Category Archives: Corruption

How Do You Measure The ‘American Dream?’

The question of class mobility has come to define the “American Dream” in political discourse. And, although this post will take a bit of a contrarian position, it is absolutely inarguable that there is a problem with economic immobility today that is having a very depressing impact on the way we communicate to solve problems and on our freedoms in general. But this is not how you go about making that point.

There are many accepted indicators of whether a person has “done everything right” but the most important such indicators have traditionally included college advancement (graduation and especially graduate degrees), marriage, and home ownership.

The original graphic is a classic example of a complex topic simplified into uselessness. When I look at the graph, I see that, in fact, college grads who started poor move up to the middle classes and stay there at much higher rates than rich kids who drop out of high school (yay!)…but somehow the Post comes away with the misleading headline: Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.

Really? This only looks at the shear proportions who “graduate college” vs. “drop out of high school” – that can hardly be seen as “doing everything right” vs. “getting everything wrong”. What did the college grads major in? There is ample research supporting the conclusion that most college majors these days are bad long term investments. What did the rich kids who didn’t finish HS go on to do? Were they drop-outs because they had alternative plans? Did they pick up a trade?

And more to the point – how many of those poor kids had good parenting examples at home upon which to build the foundations of healthy marriages?

Slate takes on many of my same talking points here. They mention other confounding factors, and note the misleading nature of the Post’s article title. Props to them!

But they make the unfortunate logical leap that there is something inherently wrong with a system where not all poor college grads do well later in life, or that the forces leading to their remaining in poverty are things we can fix.

An excerpt:

The real issue, as O’Brien points out, is that rich kids enjoy lots of advantages that keep them from falling to the very bottom of income distribution, and sometimes those advantages keep them at the very top. They might be able to go to work for family businesses, for instance, or family friends. Researchers like Brookings’ Richard Reeves call that collection of advantages “the glass floor.” Educated poor kids are in the exact opposite position. Many attend second- or third-rate (and possibly for-profit) colleges that churn out less-than-useful degrees. And instead of a floor propping them up, their families and friends can act like an anchor pulling them down. A classic example: a college-educated woman who goes home and marries a boyfriend who never made it past high school and has trouble holding down a job.

Emphasis mine. Notice the not-so-subtle insinuation that colleges that operate for profit are bad for the poor, and that the less-useful degrees are not to be found in the halls of elite, expensive colleges, only those second rate low-end state schools or the aforementioned dirty capitalist institutions. Of course, even top end colleges (including the ivy leagues) are now offering degrees in a wide array of financially useless liberal arts curricula. Also notice the suggestion that the problem isn’t with the failure of people raised in poverty to establish and keep stable families, but that those families are holding them back. They’re getting it exactly backwards. Every credible study on the persistence of poverty finds that single parents and people who suffer divorce are the most likely to get stuck in poverty.

So let’s summarize the position of Slate’s team (and likely that of the Washington Post):

1) Economic mobility continues to be problematic at best for the poorest Americans, even with hard work.
2) Graduating from college is a mark of hard work.
3) Hard work should be rewarded with a high rate of success.
4) If we could separate the poor from the things that hold them back (especially their struggling families and their alternative education sources), they would thrive.

If the writers at Slate would like to address the problem of hard-working, driven poor people being less able to move up the economic ladder than (perhaps) would be ideal, I suggest that they stop grinding political axes and start looking at the hard data. The data all indicates that the leading indicator for economic immobility is single parenthood, and that children of single parents are more likely to also be single parents themselves later in life. Get to the root of the problem and you find that this is not something that government can forcefully correct – and frankly, I’d be terrified if they tried.

Michigan Reaffirms Protectionist Legislation for State Auto Dealers

As Tom Knighton covered earlier this week, the Michigan state legislature let its crony capitalist flag fly when it passed a bill affirming Michigan’s protectionist legislation for traditional franchise auto dealers. Yesterday, Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill into law.

Under existing law, an auto manufacturer could not a sell new vehicle directly to retail customers other than through “its franchised dealers.” The new legislation signed by Gov. Snyder deletes the word “its.” It thus allows manufacturers to sell through other manufacturers’ dealers, so long as they do sell through someone’s franchised dealer. This legislation is intended to protect Michigan dealers from competition via direct-to-consumer models like that employed by Tesla Motors.

I love capitalism. But I hate crony capitalism.

Tesla wants to bypass traditional auto dealers, who operate via franchises licensed by manufacturers, and instead sell directly to consumers. This would benefit consumers—and manufacturers like Tesla—by eliminating the dealer middlemen.

