Conservatives Blame Poor for Suffering Because of Conservative Policy

Dylan MatthewsOver at Vox, Dylan Matthews wrote a very interesting article, Conservatives Love This Deeply Misleading Factoid About Poverty in America. In this particular case, he’s referring to Rich Lowry at National Review. He didn’t like Ta-Nehisi Coates new book, Between the World and Me. That’s just because, as Charlie Pierce would say, Coates must be wrong, because it isn’t about race because it is never about race. But in the “review,” Lowry claimed, “Among the people who do these things, according to the research of Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, about 75 percent attain the middle class, broadly defined.” The “things” are three norms: work full-time, graduate from high school, and be 21 years old and married before having children.

The problem with this kind of reasoning is that it is mostly question begging. It’s kind of like saying, “The problem with poor people is that they don’t have any money!” The three “things” aren’t as clearly tautologies. But as Matthews noted, full-time work is hardly a norm. It isn’t surprising that people with full-time jobs are more likely to be in the middle class! And Matthews argues that roughly the same is true for the other norms, which ought to be obvious to everyone.

The big thing here is that correlation is confused with causation. And it is even worse than that, because if there is causation, it almost certainly goes the other direction. We already know that America has some of the worse economic mobility of the advanced economies. Let’s look for a moment at high school graduation rates. There are lots of aspects of this. But let’s look at the economics of it. Schools are funded with property taxes. So rich students go to better schools and poor students go to worse schools. And then poor students end up leaving school more often. Who could ever have predicted that?!

The waiting and marrying is similar. Matthews pointed out that birth control availability is directly correlated with wealth. So it isn’t surprising that the poor would have more children out of wedlock. But in addition to this, there is the waiting question. Generally, young people put off marriage for one reason: college. Why should a young person with no real prospects wait to start a normal adult life? So all three of the “norms” beg the question to one extent or another. But that doesn’t stop conservatives from using such factoids.

What is perhaps most interesting about all of this, is that conservatives are only too happy to shove this in the face of the poor, “It’s all your own fault!” But when it comes to each of these “norms,” conservatives want to deprive the poor of easy access to them. They want a strong dollar and low inflation — both of which keep employment down. They want more inequality in education. Rich kids get trips to the museum and poor kids get metal detectors and another drill on how to take a multiple choice test. But not to worry, a poor child has an equal chance of being the next Einstein! And conservatives not only want to make birth control harder to get — they want to deprive children of even learning the science of sex.

Based upon all this, to be a conservative is to not care about anyone but yourself. Because they aren’t just willing to use questionable data to justify themselves. After all, everyone makes mistakes. But they clearly use faulty data that they know are only made worse by their own policy preference. It’s really vile.

Ron Johnson on Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons

Max FisherTop administration officials are at Congress today for a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Iran nuclear deal, a subject that has always brought out the crazy in American politicians.

No one expected this hearing to be anything other than a circus: the deal is politically contentious, and Republicans are trying to out-hawk one another for the coming presidential primaries. Congress did not disappoint. This tweet, from New York Times economics policy reporter Jonathan Weisman, captures the scene pretty nicely:

A bit of context: Johnson is the senior senator from Wisconsin and a Republican. Ernest Moniz is the secretary of energy and one of the lead US negotiators on the Iran deal. Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons are a nonsense science fiction “threat” and a longtime point of obsession among certain conservatives, such as Newt Gingrich and Ron Johnson. Johnson’s line of questioning, to a top-of-his-field nuclear physicist, is a little like asking Neil Armstrong if he thinks the moon landing might have been faked.

—Max Fisher
The Clown Show That Was the Senate Iran Hearing, in One Tweet

Why Do Libertarians Love Private Property?

Matt ZwolinskiMatt Zwolinski published a paper earlier this year, Property Rights, Coercion, and the Welfare State: The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income for All. It is hard not to applaud it, because I find it rare for libertarians to take the issue of property rights seriously. They usually assume that property rights are a given and never address how they are actually liberty destroying. What’s more, this is especially true in that property is passed from generation to generation, so poor people are in no way given equal liberty. It is indeed like being invited to play a game of Monopoly after all the properties have been bought.

Zwolinski argues that in order to justify private property, the society must see to it that everyone is still able to make a living. With the standard Lockean proviso, the idea was that property rights were fine so long as there was still a lot of free land so that anyone who wanted to make a living off it could. It’s all very interesting, because modern conservatives still seem to live in this world where literally no one could be unemployed because there was always land to farm. They haven’t noticed that there isn’t free land to farm and the rest of us are therefore dependent (in the most abased way) on the rich.

Matt BruenigSo the idea here is to yield the point and say that all people should be given a base income, because the way that we’ve structured our society greatly limits their options. Since people can’t just farm a fallow field, society owes everyone a living. I’ve been skeptical of Zwolinski’s work before. But this particular argument is so much more enlightened than most conservative thought. The reigning theory today is that the society owes the individual noting at all, but somehow owes some individuals lots because of the history that ended with the current division of property.

But Matt Bruenig countered Zwolinski’s article, Why Have Property at All? He noted that if all a given governing system has to do is make sure people are better off than they would be otherwise, then pretty much any system works. He noted that this was especially true with social democratic systems — we have plenty of data on that. So basically, although the “basic income for all” might make libertarianism less horrible, it doesn’t distinguish it. (It’s also interesting that libertarianism as most people picture it probably does not pass the Lockean proviso.)

