7.22.2015

Maybe We Should Just Let the Market Set Pay Scales?

So, we need to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour, we're told.  Several cities have already done so.  The claim is, this has no real impact on unemployment.  Somehow, in the magical world of leftist economics, doubling the cost of something will not change how much of that something people buy.  Balderdash and other comments.  If you double the price of a unit of labor will, employers will find a way to purchase fewer units of labor.

Maybe that won't mean the current employees lose their jobs.  It may well mean that when they leave - and young people are notoriously fickle on that score - it is a lot less likely someone will be hired to replace them.  It does mean that people trying to get a job will have a much harder time.

And it means that some businesses that are close to the margin may well have to close or move outside city limits.  An iconic San Francisco comic book shop is trying a different approach, but it is not yet clear whether it will work or not.  Other stores in Seattle and San Francisco have closed already.  McDonald's is ratcheting up its move to automated kiosks, getting rid of the folks who take your order and your cash.  Stores that found people resistant to self-check-outs have instead moved to improve the technology and overcome that resistance rather than increase the number of human cashiers.

Since June 2014, the labor force participation rate of youths in the U.S. has gone from 43.2% to 36.7%.  That is the percentage of 16-19 year olds looking for or holding a job is 6.5% less than it was a year ago.  This is the only reason the youth unemployment rate has declined from 21.4% to 15.7% - that and a reduction in the overall population of 16-19 year olds by 15.5%.  Black youth unemployment, despite similar finagling with the root numbers, still hoovers just shy of 32%.

But, of course, this has nothing to do with the high cost of hiring young people foisted on businesses by the well meaning, but economically ignorant.

In an article found on Fox News, we also learn that there are other issues beyond the ones listed above.  The working poor are screwed over by the higher wage, caught between means-tested benefits and increased means.  Now I'm all for getting people off the welfare rolls onto payrolls.  I also think our welfare support is far more generous than it has to be.  But I can certainly sympathize with someone who, for example, works at a restaurant for $480/week, plus welfare benefits which would more than double that, complaining that an extra $120/week will cost them over $300/week in benefits.

While those numbers I give are just for comparison, it turns out, this is just the sort of thing happening to many marginal employees in the Seattle area who are now trying to cut their hours in order to protect their benefits.

Maybe we should just back off and let the market set the pay scales?

7.15.2015

President Dictates Iran Deal - Bypasses Impotent Congress

The president has a deal with Iran.  Great.  I wonder if he's buying ocean front property in Colorado, too.  The idea that Iran will honor any such deal is ludicrous.  But, Obama knows all, sees all, does all.  Instead of listening to alternative points of view - something he has never done in the whole course of his life - he chooses to lecture, insult, and denigrate.

Obama does not play well with others.

But that's okay.  The others who might be involved - the Congress of the United States - doesn't matter.  There will be no treaty submitted for the Senate to ratify.  There will be no enabling legislation to pass the House.  He is simply dictating what will be done.

And there is nobody in the Congress with the wherewithal to stand up to him.  They may mouth their feeble protestations, but Congress is impotent.  Perhaps they will sue the president again, pouting like petulant children before the court tells them to shut up and go back to their corner.  Congress will do so, but will go back to their districts claiming they're "fighting" for us.

No.  They aren't.  Congress surrendered years ago.

What could Congress do?  Lots of things.  They can pass some funding bills, but not others - the president can't veto bills that never get to him, and if he vetoes the ones that do, then he's shutting down the government.  Make the case.  Get in front of the game.  Show some intelligence.  They could simply ignore any and all presidential nominees until 20 January 2017.  They could ground Air Force One by reducing the funds for it.  They have all sorts of creative ways to exercise the power of the purse to put pressure on the administration.  It would require cohesion, moral courage, constant attention to the press, fortitude, and a willingness to take risks for the sake of liberty.  None of these are present in any great degree in the halls of Congress.

So we have a president who feels perfectly free to ignore Congress, bypass the Constitution, and simply do things on his own.

6.29.2015

The End of the American Experiment in Self-Government

So, we no longer have a government of laws - at least, not laws as written.  It seems that whatever Congress passes, the executive and judicial branches are free to edit as desired.

There is no right in the Constitution to marry another person of the same sex.  It's not in there because nobody considered the possibility when it was written.  There is not even a right to marry in that document.  The state has been free to regulate it and, at times, forbid it, for all sorts of reasons.  Up until a few moments ago, the word "marry" was definitionally heterosexual.  Two guys may decide to sleep together and may make a life-long commitment to each other - they may even draw up a contract that binds them to this commitment - but that's not marriage.

