fitted with some of the predictions of evolutionary psychology. …“Our minds evolved in environments where strength was a big determinant of success. If you find yourself in a body not threatened by other males, if you feel you can win competitions for status, then maybe you start thinking inequality is pretty good.” The question was which way did the relationship go? Were men who were naturally strong also more likely to be less egalitarian – calibrating their morals to fit their abilities? Or was it that men who were less egalitarian felt more need to go to the gym, unconsciously believing they needed the strength in order to reach a better place in a red-in-tooth-and-claw social hierarchy? When Dr Price factored in time spent in the gym some, but not all, of the link disappeared – implying some truth to the second explanation.

For what it’s worth, I shared a similar story on this kind of research back in 2012.

There’s also academic research indicating leftists are not as attractive.

The researchers claim that never before has the effects of physical attractiveness on politics been examined on this level and that there is “good reason to believe that individuals’ physical attractiveness may alter their political values and worldviews”. They said that their findings prove attractive people tend to lean towards the right because they have better social skills and are more popular, competent and intelligent due to the “halo effect”… Writing about their findings in the Politics and Life Sciences journal published in December 2017, the pair said that on average, hotter people have an easier life so don’t see the need for more welfare, aid and government support, unlike their left-wing counterparts.

And there’s more than one study reaching this conclusion.

A recently published study in the Journal of Public Economics concludes that the attractiveness of a candidate does correlate with their politics. They find that politicians on the right are more good looking in Europe, the United States and Australia. The study shows correlation, not causation, but the researchers float a simple economic explanation for why this might happen. Numerous studies have shown that good-looking people are likely to earn more, and that people who earn more are typically more opposed to redistributive policies, like the progressive taxes and welfare programs favored by the left. The researchers also offer a more general psychological explanation for the trend: That good-looking people are often treated better than others, and thus see the world as a more just place. Past studies have found that the more attractive people believe themselves to be, the lower their preference for egalitarianism, a value typically associated with the political left.

For what it’s worth, the three articles I just cited don’t reflect well on folks on the left, but conservatives shouldn’t feel good either since the research sort of implies that they’re entitled and arrogant jerks.

It’s unclear where libertarians score on these measures.

Incidentally, there is research on how attractiveness means higher earnings and some folks actually think government should somehow intervene to compensate for “lookism.”

Now let’s shift from soft science to hard science. A 2012 study from Trends in Genetics advances the hypothesis that ideology and values may be hard-wired.

…we review the ‘genetics of politics’, focusing on the topics that have received the most attention: attitudes, ideologies, and pro-social political traits, including voting behavior and participation. …there has been a recent shift in perspective by both life and social scientists that emphasizes the interplay between genes and the environment, and gene–culture coevolution, which has proven more accurate than any position favoring either nature or nurture. It is against this background that a growing movement has begun to address the substantial, but not exclusive, role of genetic influences in the manifestation of political differences. …These findings are summarized in Figure 1, which shows that genetic influences account for a substantial proportion of individual differences in political traits.

And here is Figure 1, which shows that genetics (the blue bars) matters a lot for certain things like overall ideology and doesn’t matter at all for other factors such as party identification.

By the way, I have no way of judging whether this is good science or bad science, and I don’t even know if the results are positive or negative from a libertarian perspective. I’m simply sharing the results because they’re potentially illuminating/interesting.

Let’s close with some research that teases out some differences between libertarians (or “economic conservatives,” which I assume is a proxy) and other groups.

Here’s some academic research on attitudes about science.

It is frequently asserted that conservatives exhibit a cognitive style that renders them less well disposed toward science than progressives, and that they are correspondingly less trusting of scientific institutions and less knowledgeable about scientific ideas. Here we scrutinize these assertions, using data from the U.S. General Social Survey. We distinguish between three different definitions of ‘conservative’: first, identifying as conservative, rather than as liberal; second, holding socially conservative views, rather than socially progressive views; and third, holding economically conservative views, rather than economically leftist views. We find that self-identified conservatives and social conservatives are less scientifically literate and optimistic about science than, respectively, self-identified liberals and social progressives. However, we find that economic conservatives are as or more scientifically literate and optimistic about science than economic leftists.

