FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #26: “If we need Big Government to protect us from ourselves, then our public schools can’t be the best place to learn.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 10th, 2010

IT’S A PARADOX.  You can’t have both.  Great public schools.  And a Big Government nanny state.  The public schools can’t be the best place to learn if we graduate hopelessly incapable of taking care of ourselves.  You cannot reconcile the two.  It is impossible.  The need of Big Government is an indictment on public education.  It sucks.  It sucks so bad that our only hope to survive is by a dependence on government.

The Founding Fathers did NOT want a Big Government nanny state.  So they tried to limit its money and power.  The nation’s capital ended up in a swamp because Thomas Jefferson wanted to keep it out of the big cities (such as New York and Philadelphia).  History has shown that wealth (the big cities) and power (sovereign authority) combine to make the worst of governments. 

And they believed in the importance of education.  A real education.  History.  Math.  Science.  Architecture.  Engineering.  Economics.  For they believed an educated constituency was the greatest protection against Big Government.  They knew it.  Just as well as the proponents of Big Government knew it.  Know it.

So is it a coincidence?  That the rise of Big Government corresponded with a fall in the quality of public education?  If we need Big Government to be our nanny, we obviously are not well educated.  Otherwise, we could take care of ourselves.  Like we did for the first century or so of our existence.  So, did our poor public school system give life to Big Government?  Or is it the other way around?  Did a growing Big Government protect itself from the danger of a well educated constituency?

STUDENTS GRADUATE TODAY without being able to do the most simple of tasks.  To point to Australia on a map.  To identify the three branches of government.  To name a current member of the U.S. Supreme court.  The current Speaker of the House.  To identify the allies during World War II.  Or even tell us who’s buried in Grant’s tomb.

Few can define compound interest.  Or calculate it.  Few can make important investment decisions for their retirement.  But they can tell you how Christopher Columbus raped the indigenous people in the New World.  How America ruthlessly expanded westward, stealing land from the North American Indians.  How we cruelly enslaved a race to build a nation predicated on liberty.  You’ll find these in the curriculum.  And in the schools’ libraries.  But you won’t learn much about how Martin Van Buren created the Democrat Party to prosper on political spoils and patronage.  Or that the Democratic Party was the party of slavery.  The party of the KKK.  The party of Jim Crowe laws (the legal segregation of blacks after the Republicans ended slavery).  That it was the Democrats who enacted Prohibition because they knew what was best for us.

No, instead, students today learn about the importance of being sensitive to other people’s feelings.  That we should be our brother’s keepers.  That Big Government is good.  Important.  And necessary.  We teach them that FDR’s New Deal programs ended the Great Depression.  That massive government spending on make-work government jobs restored the economy.  It didn’t.  They learn that LBJ’s Great Society ended racial discrimination and poverty.  It didn’t.  These programs failed.  As many Big Government programs of compassion do.  But that’s not in the curriculum. 

Worst, most students haven’t a clue about economics.  What makes economic activity.  What hinders it.  The consequences of monetary and fiscal policy.  So they haven’t a clue about how all those compassionate programs of Big Government often lead to unemployment and recession.  So when they are old enough to vote, they are compassionate.  They approve of expanding the nanny state without any idea of the economic impact.

WE SPEND A fortune on public education.  Per student expenditures are among the highest in the world.   But the money we spend is never enough.  They always ask for more.  For the children.  So, to help the children, they raise taxes (property, sales, etc.).  For the children, they get the poor to gamble away what little they have (the lotto).  More money than ever before is collected.  For the children.  But it’s still not enough.  Which begs the question, where is all that money going?  Clearly, it isn’t to the children.

And because the children are so precious, they’re good leverage.  There’s nothing like a good strike at the beginning of the school year to get a better contract.  Why, they even have our precious children carry picket signs.  Because it’s all about the children.  Of course, unions protect dues-paying members.  And the last I heard, children don’t pay union dues.