Michigan does not want its consumers to enjoy those savings.

In this ignominious regard, it joins New Jersey, Maryland, Texas and Arizona. In addition to those, Georgia’s dealers are currently, in the words of Reason’s Brian Doherty, trying “to use the violent force of the state to stop Tesla Motors from innovating and competing against them.”

Auto blog Jalopnik reports that:

The dealer’s case—and GM’s—is that dealers provide a valuable service to consumers and by continuing to employ the traditional dealership model, they’re protecting car owners.

If it were a valuable service, it would not require protectionist legislation. It requires protectionist legislation precisely because it would have trouble competing in a market where consumers were given a choice. Jalopnik further reported GM’s position as follows:

“Competition is always healthy,” GM spokeswoman Heather Rosenker tells Jalopnik. “But it needs to be on a level playing field.”

In other words, GM thinks a level playing field is what is created when one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers uses the strong arm of government to force other manufacturers to follow its chosen sales model, instead of allowing each to experiment with its own methods and models.

As more than 70 law professors and economists complained when Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed similar protectionist legislation:

There is no justification on any rational economic or public policy grounds for such a restraint of commerce. Rather, the upshot of the regulation is to reduce compe- tition in New Jersey’s automobile market for the benefit of its auto dealers and to the detriment of its consumers. It is protectionism for auto dealers, pure and simple.

*     *     *

[W]e have not heard a single argument for a direct distribution ban that makes any sense. To the contrary, these arguments simply bolster our belief that the regulations in question are motivated by economic protectionism that favors dealers at the expense of consumers and innovative technologies.

If our Republican elected officials actually practiced capitalism—instead of its crony capitalist impersonator—they might fare better at the polls. Without a doubt, consumers would be better off.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

“Climate Change”, and the false dichotomy of “evil or stupid”

As we run up to the midterm elections, the drumbeat is once again sounding throughout that land, that Republicans… or rather, everyone not Leftist… are “anti-science”, “pro-ignorance” etc… etc…

I am constantly hearing some variant of “Republicans are either evil or stupid for not… X”.

The sad part of course, is that a certain percentage of non-leftists, including libertarians and conservatives are in fact, nuts, particularly about science… and another large block are ignorant.

Of course, so are large blocks of those on the left… but that’s not what we’re talking about right now.

There are certainly many scientific issues over which the ideological spectrum split, but likely the biggest one, with the most uniform split (there’s very few whose ideological “side” don’t match the position staked out by that side, to some degree or another)….

“Climate Change”

Ok, talked about it here before, and there’s plenty of great resources on the topic (try Climate Skeptic for a start)… But it’s an issue among my friends right now, and Neil Degrasse Tyson has been talking about it lately (before his most recent brouhaha), facebook is… well, pretty much always covered with it etc…

Let me just lay things out for a bit…

First, YES, there ARE loonies out there who say that there is no climate change “because Jesus” or “It’s all a conspiracy man” etc… etc… etc…

Feel free to ignore them, as you would on every other subject. They don’t represent any kind of reality based universe, never mind a rational position.

There are also those who simply say that there is no such thing as climate change whatsoever… But mostly they are either ignorant of, or don’t understand, the science, math, or historical record in question

And yes, there are far more of those than there should be in 2014.

However, some of us come to our positions through a knowledge of science, engineering, math, the scientific method, research methodologies and data analysis.

There are those, myself among them, who actually DO understand science, and don’t believe in CATASTROPHIC, ANTHROPOGENIC, global warming, leading to systemic, catastrophic climate change.

We are not irrational, ignorant, evil, driven by unsavory motives, or stupid.

We come to this position, because we understand that:

