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Jul 23, 2014 4:08pm, by Tony Quain, 682 words
In the critically acclaimed movie Downfall, there is this one scene where Hitler is reviewing the progress of his counter-attacks in the defense of Berlin in April 1945. After several dispiriting reports about Russian advances, Hitler replies, "Steiner's assault will bring it under control." With some reluctance, General Jodl informs him that "Steiner couldn't mobilize enough men, [thus] he wasn't able to carry out his assault." Hitler blows up, ranting and screaming, "That Was an Order!"
The second-hand viewer of such a spectacle is both fascinated and bemused. Fascinated that someone as powerful as Hitler (once was) could expect that wanting or ordering something by consequence necessarily obtains it, regardless of worldly realities. Bemused that, upon realization of this distinction, the expecting person throws a temper tantrum unworthy of even the slightest sympathy.
Now far be it from me to compare Hitler with President Obama, his administration, or his apologists on the left. There are plenty of other instances in history of someone acting in the same way as Hitler did in this movie, it was just one that I remember most. But when the Washington Post publishes pieces like the linked one by Zach Goldfarb, one has a sense of fascination and bemusement that makes one remember such things. The expectation of dictated-command-causing-sheep-effect is not so rare, but never quite so pure.
Goldfarb's article shows the income ratios of various economic strata, first pre-tax, then with the "Bush" tax policy (as applied to 2013 tax rates), then with the "Obama" tax policy (2013). He then claims that, "If you've wondered whether Obama has made any headway at reducing income inequality, here's evidence that he has." Evidence? Oh, because his policy, since become law, says we will tax the rich more! It was so ordered, so it must have happened! Nevermind that policies have behavioral responses, such as less work effort, more tax sheltering, and the like. Or that there are a number of other policies or economic developments that may reduce or increase inequality apart from taxes. Or that there is an entire discipline of economics dedicated to studying and quantifying the intended and non-intended effects of economic policies. According to Goldfarb, we changed a law to reduce inequality, and therefore inequality is less! So it shall be written, and so it shall be done!
Goldfarb then claims that actual inequality (not just inequity in tax law) has gone down under Obama, from 2012 to 2013 (based on a computer model put together by the left-wing Tax Policy Center). But, he admits, "This is still above the ratio in 2009, meaning that after-tax inequality in 2013 was higher than it was 2009." So even though he recognizes that inequality went up under Obama overall, he claims that it went down this past year. The headline for his column is: "Don’t think Obama has reduced inequality? These numbers prove that he has." Like Richard Murphy, he ignores the long-term trend in favor of a single data point. He could have said, "don't think Obama has reduced inequality lately?" which would be somewhat defensible. But he chose not to. The headline he used is totally misleading if not downright false. Don't trust this guy.
Another problem is that income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, has been going up under Obama. The Census bureau number show that: Gini ratios for U.S. households increased from .466 in 2008 (or .468 in 2009) to .477 in 2012, and Gini ratios for U.S. families increased from .438 in 2008 (or .443 in 2009) to .451 in 2012. No numbers yet for 2013.
One last thing. His numbers all show the poor paying about the same taxes and the rich paying a lot more taxes. Who is better off here? No one. But re-distributionists will celebrate the numbers because they hate rich and upper-middle-class people anyway.
I don't doubt that Obama's re-distributionist tax policies will work to reduce income inequality somewhat, for whatever that is worth. But don't try to pretend that the policy's intention is enough to guarantee the policy's result, or that several other factors that result from his bad economic policies may not counteract these, or that Obama's overall record on inequality is positive.
Linked is my friend Michael Cannon's analysis of the ruling and how it may be mis-portrayed in the mainstream media.
Looks like this will go to the Supreme Court (and nothing will happen until then), but this is a significant win for Obamacare opponents and defenders of liberty.
Jul 21, 2014 10:53am, by Tony Quain, 475 words
I still like Marco Rubio, but pieces like this really make it look like he's trying to find a way to get government involved, not the other way around.
And it also seems like he has a warped view of "equality of opportunity":
This is the stroy of two Rubios: Tea Party Rubio and Big Government Rubio. The first paragraph is Tea Party Rubio: he recognizes that people have to do four things to live the American dream. But then for some reason in the second paragraph he morphs into Big Government Rubio. Suddenly its that people don't have these things. And, critically, that this means they do not have equal opportunity.
That is leftist talk. They had equal opportunity and did not do one or more of the four things. Then, because of this failure they struggle. But why do they get a reset? Why are now able to claim that their situation without an eduication, without a job, without a spouse, and without children is their starting point, and they want an equal opportunity now?
This is why equality of opportunity is such a dodgy thing to measure. Is it that we all have the same opportunity at some starting point (grade school? high school? 18?)? Or is it that we all have some level or equality of opportunity at any point in our lives, no matter how many mistakes we make?
And there's another thing. Going without one or more of these four things is not even necessarily a mistake. It is a choice. Many would say a bad choice, but a choice nonetheless. There are many reasons why either way could be a good choice, given one's situation. What Rubio is saying is that economically it is a good choice to do these four things the way he encourages. But economics is not everything (did I just say that?). Each individual has to make these choices considering their total impact, including the effects on their economic opportunities at the time and in the future, and then live with the consequences. When government gets involved, either by cajoling people to make one choice or another, or picking up the (economic only) pieces from that decision years later, then we lose the freedom to make the most important choices in our lives, and ceding them to bureaucrats or politicians who have no knowledge of our situation, at best just artificial sympathy.