But the teachers are underpaid and overworked, aren’t they?  If they are, they are the only union workers that are.  It’s why you join a union.  For leverage.  For negotiating power to get better salary and benefit packages.  And they do.  Your typical public school teacher does better than your typical salaried worker.  And they work less to get it.  Oh, they talk about ‘non-compensated’ hours worked after school.  That means approximately anything more than an 8-hour day.  The real world typically pays a salaried worker for only a 40 hour week when they often work 50 hours or more.  And they often don’t get the Friday after Thanksgiving off.  Or a Christmas break.  Or a winter break.  Or an Easter break.  Or the 3 months of summer off.   When you factor in the actual time worked and the benefits, they do very well.  Far better than private school teachers.  And private school students outperform public school students.  Hell, some of the most stalwart defenders of public education send their kids to private school.  Because they can.  The poor do, too.  When they can.  When they have access to school vouchers.  Everyone, when given the choice, chooses private school over public school.  If that ain’t an indictment on the public school system, I don’t know what is.

So where does all that money go?  To the teachers.  Their unions.  And the public school bureaucracy.

WE SPEND MORE money on public education.  But private school students do better than public school students.  And private school teachers make less than public school teachers.  So when we pay more we get less.  A more poorly educated student.  So what conclusion can we draw?  We are spending more money than we need to on public education.  And if we’re spending too much right now, spending more money sure isn’t going to make anything better for the children.  The teachers, perhaps.  But not the children.  Because the truth is this.  It’s not about the children.

The public schools are not educating.  They’re indoctrinating.  They’re producing good liberal democrats.  Because Big Government knows that an educated constituency is the greatest threat against their power.  So they control education.  They take care of the union teachers who, in turn, teach the students to love Big Government.  It’s rather Orwellian, really.  Elites taking care of elites.  At the expense of the children.  And our future.

Conspiracy?  If it wasn’t so much in the open, perhaps.  But the Democratic Party hasn’t changed much since the days of Martin Van Buren.  It’s about getting power.  And keeping power.  And you do that with patronage.  And dependency.  Big Government has given us Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits and numerous welfare programs.  And now the holy grail of them all.  National health care.  The larger these programs, the greater the dependence.  The larger the dependency, the greater number of loyal Democrat voters. 

SO IS THERE a paradox?  It depends on your point of view.  From outside of the public school system, yes.  If you think it’s about the children, yes.  But from inside the public school system or from inside of Big Government, no.  Because, there, it is not about the children.  It’s about well paid teachers.  And an uninformed electorate.  And the systems in place work very well in achieving these goals.

So, no, our public schools are not the best place for children to learn.  But it’s a pretty good place to indoctrinate them into loving Big Government.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #20: “It is never a consumer that complains about ‘predatory’ pricing.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 29th, 2010

LOW PRICES.  GOD help me, I do hate them so.  I hate them with every fiber of my body.

Who says this?  Do you?  I don’t.  Of all the times I’ve spent shopping, I have never heard anyone bitch about low prices.  I’ve heard people bitch about high prices.  But never about low prices.  When gas approached $3/gallon, people bitched about that being too high and drove 10 miles to find ‘cheap’ gas to save a few pennies per gallon.  Let it approach $4/gallon and they’ll want Congress to take action.  To attack Big Oil.  To seize their oil and their profits and give us cheap gasoline in return.  But when gas was cheap, no one ever bitched about it being ‘too’ cheap.  It just doesn’t happen that way.  People bitch about high prices.  Not low prices.

So who bitches about low prices?  Competitors.  There’s a saying that competition makes everything better.  And it does.  It lowers prices.  And raises quality.  And who is looking for lower prices and higher quality?  Consumers.  Who isn’t?  Competitors.  Especially competitors with political connections.

WHEN THE BIG 3 were putting out crap in the 1970s, they did so because they could.  I mean, who else were you going to buy a car from?  So what if your car breaks down and the fenders and quarter panels rust away?  That just means you gotta buy another car sooner rather than later.  A pretty sweet deal.  Especially when there are only three places to go to buy a car.  And each of the Big 3 is selling the same crap.

Then the Japanese had to go and ruin a good thing.  They started selling cars in America.  These cars were smaller than your typical American car.  But there were other differences.  They didn’t rust like the American cars.  They didn’t break down as much.  And the imports were cheaper than the American cars.  Lower price and higher quality.  More bang for the buck.  Exactly what consumers were demanding.