  1. The question isn’t whether climate is changing and will change in the future, it always has and always will. The question is how much has it, how much will it in the future, and why.
  2. Catastrophic, anthropogenic, global warming leading to catastrophic climate change, is a tightly interconnected theory. For any element of the conclusions to be correct, ALL of the suppositions within the theory must be correct. The instant any of them changes, at all, the theory falls apart.
  3. The mathematical models for this have always been highly speculative and have proven non predictive both forward and backward.
  4. The data is greatly variable ( and often poor) in quality, and is adjusted in ways that make it less than useful for a model with high sensitivity predictions, because small changes or inconsistencies in the data make big changes in the model.
  5. The catastrophic model adopted by the U.N. has some major dependencies which are entirely theoretical, and have not been borne out by historical facts; specifically estimates of forcing, estimates of weighting of various factors, and particularly estimates of extremely high sensitivity to certain factors (especially CO2), that while throughout all of history have exhibited one behavior (a stable, negative feedback system), for some reason (i.e. humanity is bad and stuff), things have changed now… even though CO2 has been much higher in the past, and it didn’t happen then… Such that a very small change in CO2 will have a large multiplier effect, transforming the stable negative feedback system that the climate has been throughout the entirety of history to this point, to an unstable positive feedback system.
  6. There is no evidence for this catastrophic theory, nor does it correspond with historical models, or models that prove to be historically predictive (i.e. if you run the model backwards and forwards in time, it matches roughly with what actually happened).
  7. This prediction has been made since the mid 80s (prior to the mid 80, from the early 70s they were predicting global cooling and ice age by the way), and the models have proven to be grossly inaccurate. They are constantly revised to reflect the same conclusion, but never actually predict what ACTUALLY happens in the real world. There was initially slightly more warming than the previous historical models predicted, but by 1991 warming was back to the historical trend line, and there has actually been no significant warming since 1994-1998 depending on exactly which dataset you look at.
  8. Human outputs from all of industry, vehicles etc… Make up less than 1% of total atmospheric CO2… actually between .3 and .4%. The VAST majority of CO2 comes from forests, oceans, animals, and soil (and the bacteria contained therein). They also absorb CO2 in the natural CO2 cycle.
  9. If the historical, non catastrophic models prove correct, and they have so far, there will be between less than 1 and just over 2 degrees centigrade warming in the next 100 years. This is not catastrophic, and is consistent with warming/cooling cycles throughout history.
  10. If all human output of carbon dioxide and other theorized elements of climate change stopped right now, today… That number wouldn’t change at all, or at most very little. Within the margin of error.
  11. Once you take the catastrophic sensitivity to a tiny change out of the model, many other factors become far greater “forcings”, particularly the suns variability (relating to sunspot cycles).
  12. If the catastrophic models are correct, either we already have, or we soon will, pass the point of no return. We would not only have to completely stop emitting CO2 entirely, but we would have to take large amounts of it out of the environment.
  13. No matter what, the developing world isn’t going to stop burning wood, and coal, and growing and modernizing and using as much hydrocarbons as they can. They don’t give a damn what european liberals think, they just want to cook their dinners and have lights at night.
  14. No matter what, China and India aren’t going to stop being 60+% of all CO2 emissions from human sources (that’s according to the environmentalist group, the earth policy institute. UN numbers say it’s more like 30-40%), because if they did they’d all be plunged into even greater poverty and likely starve to death.

What it comes down to is this:

  • If the catastrophic models are correct, it’s too late to do anything about it anyway.
  • Even if every western nation utterly stopped producing ANY output which contributed to climate change, it wouldn’t make any difference whatsoever.
  • If the catastrophic theory is wrong, and everything point to it being so, then we would be spending trillions of dollars, destroying economies, ruining millions or billions of peoples lives etc… All for little or nothing.
  • There are real, actual, proven problems that are far more likely to be important, and that we can actually do something about, that are much better ways to spend our time and money.
  • Ok… so why do so many people support the idea… particularly so many scientists?

    The same reason anyone does anything… because it aligns with their perceived incentives, beliefs, worldview, narrative, and identity.

    To wit…

    1. Funding
    2. Social signaling an ingroup identification
    3. Politics
    4. Power and control (climate change legislation is all about taking power and control from one group, and giving it to another)
    5. Ideology and alignment with world view
    6. The precautionary principle
    7. Anti-capitalism
    8. Funding
    9. Because if they don’t, they don’t get jobs, their papers don’t get published, they don’t get university positions etc…
    10. Because they know that it’s not as bad as the press makes it out to be, but that making it super duper scary is the only way to make the morons out there pay attention and actually make some of the good positive changes that need to happen (like more energy efficient technology, and more research into alternative energy)
    11. Because the entire world has lined up into teams, not just about climate change, but about ALL social, cultural, and scientific issues… Evolution, homosexuality, everything else about the environment etc… and one team has decided to label themselves “progressive” and “liberal” and “pro science” and the other team “anti science”, and nobody wants to be “regressive” and “anti-science”.
    12. Did I mention funding? There is no funding in saying “things are going to be about like they always have been, with some small changes as expected, and maybe a very small degree of increased change… it will have some moderate impacts”. That’s boring, and it gets ignored, and no-one gets any funding, and you can’t do additional research on it. No-one is paying for research into squirrel populations and how “1 degree per century of climate change will impact them).