In other words, folks that lean more libertarian rank at the top in terms of knowledge and attitudes.

And here’s an article about underlying value systems.

Political battles in the US are often portrayed as a clash between “bleeding heart” liberals and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” conservatives. …Scientists are beginning to zero in on a few key differences in the ways that people on opposite ends of the political spectrum react to stimuli. …A study published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research in January suggests that you might be able to tell whether someone is liberal or conservative simply by the way they react to pictures of gross things like blood, feces or vomit. The authors found that socially conservative students will physically look away from “disgusting” images more quickly than their liberal peers (but the same didn’t hold true for people with fiscally conservative beliefs). …There’s also evidence that the areas of the brain that process and express fear are more active in conservative voters, which might make them more likely to quickly turn away from something that could make them sick. …New research on compassion is de-bunking the myth that liberal voters might inherently be more empathetic and kind-hearted people than conservatives.

Since folks on the right donate more than folks on the left, I’ve always thought the stereotype about generous leftists was absurd.

As “Libertarian Jesus” teaches, you’re not supposed to be charitable with other people’s money.

But what I noticed in the article was the difference between fiscal conservatives (presumably more libertarian?) and general conservatives. We may be allies on some issues, but we’re not the same (though I’m not sure why anyone would want to look any longer than necessary at pictures of blood, feces, and vomit).

My last item is a video exploring the research of Haidt and others on libertarian values.

Haidt isn’t a libertarian, but his research (which I’ve cited before) seems honest and rigorous.

My goal in all this is to figure out how nerdy libertarians can be more persuasive.

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It’s now a pattern. I’ll come across a soul-sapping story about terrible suffering caused by statism in Venezuela and I think the country has hit rock bottom. Such as back in September, when I read about people literally starving.

But then I will read another report about incredible misery and realize that the socialist regime is even worse than I thought. Such as back in December, when I read about economic deprivation ruining sex for the women of the country.

And then I find another horrifying example of how big government destroys lives and I’m forced to reconsider the definition of failure. Such as last month, when I read about criminal gangs using food to recruit children.

Despite this pattern, I’m going out on a limb and asserting that nothing possibly could be worse than this Washington Post story of Venezuelan parents giving up their children because they can’t afford to feed them.

In September, her mother left her at a subway station with a bag of clothes and a note begging someone to feed the child.  Poverty and hunger rates are soaring as Venezuela’s economic crisis leaves store shelves empty of food, medicine, diapers and baby formula. Some parents can no longer bear it. They are doing the unthinkable.  Giving up their children. …it was a challenge to actually meet the tiniest victims of this broken nation. My requests to enter orphanages run by the socialist government had gone unanswered. One child-protection official — warning of devastating conditions, including a lack of diapers — confided that such a visit would be “impossible.” …A child-welfare official in El Libertador — one of the capital’s poorest areas — called the situation at public orphanages and temporary-care centers “catastrophic.”  “We have grave problems here,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals from the authoritarian government.

Fortunately, there are still some private facilities that help families.

But even though such institutions are run more efficiently and compassionately, it’s still a tragedy that they have to exist. And the stories the reporter uncovered are heartbreaking.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” said Angélica Pérez, a 32-year-old mother of three, near tears. …she showed up at Fundana with her 3-year-old son and her two daughters, ages 5 and 14. She lost her job… Her plan: leave the children at the center, where she knew they would be fed, so she could travel to neighboring Colombia to find work. She hoped she would eventually be able to take them back. Typically, children are allowed to stay at Fundana for six months to a year before being placed in foster care or put up for adoption. “You don’t know what it’s like to see your children go hungry,” Pérez told me. “You have no idea. I feel like I’m responsible, like I’ve failed them. But I’ve tried everything. There is no work, and they just keep getting thinner.

Here’s another incomprehensibly sad example.