So what was the response of the Big 3?  Did they rise to the level of their new competitors and deliver what the consumer wanted?  No.  They ran to government for help.  For protection.  And they got it.  Voluntary Export Restraints (VER).  The government negotiated with the Japanese to ‘voluntarily’ limit the number of cars they exported to the United States.  Or else.  So they did.  To avoid worse protectionist policies.  Problem solved.  Competition was limited.  And the Big 3 were very profitable in the short run.  Everyone lived happily ever after.  Until the Japanese refused to play nice.

The problem was what the Big 3 did with those profits.  Or, rather, what they didn’t do with them.  They didn’t reinvest them to raise themselves up to the level of the Japanese.  Protected, they saw no incentive to change.  Not when you have Big Government on your side.  And how did that work for them?  Not good. 

So look, the Japanese said, the Americans like our cars.  If the American manufacturers won’t give them what they want, we will.  While honoring the VER.  We won’t export more cars.  We’ll just build bigger and better cars to export.  And they did.  The Big 3 were no longer up against inexpensive, higher quality subcompacts on the fringe of their market share.  Now their mid-size and large-size cars had competition.  And this wasn’t on the fringe of their market share.  This was their bread and butter.  What to do?  Build better cars and give Americans more bang for their buck?  Or run to government again?  What do you think?

The Big 3 assaulted the Japanese under the guise of ‘fair trade’.  The cry went out that unless the Japanese opened up their markets to American imports (in particular auto parts), we should restrict Japanese imports.  To protect American jobs.  To protect the American worker.  To protect the children.  This was code for please make the Japanese cars more unattractive to purchasers so they will settle for the more costly and lower quality cars we’re making.  (Let’s not forget the reason Americans were buying the Japanese cars in the first place).

The Japanese response?  They took it up a notch.  They entered the luxury markets.  They launched Acura, Lexus and Infiniti.  They competed against Cadillac and Lincoln.  And well.  The quality was so good they even affected the European luxury imports.  More attacks followed.  Americans were losing their jobs.  Soon there would be no more American manufacturing left in the country.  So the Japanese built plants in America.  And Americans were now building the Japanese cars.  The Japanese actually created American jobs.

SON OF A BITCH!  So much for the loss of American jobs.  The Japanese threw a wrench in that argument.  So now the argument became about the loss of ‘high paying’ American jobs.  For the Japanese plants were non-union.  Didn’t matter that their workers were making better pay and benefits than many in their region.  No.  What mattered was that they were building a better product.  And they didn’t want THESE jobs in America.  But if they couldn’t get rid of these new workers, they should at least unionize them so their cars cost more.  To make them a little less appealing to the American consumer.  So far they have been unsuccessful in this endeavor.  The workers are happy as they are.

Well, these cars just weren’t going away.  So the Americans surrendered car manufacturing to the Japanese.  They couldn’t beat them.  (Of course, it’s hard to do that when you don’t even try).  They, instead, focused on the higher profit truck and SUV markets.  Then the Japanese entered those markets.  And at every level they competed with the Americans, the Japanese gave more bang for the buck.  And the consumers responded.  With their hard-earned wages.  It just wasn’t fair.  The Japanese kept giving the American consumer a better product.  No matter what political action the Big 3 took or demanded.

And there’s the problem.  They sought their answers from government.  Instead of making a better car.  They wanted to stop the Japanese from giving the American consumer what they wanted so they could force Americans to pay more for less.  All the while the economy was forcing the majority of consumers to get by on less (the majority of consumers do not have the wage and benefit package the ‘select’ few had in the Big 3). 

Fast forward to 2008 and we see the ultimate consequence of their actions.  Bankruptcy.  GM and Chrysler had to grovel for a federal bailout and in the process become Washington’s bitch.  Ford survived on her own.  As did the Japanese.  You can bitch all you want about costs, but if you have the revenue you can pay your costs.  And the Americans just couldn’t sell enough cars to maintain the revenue they needed for their cost structure.  By refusing to address the core problem (they weren’t making cars Americans wanted to buy), they only made their competition stronger and more entrenched in the U.S. market.

IT’S ALL POLITICS.  Political cronyism.  And crony capitalism.  It all comes down to political spoils and patronage.  That’s what happens when politics enter capitalism.  Big Business partners with Big Government and they enter into relationships.  You scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back.  But when government protects a business for political expediency, the industry suffers in the long run.  As the U.S. automobile industry has.  Ditto for the U.S. textile industry.  And the U.S. steel industry.