Bruenig doesn’t go into this, but there is a practical issue. In a social democracy, we have a system of government that is strong enough to perpetuate itself. I’ve never heard a compelling argument that a libertarian system wouldn’t quickly and predictably turn into a feudal system. With nothing to stop people from accumulating as much power (including military power) as they want, what stops them from turning their little sections of the world into dictatorships? I get that Zwolinski, as an academic, understands that private property necessarily comes with certain responsibilities. But certainly Mitt Romney doesn’t. And who is it that is going to have the power in the coming libertarian utopia? Certainly not academics.

But Bruenig’s main point is that it is bizarre for a libertarian to understand that private property really does limit liberty, but then turn himself into a pretzel in order to salvage private property. Bruenig noted, “The strong move for libertarians here is to actually go back to the origination of the term ‘libertarian,’ which had to do with anarchist communists.” So why don’t they do that? Well, he provides the main answer: they are “propertarians who masquerade as lovers of liberty.” In as much as they think about it, libertarians always start with the idea of the sanctity of private property. And this is why liberty ends up being defined relative to the government even while all the liberty destroying acts of the private sector are ignored.

Why There Are So Many Republican Candidates

Republican PrimaryJohn Patty at Mischiefs of Faction has a theory about why there are so many Republicans running for president, Many Men, Many Supporters, United in Anger. Maybe — to some extent. I don’t think there is any more anger on the right, left, or center — but I will allow that the right has a whole industry built on fanning the flames of anger. Martin Longman over at Booman Tribune agrees with me, Why Are There So Many Candidates? He puts forward some practical ideas, like the effect of money in politics. You know: every candidate has his own billionaire. But I don’t think that is so important either.

I think the issue is more along the lines of what Daniel McCarthy said in A Line-up of Generic Conservative Candidates. But he isn’t really interested in the why question. He says that it doesn’t matter that there are so many candidates; they will start to disappear after the debates. The bigger problem is that for all the candidates, there really isn’t much in terms of disagreements. He noted that Rubio is posturing as a hawk and Rand as a dove, but they both jumped on the anti-Iran-deal criticism. He’s absolutely right: there really is no substantive differences between them.

And that, I think, is why there are so many candidates. If there are no issues to discuss, why not a brain surgeon who doesn’t believe in evolution? Or consider the case of Donald Trump. He’s the one candidate with some serious conservative apostasy. But he’s doing well because ideas don’t matter. It’s all about marketing. Who can talk the toughest? Bray the loudest? So why not a reality television star? Or an indicted governor? Or a failed corporate CEO? Or the brother of the worst president in history? Or for that matter, me?

This is going to be an election of, “Yes, but…” Bobby Jindal will say, I think we need to 10,000 more M1 Abrams tanks.” And Lindsey Graham will say, “Yes, but I think it should be 20,000!” Jeb Bush will suggest that they lower the top marginal tax rate to 25%, and Rick Perry will say, “Yes, but we should take it down to 15%.” And Ted Cruz will say, “Yes, yes, but we should just destroy the IRS!” Rick Santorum will say that we should make abortion illegal. And Mike Huckabee will say, “Yes, but we need to kill all the gays too.” It will be like that: a race to the bottom.

They can all fight over issues that won’t come up because they all start with positions that are so extreme that they will be difficult to enact even with complete control of Washington. So Republican Party primary voters have no real choice. This is like a beauty pageant. But instead of the looks of the candidates, the voters are expected to judge based upon grandstanding. Would a single Republican nominee be against repealing Obamacare? What about abandoning the Iranian nuclear treaty? Would any of them be against making the entire United States “right to work”? Or make a blanket ban on abortion? I think the answer to these questions is clearly no.

So why shouldn’t Scott Walker run for president? On the Democratic side, someone like Keith Ellison can look at the Democratic presidential nomination and think, “Bernie Sanders is already pushing the issues that I care about.” But if there were ten Bernie Sanders running for the Democratic nomination, why not Keith Ellison? In a world were all the candidates are generic as a practical matter, and where all the arguments are purely theoretical, there is no reason not to have 15 candidates. Perhaps we could use more. Maybe a few more with curly hair, a tall one, a blind one. Who knows what flavor of rigid conservative ideology the Republican base is going to prefer.

Morning Music: Joe Hill

Joe HillToday, we’ll do one of the classics, “There Is Power in a Union.” It was written by Joe Hill, just two years before the state put him to death for being a labor activist. Of course, that wasn’t the explicit reason that he was executed. But it rarely was. It was trivial to get labor organizers convicted by a jury of their “peers” for pretty much anything. It is as I say more and more: the justice system has always been about reinforcing power and never about justice.

This version is by folk musician Joe Glazer. And the video is of the violence that erupted as a result of the Little Steel strike. People talk about how violent unions are. You will note who is violent in this video — it isn’t the workers. I find it perhaps the greatest triumph of the power elite that they have managed to make most workers have a bad opinion of the one kind of institution that has done them the greatest good: unions.

Anniversary Post: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in WonderlandOn this day in 1951, Walt Disney released Alice in Wonderland. I love the film now, but I didn’t like it when I was a kid. I think I know why. It made me nervous. The book is filled with that too, but Disney really piled it on. Of course, now I find it charming.

What I don’t find charming is the film is 64 years old and it is locked up tight under copyright. How is it that in our fast paced world, our copyright moves ever slower? If corporations had the power and inclination in 1865, the laws would have been changed and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland would still be protected by copyright. Think about it: there is money that corporations are losing every time someone reads that book for free!

Here is the tea party scene from the film. It isn’t on YouTube, because they pander more to the copyright demands of these evil corporations than anyone. Thank God for Daily Motion. Of course, the real problems are the corporations and our government that places their demands above the common good.