For many Venezuelan families, hunger presents an excruciating choice.  I met Dayana Silgado, 28, as she entered Fundana’s new food center for parents in economic crisis. Silgado seemed drained. The shoulder blades on her thin frame protruded from her tank top. In November, she surrendered her two youngest children to Fundana after losing her job… At the center, she knew, they would get three meals a day. Fundana’s home for children did not accept older kids, so Silgado was still trying to feed her two eldest — ages 8 and 11 — at home. …After eating dinner, Silgado said, her children tell her, “Mom, I want more.” “But I don’t have more to give,” she said.

What a terrifying awful country.

Shame on Bernie Sanders. Shame on Joe Stiglitz. Shame on every leftist who offered support for the evil government of Venezuela.

Since we’re on the topic of that despotic regime, here are a few additional stories that are worth a mention.

We’ll start with a lesson about inflation.

Street vendors in Venezuela are weaving baskets from banknotes after 13,000 per cent inflation rendered them practically worthless. …Cash is worth so little there bank notes are often seen littered on the streets. …street seller Wilmer Rojas has found a use for them. …The 25-year-old is selling origami-style handbags, purses, hats and baskets – all made out of money. …Mr Rojas, a father-of-three, said: ‘People throw them away because they are no good to buy anything. …These things are no good for buying anything. At least I am putting them to good use rather than throwing them away.’ …Jose Leon, a 26-year-old designer, draws the faces of Star Wars characters over the image of Simon Bolivar and other famous Venezuelans pictured on the notes. Foreign customers pay him up to £14 ($20) for each piece of ‘money art’, which he said increases the note’s value by nearly 5,000 per cent.

Wow. I periodically gripe about the Federal Reserve, but I guess I should consider myself lucky.

Now let’s look at our next story. Rather than weave money, some Venezuelans have turned to crime.

When he set off at sunset from the town of La Grita in western Venezuela on his 900-km (560-mile) journey, Aguilar knew he was taking his life in his hands. With hunger widespread amid a fifth year of painful economic implosion under President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has seen a frightening surge in attacks on increasingly lawless roads. Just a few days earlier, Aguilar said he sat terrified when hundreds of looters swarmed a stationary convoy, overwhelming drivers by sheer numbers. They carted off milk, rice and sugar from other trucks but left his less-prized vegetables alone. “Every time I say goodbye to my family, I entrust myself to God and the Virgin,” said the 36-year-old trucker. …looting of cargoes on roads has soared in Venezuela in recent times and appears…directly linked to growing hunger and desperation among the population of 30 million. …“The hunger and despair are far worse than people realize, what we are seeing on the roads is just another manifestation of that. We’ve also been seeing people stealing and butchering animals in fields, attacking shops and blocking roads to protest their lack of food. It’s become extremely serious,” said ORC director Oswaldo Ramirez. …The dystopian attacks in a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates are pushing up transport and food costs in an already hyperinflationary environment, as well as stifling movement of goods in the crisis-hit OPEC nation.

Given these horrifying condition, is it any surprise that people are doing whatever they can to escape the socialist hellhole of Venezuela?

Thousands of desperate Venezuelans are trying to enter Colombia in a bid to escape the hunger and soaring crime rate caused by the spiralling economic crisis. Incredible pictures show the mass exodus of refugees crossing the Simon Bolivar international bridge trying to flee the political crisis threatening to engulf Venezuela. Colombia – along with its neighbour Brazil – has sent extra soldiers to patrol their porous border with the country after officially taking in more than half a million migrants over the last six months of 2017. …In a visit to a border city at the epicenter of Colombia’s mounting migration crisis, President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday announced new measures that could make it more difficult for Venezuelan migrants to cross into the country illegally or remain there without any official status. ‘Colombia has never lived a situation like the one we are encountering today,’ Santos said. Migration into Colombia has surged as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has moved to consolidate his rule and the nation’s economy plummets. Colombia migration authorities say there are an estimated 600,000 Venezuelans currently in Colombia – double the number six months ago.

I also know from my visits to Panama that the Venezuelan population has exploded there as well. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the same is true for other nations in Latin America as well.

In other words, this image may be humorous, but it’s also true.

P.S. To be fair, while Venezuela has an awful government, it does allow citizens to escape. So it’s not as bad as the despotic dictatorships of Cuba and North Korea. At least not yet.