I've always disliked HRC because of her Old Left politics, made less strident in later years as she tried to re-brand herself as a moderate Democrat, but still obvious to those of us who like to feel like we weren't beguiled by such things.
So I read this piece with interest. There is some truth in the theory Merry presents. The question is, is there enough?
Jul 18, 2014 11:40am, by Tony Quain, 1227 words
The linked article, originally posted on July 11th but made public on Pieria today (from what I can tell), attempts to de-legitemize libertarian moral arguments for a free society. This is done ostensibly to defuse these arguments as justifications for economic inequalities, but the scope of the arguments are generally more wide-ranging.
The article recognizes three libertarian justifications for inequality:
I would say that there are more arguments than these: Adam Smith's recognition that people generally strive for "the betterment of their condition," related to Thomas Jefferson's human right of "the pursuit of happiness," obviously contributes to inequality; the defense of this right is for all purposes a justification of its consequences. But let's defend for now the three identified here, which in Pieria's defense are not a bad characterization of what the typical libertarian intellectual may argue.
The "just deserts" justification may at first glance appear to be the most emotionally charged and least cerebral of the three, grounded in libertarians' (and society's) knee-jerk reaction to thieves, bludgers, and moral irrectitude. But it has been forcefully argued as a perfectly sensible moral principle by Robert Nozick, who laid out his entitlement theory of justice from which such a notion would be defensible. Essentially, if you have acquired or created your property morally, or traded your property morally, the property belongs to you. I can't do justice to Nozick's system here, but those familiar with it would be at pains to disagree that it is a workable system, not just demagoguery.
Pieria's attack on "just deserts" is by way of a fictional deserted island tale, where Steve takes Geoff's product (tomatoes) to provide for Steve's son, and the reader is asked to question whether "Geoff is justified in forcibly preventing Steve from taking one of his extra tomatoes to feed his otherwise starving child?" It is hard to imagine that most (if not all) readers would not see the sleight-of-hand here: we are implicitly supposed to ignore the fact that Steve has taken tomatoes picked by Geoff, and focus instead on Geoff's efforts to get them back. There is no question that Steve robbed Geoff and did so despite other options he had available: picking more tomatoes himself, asking Geoff for a tomato, trading services to Geoff for the tomato, etc. Take away the bedrock moral principle of property, and the desert island turns into an ugly Hobbesian war among the three rather than cooperation, trade, and charity, which would be communally beneficial.
The argument then continues as follows: "My guess is that most people, if they were cast as Geoff, would probably give Steve one of their extra tomatoes. Most would regard Steve or his child starving while Geoff sat on his pile of tomatoes - all the while preventing either of the former from accessing them - as intrinsically wrong." So if most people would give up a tomato to Steve, Steve would not have to steal in the first place, somewhat nullifying the example. Sure, people may think it is wrong for Geoff to keep his tomatoes, but they would also say that it is definitely wrong, more wrong, to steal tomatoes, and in any case Geoff should be given the opportunity, and the kudos or blame, for deciding whether to share his tomatoes or not, based on his sympathy for Steve's situation. Otherwise, Steve could take tomatoes even if he had no child, was just lazy, or was greedy himself.
On voluntarism, the crux of Pieria's argument is this:
First, third parties who are directly affected by voluntary exchange are victims of externalities, and libertarians make room for those. But here the author also talks about indirect effects, i.e. "each exchange results in restrictions on pieces of the world." Only in occupations where natural resources are involved is this true, and even here the effects of one person making use of resources ("mixing their labor with it," as Locke would say) are generally far more beneficial than restrictive to third parties. They can now trade what they have produced (from other resources, or from secondary goods or services) with something else which is available to them, whether it be raw materials or fully developed products. Finally, to say that a compulsion-less world is one where people can freely choose to take whatever they want is quite obviously false, since it implies taking things from other people. Try stealing a car and asking the owner if that is not compulsion.
An attempt is made here to equate natural liberty with other "social realities," ones where there is no private property or a coercive state actor, and claim that one is no more justified than the other. But private property is natural, due to cause and effect, and premised by moral principles, none of which are true for a social reality that starts with coercive actions by an individual, a group of individuals, a majority of individuals, or their state proxy. Starting with the idea that what one creates is one's own is quite different from starting with the idea that a mob gets to decide what to do with it. We use collective action to avoid (or redress) aggressions between people, not to start them.
On the third point (growing the pie), Pieria starts off with this assertion: "'growing the pie', ... argues that granting some superior legal status will result in more wealth and opportunities for everyone." Again, this is false, since libertarians argue against granting superior legal status to anyone. Libertarians believe in legal equality, which in many ways is quite the opposite of equality of result. In fact, equality of result necessarily demands legal inequality, allowing some people to have lower tax rates, higher state benefits, and preferences in liberties such as employment or consumption.
Then it is claimed that greater equality results in more growth, citing a study that supposedly indicates that "lower inequality is generally associated with higher growth. In particular, large degrees of inequality result in lower growth of incomes for the poor." Other studies of this kind have just the opposite conclusion. But in any case, the study cited only claims correlation, not causation: "lower net inequality is robustly correlated with faster and more durable growth, for a given level of redistribution." In this study (as in others), the conclusion could just as easily be that faster growth creates lower inequality, not the other way around. Importantly, libertarian societies have no predisposition to establishing a pattern of greater inequality. Since the most free societies are the most productive, it is not inequality itself that determines libertarian cultures. Rather, the more unequal societies may very well be the most redistributive and the least libertarian, either because they obviously have a greater desire for redistribution or because redistributive or other statist policies create greater inequality. In fact, one of the main conclusions of the study cited is "more unequal societies tend to redistribute more."
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