    Yes… I repeated myself, in several different ways there… That was intentional.

    The Broken Record

    Catastrophists have a record, of being broken records… and being mostly or entirely wrong.

    From 1974 until 1985 or thereabouts, many of the exact same scientists, politicians, pundits, and environmentalists who today are saying are going to warm our way into a combination of ice age, deserts, and typhoons everywhere… were saying the exact opposite.

    At the time, their theories and models said that we were going to precipitate our own ice age, blocking out the sun, and that crops would fail and we would starve to death.

    The fact is, we’ve heard over and over again for decades that if we don’t do exactly what this one particular group wants us to do about any particular issue within 5, 10, 20 years etc… that we’re all gonna die, the world is gonna end, everything will turn to dust, there will be no birds, no trees…

    Anyone remember when acid rain was going to kill us all?

    Yes, in part, it’s because we did respond to the concerns of the environmentalists, regulations were changed somewhat, technology got better, we polluted less and cleaned up more. These are all good things.

    But mostly it was because they were dramatically overstating both the problems, and the solutions; either because they actually believed it, or for political reasons…

    Seems to me, mostly for political reasons.

    Mostly we haven’t done what they asked.

    The world didn’t end.

    We didn’t all die.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean they aren’t right this time…

    …One of these times they just might be… or at least they might be more right than wrong…

    …it just means that we should really be very careful, and very skeptical, about what they say, what we believe, and what we do about it.

    Oh and one more thing…

    There is one final, and almost universal test of the validity of someones claim that “everything has to change”.

    It can’t prove that a claim is true… but it can nearly always prove a false claim to be false, or at least greatly exaggerated.

    Simplified, it’s called the “Act as If” test.

    Does the person making the claim, act as they would if the claim were true, and as urgent as they say?

    Is it conclusive? No… but it’s a pretty strong indicator.

    Do those who say they believe in truly catastrophic anthropogenic global warming pass this test?

    Do they actually act as they would, if they actually believed their predictions.

    The answer is very much no… not even close.

    So, if they don’t… why should anyone else?

    I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

    Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

    “Bad” or “Wrong” or “I don’t like it” is not equivalent to “Unconstitutional”

    In a comment on someone elses post, another reader wrote “The DEA is an unconstitutional and illegal agency”.

    This bugs me… We frequently see these sorts of statements made about the DEA, the ATF, the federal reserve (where ok, there’s at least a rational and reasonable though flawed argument to be made… most of the people shouting stuff like that above aren’t making those arguments, but still)… Basically any federal agency that they don’t like, or which enforces laws, or uses delegated powers which they personally don’t like.

    No, the mere existence of the DEA is not unconstitutional or illegal. It is perfectly constitutional in that it is an executive agency chartered to enforce the laws promulgated by the legislative branch.

    The fact that the federal government has no constitutional authority to outright ban or criminalize such substances as the DEA is chartered to regulate, or to ban or criminalize their manufacture, use, or possession (and only limited power to regulate their sale. No, sorry, regulating interstate commerce and making such laws as necessary for the general welfare does not grant them such broad and deterministic powers… and Wickard v. Filburn is bad law and needs to be overturned), does not mean that all laws relating to such substances are illegal or unconstitutional. There are legitimate regulatory powers that such an agency may lawfully and constitutionally exercise.

    AS CURRENTLY EXTANT AND IN THEIR CURRENT ROLES AND ACTIONS… The DEA often engages in unconstitutional behaviors, and acts to enforce unconstitutional laws. That much is certainly true. But they are not inherently unconstitutional, or illegal.

    Those are actually really important distinctions. Not just semantics or distinctions without difference.

    This is so, because you go about addressing the issues, and solving the problems, differently. Things which are blatantly and directly illegal or unconstitutional are best addressed in one way. Things which are peripherally so, are best addressed in a very different way.

    You have to shoot at the proper target, with the proper ammunition.

    Also, it’s really important to remember, that “bad and stupid” or “harmful” or “undesirable”, or “pointless”; does not necessarily mean “unconstitutional”. Nor does “constitutional” mean “good”, or “useful” or “effective”.

    That’s not even a matter of judges discretion or interpretation… The constitution actually provides far less protection of rights, and limitation of powers, than people believe it, expect it, and wish it to (at least explicitly… the 9th and 10th amendments… there’s much bigger and messier issue).

    I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

    Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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