P.P.S. Some leftists are disowning Venezuela. But only because it isn’t sufficiently socialist!

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I realize that such exercises are probably “click-bait,” but I generally can’t resist taking tests/quizzes designed to identify my philosophical/political orientation.

Here are some previous examples, all of which made sense.

But there was also a political quiz that pegged me as a “moderate,” which might be reasonable conclusion since libertarians have some right-wing views and some left-wing views. But that quiz also concluded that I had “few strong opinions,” which is a nonsensical result.

But maybe I really am a moderate because there’s a new 20-question quiz from IDRlabs and – as you can see – I’m exactly in the middle.

What makes this quiz interesting (or bizarre, depending on your outlook) is that none of the questions are about issues. Instead, you’re asked about lifestyle. Such as:

  • Are you orderly or messy?
  • Do you prefer country music or classical music?
  • Do you want your home on a busy street or quiet street?
  • Are philosophical discussions fun, boring, or pointless?
  • Do you like arugula?

At the risk of over-simplifying, if you give answers suggesting you prefer a quiet and conventional life, you’ll get a right-wing score. And you’ll get a left-wing score if your answers suggest you have a more eclectic approach to life (and, if you’re like me, you don’t know whether you like arugula, so you have a hard time answering certain questions).

For what it’s worth, I think the quiz does capture something important. There is research indicating that people’s policy views are largely determined by underlying values.

And these values are more important than economics. Coming from a leftist perspective, Thomas Frank wrote What’s the Matter with Kansas last decade to address the supposed paradox of people with modest incomes voting for conservative politicians. And Thomas Edsall, also coming from the left, observed in the New York Times that wealthy people have become Democrats.

So much for Marx’s theory of economic determinism!

This is outside of my area of expertise, but I’m interested in this type of analysis because it’s my job to proselytize in favor of freedom. So I often try to convince right wingers to have a more laissez-faire approach to social and international matters and I often try to convince left wingers to have a more laissez-faire approach to economic issues.

But how do you convince people about issues if their views are dependent on an underlying value system?

And it gets more complicated because of what’s happening in society.

I’ll share a couple of items that struck me as important. First, here’s some of what Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

There are the protected and the unprotected. The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. …The protected are the accomplished, the secure, the successful—those who have power or access to it. They are protected from much of the roughness of the world. …They are figures in government, politics and media. They live in nice neighborhoods, safe ones. Their families function, their kids go to good schools, they’ve got some money. All of these things tend to isolate them, or provide buffers. …They’re insulated from many of the effects of their own decisions. …This is a terrible feature of our age—that we are governed by protected people who don’t seem to care that much about their unprotected fellow citizens.

And here’s a video featuring David Goodhart of London’s Policy Exchange, who says that the split is now between the “anywheres” who are cosmopolitan and the “somewheres” who are traditional.

In some sense, it seems that politics is being determined by class.  The “protected” and the “anywheres” are increasingly on the left (the “rational left” rather than the Bernie variety). And the “unprotected” and the “somewheres” are voting blocs for the right.

Incidentally, this worries me because elites have a disproportionate influence on public policy, And there’s now cultural pressure for such people to adopt left-wing views (a good example is the condescending tone of this Washington Post column). Simply stated, most educated people want to be seen as urbane and cosmopolitan, characteristics that are now associated with the left.

And it goes without saying that Trump is probably accelerating this process – which is doubly frustrating to me because his occasional support for good policy doesn’t change the fact that he’s not a supporter of free markets and limited government. Yet because he is now an avatar for the right, many educated people will now decide they should support statist policies and candidates.

The bottom line is that being an advocate for liberty is becoming an even bigger challenge!

P.S. Returning to the original topic of online tests, Reason’s political candidate quiz produced a logical conclusion.

P.P.S. By contrast, I thought the quiz on supposed libertarian hypocrisy was largely a straw-man exercise.

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The left’s fixation on reducing inequality is misguided. If they really care about the poor, they instead should focus on reducing poverty.

And that means pushing for more growth. We know from U.S. evidence and global evidence that better economic performance is the effective way to boost living standards for the less fortunate (I also recommend a look at the data from China).