So the Supreme Court of the United States simply changed the English language and rewrote the Constitution, both changing the meaning of "marriage" and adding rights to the Constitution that are not there.

This isn't a surprise, really - they've been doing this sort of thing since the 1930s and it is by now embedded in legal education and practice these days.  Invent new rights out of whole cloth, say they're in the Constitution, and, voila! there they are!

The Court also colluded with the executive branch to allow the president to rewrite the law, including levying a tax that is not authorized in law.  Yes, I know.  The ACA (aka "Obamacare") is unworkable, self-contradictory, and a legislative mess.  We passed it and we've found out what's in it and you know what?  It doesn't matter what's in it.  The president can simply rewrite it on the fly, ignoring deadlines, changing requirements, levying taxes, obligating payments...  He's done this with immigration law, with environmental law, with banking laws, with civil rights laws, with health laws, with the tax code, and it doesn't matter.  Nobody has the balls to check him - not Chief Justice Roberts, and not the Congress.

If these rulings stand - and they will, at least for the time being - and the people of this country do not respond at the ballot box by punishing the party of the president, then Congress will for all intents and purposes be irrelevant.  With these rulings, we have ceased to be either democratic or a republic.  The will of the people doesn't matter.  The Constitution doesn't matter.  The actual text of any given law doesn't matter.

Sure, we'll still go through the motions, just as there remained a Roman senate after the rise of Julius Caesar.  And it was a long time after Caesar that Rome was finally sacked - almost 400 years.  I don't think it will take quite that long for us, but there's a lot of room for decay and rot in these United States.  But in later years, they will point to the break with tradition that was FDR and the surrender of the Supreme Court to his policies that worked its way through society over the next century and ultimately ended the American experiment in self-government.

6.22.2015

Frankly, My Dear...

I have what is commonly referred to as a "smart phone."  In addition to the usual telephonic services - voice, text, etc. - it also has available some dumb games.  There are occasions when one has to wait and a dumb game to kill time is useful.

So I'm playing solitaire and, lo and behold, I finish the game.  The app asks me if I want to share this "achievement" with friends.

What sort of life must a person be leading - and what kind of pain must he be to his friends - if he thinks winning a game of solitaire constitutes an achievement worthy of being broadcast to his friends and family?

I have stubbornly resisted getting a facebook account.  A group I play RPGs with wanted to use facebook to communicate "in game" apart from the regular times we meet to play - partly an efficiency thing, to maximize the fun of those sessions without getting bogged down in ancillary matters.  I gave in and opened an account as that character.

Somehow I get a whole bunch of stuff from people I don't know, but who happen to know the other players - a couple of whom decided to use their "game" accounts as their real ones.  Apparently there really are people who think sharing inane and pointless quizzes, worthless "achievements" in various mindless games, and idiotic bumper-sticker phrases attached to random illustrations, all mixed with the occasional parroting of ignorant rants constitutes appropriate matter for general broadcast.

This isn't social media.  This is the garbage dump of the American mind.  Here the grand train wreck of American popular culture occurs in slow motion and, as tragic and unsettling as it is, I find it very difficult to avert my eyes from the disaster as it unfolds.  It is here where one finds people searching for meaning and connection - two things we all need - and settling for so little.

No, this is not the sum total of our national culture, but neither is it an insignificant part.  It is not good when a major part of our population thinks something as pointless as winning at solitaire or gaining some item in World of Warcraft is an achievement to be celebrated.  We need an army of Rhett Butlers to combat this degradation.
 

6.09.2015

Improving Wages Means Improving Productivity, Means Improving Education

Here's a piece in National Review to make Cory Heidelberger's heart go all a-pitter-patter.