So what goes wrong?  When you protect an industry you insulate it from market forces.  You can build crap.  The problem is, consumers don’t buy crap.  So, for awhile, politics intervene and makes the crap more favorable.  Whether it’s predatory pricing, monopolistic pricing or collusion, business can’t win.  Big Government is there.  If your prices are too low, government will intervene.  If prices are too high, government will intervene.  If prices are too similar, government will intervene.  To make things ‘fair’.  And by fair they mean to reward those who play the game and to punish those who don’t.  And the spoils go to those large voting blocs they need.  And in return for their votes, they can count on patronage.  Government jobs.  Political positions.  Favorable legislation and regulation.  If you got the vote out, you were rewarded quite nicely. 

And consumers be damned. .

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LESSONS LEARNED #19: “Philosophical debates can be effective but character assassination is more expedient, especially when no one agrees with your philosophy.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 24th, 2010

THOMAS JEFFERSON HATED Alexander Hamilton.  So much so he hired Philip Freneau as a translator in his State Department in George Washington’s administration.  You see, Jefferson did not like confrontation.  So he needed a way to slander Hamilton, his policies and the Washington administration without getting his own hands dirty.  And that was what Freneau was supposed to do with the money he earned while working in the State Department.  Publish a newspaper (National Gazette) and attack Hamilton, his policies and the Washington administration.  Papers then were partisan.  More so than today.  Then, lies and libel were tools of the trade.  And they knew how to dig up the dirt.  Or make it up. 

Another scandalmonger, James Callender, was slinging dirt for Jefferson.  And he hit pay dirt.  Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds of Philadelphia had a lucrative business.  They were blackmailing Alexander Hamilton.  Mr. Reynolds had his wife seduce Hamilton.  Which she did.  And did well.  They had an affair.  And Mr. Reynolds then blackmailed him.  Jefferson pounced.  Or, rather, Callender did.  To keep Jefferson’s hands clean.  Hamilton, Callender said, was using his position at the Treasury Department for personal gain.  He was using public funds to pay the blackmailer.  They found no proof of this.  And they did look for it.  Hard.  But when they came up empty, Jefferson said that it just proved what a good thief Hamilton was.  He was so good that he didn’t leave any traces of his treachery behind.

Of course, when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.  And Jefferson’s association with Callender would come back and bite him in the ass.  In a big way.  Upset because Jefferson didn’t appropriately compensate him for all his loyal dirt slinging (he wanted the postmaster’s job in Richmond), he publicized the Sally Hemings rumors.  And after breaking the true story of the Hamilton affair, many would believe this scoop.  That Jefferson was having an affair with one of his slaves.  It was a dark cloud that would forever hang over Jefferson.  And his legacy.

Hamilton admitted to his affair.  Jefferson admitted to no affair.  Hamilton would never hold public office again and would later die in a duel with Jefferson’s one-time toady, Aaron Burr.  This duel resulted because Hamilton was doing whatever he could to keep the amoral and unscrupulous Burr from public office (in this case, it was the governorship of New York).  When the election of 1800 resulted in a tie between Jefferson and Burr, Hamilton urged the House to vote for Jefferson, his archenemy.   Despite what had appeared in the press, Hamilton did have morals and scruples.  Unlike some.  Speaking of which, Jefferson would go on to serve 2 terms as president.  And all of that angst about Hamiltonian policies?  They all went out the window with the Louisiana Purchase (which was unconstitutional, Big Government and Big Finance).

RONALD REAGAN WAS routinely called old, senile and out of touch by the entertainment community, the media and his political foes.  But he bested Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union, something Jimmy Carter never did.  He said ‘no’ at Reykjavik because he told the American people that he wouldn’t give up the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).  He knew the Soviet Union was bleeding.  Communism was a farce.  It inhibited human capital.  And impoverished her people.  SDI may have been science fiction in the 1980s, but capitalism wasn’t.  It could do it all.  Including SDI.  The Soviet Union was on the ropes and Reagan would give no quarter.  The days of living in fear of the mushroom cloud were over.  And capitalism would deliver the knockout punch.

Reaganomics, of course, made this all possible.  Supply-side economics.  Which follows the Austrian school.  Say’s Law.  ‘Supply creates demand’.  You don’t stimulate the economy by taxing one group of people so another group can spend.  You stimulate it by creating incentives for risk takers to take risks.  And when they do, they create jobs.  And wealth.