Unfortunately, many folks on the left pursue policies that undermine prosperity and actually exacerbate inequality. I put together some examples back in 2015, and now it’s time to expand that list.

A report from the left-leaning Brookings Institution looks at how regulations protect – and enrich – the top 1 percent.

The real cause of elite inequality is the lack of open access and market competition in elite investment and labor markets. To bring the elite down to size, we need to make them compete. …people working in the securities industry (which includes investment banks and hedge funds) earn 26 percent more, regardless of skill. Those working in legal services get a 23 percent pay raise. These are among the two industries with the highest levels of “gratuitous pay”—pay in excess of skill… Using microdata from the Census Bureau, I find that the “gratuitous pay” premium in certain industries has increased dramatically since 1980. …The accredited investor…rules contribute to inequality by giving the richest investors privileged access to the best investment strategies. …If the law was changed to allow mutual funds to offer hedge fund portfolios, hundreds of billions of dollars would be transferred annually from super-rich hedge fund managers and investment bankers to ordinary investors, and even low-income workers with retirement plans. …politicians and intellectuals often champion market competition—but what they mean by that is competition among low-paid service workers, production workers, or computer programmers who face competition from trade and immigration, while elite professionals sit behind a protectionist wall. …For lawyers, doctors, and dentists— three of the most over-represented occupations in the top 1 percent—state-level lobbying from professional associations has blocked efforts to expand the supply of qualified workers who could do many of the “professional” job tasks for less pay.

Matt Ridley, a columnist fo the U.K.-based Times, writes about the pernicious impact of cronyism, licensing, and industrial policy.

The history of industrial strategies is littered with attempts to pick winners that ended up picking losers. Worse, it is government intervention, not laissez faire, that has done most to increase inequality and to entrench wealth and privilege. For example, the planning system restricts the supply of land for housebuilding, raising property prices to the enormous benefit of the haves (yes, that includes me) at the expense of the have-nots. …Why are salaries so high in financial services? Because there are huge barriers to entry erected by government, which hands incumbent firms enormous quasi-monopoly advantages and thereby shelters them from upstart competition. …Why are lawyers so rich? Because there is a government-licensed cartel restricting the supply of them. …Our current “industrial strategy” for energy — to subsidise offshore wind, solar, biomass and nuclear — is responsible for the fact that domestic electricity prices are the seventh highest… Domestic electricity bills are a higher proportion of household budgets for the poor than for the rich, so this policy is regressive; doubly so, because the wind and solar subsidies mostly go to the rich. 

Let’s consider health policy. Folks on the left favor the healthcare exclusion in the tax code because government supposedly should play a role in encouraging health insurance. What’s the impact of this policy? Well, let’s peruse a Robert Samuelson column on health policy and inequality, which is based on a study from the Mercatus Center.

…add health care to the causes of growing wage inequality in America. There’s a largely unknown paradox at work. Companies that try to provide roughly equal health insurance plans for their workers — as many do — end up making wage and salary inequality worse. …It’s simple arithmetic… Paying for expensive health insurance squeezes what’s left for wage and salary raises. Economic inequality increases, because health insurance typically represents a larger share of total compensation for lower-paid than higher-paid workers. Their wages are squeezed the most. …Even though the company raised its compensation package by 5 percent for all workers, the wage and salary gap between the best- and worst- paid workers widened. Pursuing one type of equality (health coverage) inadvertently worsened another type of inequality (wages and incomes). …From 1992 to 2010, about half the increase in wage and salary inequality is explained by rising health costs.

We’ll close with a new study by an economist at the University of Michigan for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The three major reforms that I will analyze are: (1) the state income tax introduction, (2) the introduction of withholding, bundled with the introduction of third-party reporting, and (3) the intergovernmental agreement between the federal and the state governments for coordinating auditing practices. …the introduction of the income tax raised the Atkinson inequality index by 0.015, which is about 7 percent of the sample mean, statistically significant at the 1 percent level. …The income tax introduction raised the Gini coefficient by 0.014, which is about 3 percent, significant at the 5 percent level. …All of the three reforms raised the Theil index in a statistically significant way, at least at the 5 percent level. The introduction of the income tax and of the withholding raised it by about 0.06… In other words, the fact that the only effect that these reforms had in common was raising the revenues from income tax and making the government bigger and the private sector smaller, suggest that a bigger government, at least in the recent history, had the effect of higher inequality.