Bear in mind that the author at National Review is insistent that wage growth is a result of productivity growth, not the result of ballot initiatives artificially raising the minimum wage.  He notes that South Dakota and New Mexico saw the largest declines in productivity over the years 2005-2010 - a fact that will lead to lower wages over all and no minimum wage law can change that.  Oregon, liberal bastion that it is, saw one of the smallest rates of productivity decline.  "Why?" he asks. His conclusion?
What does Oregon have that New Mexico doesn’t? Their differences in productivity cannot be explained by their tech communities, both of which are vibrant. New Mexico’s Los Alamos and Oregon’s Silicon Forest are the envy of other states. Whether or not a state is using or producing lots of information technology appears to have little effect on the variation in TFP [Total Factor Productivity -PNR].
Instead, the most inefficient states in America were found to have lower rates of educational attainment; less spending on R&D, particularly by the private sector; and a smaller financial sector (though the IMF doesn’t dwell much on this conclusion).
Given that South Dakota has a rather robust financial sector, it would follow that the reason for the decline in South Dakota's productivity over that period must lie in "lower rates of educational attainment" and/or "less spending on R&D."

If that's the case, then the answer flows fairly naturally from that:
The solution to America’s productivity slowdown should be obvious to policymakers: improve education and build a business environment that encourages more investment in innovation and knowledge creation.
There are three things necessary to improve education.  First, parents must be committed to their children's education.  The best teachers in the world will have little impact if the child's parents care more about whether he makes the football team than whether he can add up his own yardage.  Second, we need to attract and retain better teachers, which means being prepared to pay for better teachers.  "You get what you pay for" applies not only to building materials, but also to labor.  Third, we need to make sure we hold teachers and administrators accountable to ensure we are getting what we're paying for - better pay will, after all, also attract lousy teachers.

Too many on my side of the aisle think we can get by with only the third of those three things.  Too many on the other side think we can do okay with just the second.  And too many parents think we should be able to do this without their involvement.  All three, or we're just spinning our wheels.

Nevada's Experiment in Education - Let's See How It Works

Nevada has embarked on an experiment in education that will be useful for the rest of the states.  They have implemented a fairly novel school choice plan.

According to Lindsey M. Burke over at National Review, the way the plan works is to give parents absolute control over the funds the state spends on education for their children.  Parents set up an Education Savings Account and the state puts 90% of the money they would otherwise spend on their children into that account.  Parents are able to spend that money on educational expenses - tuition, tutors, school supplies, home school curriculae, and so on.  Parents can roll over unused funds from one year to the next, giving them some incentive to be cost-conscious.  Funds remaining in the account when the child finishes school in Nevada can be used for post-high school education (college or vocational/tech schools).

Children must still take tests on reading and math and they must have been enrolled in a public school for at least 100 days (see this article in Education Week) before the family becomes eligible.

The state will have to be serious about enforcement and that means hammering hard the first couple of families that try to defraud the system, pour encourager l'autres, even if they're nice Christian folk who are trying to take care of their poor, deprived young 'uns.  (Yes, Dr. Bosworth's is the kind of person I'm thinking of here.)

And expect teachers' unions, Democrats, and people who don't think parents can be trusted with responsibility for their children - but I repeat myself - will almost certainly challenge the law in court.  Its universality, coupled with the tests to see the state's interest in having citizens who can read, write, and do basic math is met, should be sufficient to withstand these attacks.

In any event, it is worth the trouble of leaving it be, even if you're a die-hard fan of the public schools.  Nevada is a relatively small state in terms of population (2.9 million).  If you think this program can't work, it will be good to have a state implement it and fail so you can go to the other 49 states and show them what happened in Nevada.  But the same goes for those who think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Let it run for a while, unimpeded.  See if it really does work and, if it does, use that to sell your state on the concept.  Let the experiment run its course and see how it affects outcomes 3, 5, 10 years from now.

Even Left-Wing Politicized EPA Says Fracking Is Safe

Interesting.  The Environmental Protection Agency is less about protecting the environment than it is about eliminating private property - I still recall the explicit statement of an EPA official that he would use the various regulations and laws his agency creates to "crucify" the oil and gas industry in Texas near the beginning of Obama's presidency.  Stealing land is what they do.  Or rather, they don't "steal" it exactly.  They let you retain nominal ownership so you still pay taxes on it and they don't have to pay you for it (that pesky little Constitution, you know), but you can't do anything with the land you own.

In other words, it is a primary tool for advancing the left's agenda in which you do not tolerate the government so much as the government tolerates you.  Sometimes.

So it's more than a little surprising to have the EPA formally acknowledge that fracking as it is practiced in the United States is eminently safe and there is no credible evidence to suggest it will pollute ground water sources.

It's too late for New York, Vermont, and Maryland which, on the grounds of junk science and paranoia, have banned fracking, but for the rest of us it's worth noting that even a left-wing crack-pot outfit like the US government's EPA can't find anything all that terrible about the practice.