Tax and spend is a failed Keynesian, zero-sum economic policy.  When you take from the earners and give to the non-earners, we just transfer purchasing power.  We don’t create it.  For some to spend more, others must spend less.  Hence, zero-sum.  The net some of goods and services people are purchasing remains the same.  Different people are just doing the purchasing.

When Apple invented the Macintosh personal computer (PC), few were demanding a PC with a graphical user interface (GUI).  But Apple was innovative.  They created something they thought the people would want.  And they did.  They took a risk.  And the Macintosh with its mouse and GUI took off.  Apple manufacturing increased and added jobs.  Retail outlets for the Macintosh expanded and created jobs.  Software firms hired more engineers to write code.  And other firms hired more people to engineer and manufacture PC accessories.  There was a net increase in jobs and wealth.  Just as Say’s Law predicts.  Supply-side economics works.

Of course, the Left hates Reagan and attacked Reaganomics with a vengeance.  They attacked Reagan for being pro-rich.  For not caring about the poor.  And they revised history.  They say the only thing the Reagan tax cuts gave us were record deficits.  Of course, what those tax cuts gave us were record tax receipts.  The government never collected more money.  The House of Representatives (who spends the money), awash in cash, just spent that money faster than the treasury collected it.  The record shows Reaganomics worked.  Lower tax rates spurred economic activity.  More activity generated more jobs and more personal wealth.  Which resulted in more people paying more taxes.  More people paying taxes at a lower rate equaled more tax revenue in the aggregate.  It works.  And it works every time people try it. 

Because Reaganomics worked and showed the Left’s policies were failures, they had to attack Reagan.  To discredit him.  They had to destroy the man.  Except when they’re running for elected office.  Then they strive to show how much more Reagan-like they are than their conservative opponents.  Because they know Reaganomics worked.  And they know that we know Reaganomics worked.

GEORGE W. BUSH was routinely called an ‘idiot’ by the entertainment community, the media and his political foes.  Yet this ‘idiot’ seems to have outwitted the elite of the liberal Left time and time again.  I mean, if their policies were winning, they would be no reason to have attacked Bush in the first place.  The Left hated him with such vitriol that they said he blew up the Twin Towers on 9/11 as a justification for invading Iraq for her oil.  It was Big Oil’s lust for profit, after all, that was driving this Texan’s Big Oil policies.  And taking Iraq’s oil would increase Big Oil’s sales and give her even more obscene profits.

If Bush was an idiot, he must have been an idiot genius to come up with a plan like that.  Then again, gasoline prices crept to $4/gallon following the Iraq War.  Had all that oil gone on the market according to plan, that wouldn’t have happened.  Unless the plan was to keep that oil OFF of the market, thus, by rules of supply and demand, the price of oil (and the gasoline we make from it) would go up thus enriching Big Oil through higher prices resulting from a lower sales volume.  My god, what evil genius.  For an idiot.  Of course, gas taxes, numerous summer gas blends (required by the government’s environmental policies), an aging and over-taxed pipeline infrastructure and insufficient refinery capacity (the government’s environmental policies make it too punishing even to consider building a new refinery) to meet increasing demand (soaring in India and China) had nothing to do with the rise in gas prices.

IS THE POLITICAL Left evil?  Probably not.  Just amoral.  They have an agenda.  They survive on political spoils and patronage.  Old time politics.  Enrich themselves through cronyism.  If tribute is paid they’ll extend favorable treatment.  If tribute is not paid, they will release their wrath via hostile regulation, litigation, Congressional investigation and punitive taxation.  Just like they did to Big Tobacco (and, no, it wasn’t about our health.  They could have just made tobacco illegal.  But they didn’t.  Why?  It just brings in way too much money to the government.  Via sin taxes.  And federal lawsuits.  And with it being addictive, it’s a frickin cash piñata for them.)

They know few agree with their philosophy.  But they don’t care.  It’s not about national prosperity.  It’s about power.  And they want it.  That’s why they can’t debate the issues.  They know they can’t win.  So they attack the messenger.  Not the message.  If you don’t believe that, you can ask Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and just about any other Republican.  Well, you can’t ask Lincoln or Reagan.  But you can guess what they would say.

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