Here’s a chart from Professor Troiano’s research. Note how the rich got richer at the point (“0”) the income tax was implemented.

And here’s a look at what happened to various measures of inequality. Again, pay attention to the point (“0”) where the income tax was imposed.

Writing for PJ Media, Simon Constable discusses some implications of the NBER report.

Income taxes don’t reduce income inequality. Instead they do quite the opposite, according to December-dated analysis published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The paper looked at three major 20th century U.S. tax reforms and found that they did nothing to decrease income inequality and everything to increase it. …Why did income inequality increase when that wasn’t the goal of the reforms? …bigger government ends up retarding the private sector and reducing the size of the wealth pie. Naturally, the poorer come out worst in such a situation, while the well-heeled can get top tier advice to dodge the tax bullet. Hence, the rich get richer and the poor stay skint. …Nobody who believes in liberty, or public choice theory, will be surprised to learn that higher taxes lead to more inequality,” says Robert E. Wright, professor of political economy at Augustana University in South Dakota. The problem is that the elites in any society, including the U.S., control the government and they quite naturally take care of themselves first, he says.

The bottom line is that our statist friends claim that they’re shooting at the rich, but the poor tend to suffer the most damage.

If you want more evidence, look at what happened to income for various groups during the pro-free market era of the 1980s and 1990s compared to what’s happened so far this century.

P.S. The most twisted look at inequality was produced by the IMF, which implied that radically lower living standards would be acceptable if everyone was more equally poor.

P.P.S. The most satirical look at inequality comes from David Azerrad.

P.P.P.S. The most insightful comment on inequality comes from Johan Norberg, who reminds us that we should be upset by unfairness, not inequality.

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In recent months, I’ve written two very lengthy columns about the deterioration of Venezuela’s evil government.

And I’ve also looked at long-run economic data to show how statism produces awful results for ordinary people.

But I sometimes think anecdotes are the most persuasive for the simple reason that ordinary people can relate. That’s why I shared last month the story about how the government has even made sex less pleasurable.

The Miami Herald has a story that underscores the horrible consequences of statism.

…on the streets, walking around with a bag of groceries can attract more thieves than a full wallet. The critical food shortages pummeling Venezuela have started to change the nature of crime in the country, at times increasing what some experts have started to call “hunger crimes” and at other times turning food into a valuable item to be taken by force. …The crisis has forced millions of Venezuelans to eat just once a day, and thousands of others to regularly search garbage cans in hopes of finding something to eat, according to recent surveys.

This is very grim, but it gets worse.

Not only are people committing crimes because of hunger, children are being recruited into gangs because that is the way to eat.

Venezuelan gangs are no longer recruiting youths in some poor areas by offering them easy money to buy clothes or the latest cell phones. Instead, they are offering food baskets. …Criminal gangs are also using food to recruit children and teenagers in Venezuela, a country with one of the world’s highest crime rates. …“The recruitment techniques, the bait that in the past used to be fashion or luxury goods, have been replaced by the offer of basic food items,” said the report, published this week. That’s how “crime gangs are gaining ground in conquering thousands of youths who are joining in the violence and whose destiny is death, prison and the frustration of so many dreams and hopes forged by their families and communities,” the report added.

As a parent, this is a horrifying story. Imagine not being able to feed your children and then watching getting lured into a life that almost certainly will not end well.

Utterly depressing. A very bad situation keeps getting worse.

The only good news is that leftists used to make excuses for Venezuela and now some of them are trying to disown that brutal regime.

P.S. In spite of the wretched state of the Venezuelan economy, some nutty leftists who put together a “Happy Planet Index” that ranked Venezuela above the United States. I still haven’t figured out whether that was crazier than the Jeffrey Sachs’ index that put Cuba above America.

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