July 21, 2017

13 Reasons Why is an indictment of schools, not legitimization of suicide.

13-reasons-why-netflix-01-1200x800CBS News reports that two fathers are coping with the worst pain anyone can endure in this life: the death of a child. Both fathers believe the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, contributed to their daughters’ decisions to take their own lives. They have publicly asked Netflix to cease airing the show and one of the two men has requested a meeting with Netflix.

And before anyone raises concerns about free speech, there is nothing in the report suggesting the men are calling on the government to censor or otherwise interfere with Netflix’s rights, at least at this point. They are simply private citizens seeking to deal directly and peacefully with a private enterprise to discuss a dispute.

The story has already exploded in cyberspace. But it seems that most people (including perhaps the producers of the show and the author of the book it was based upon) miss its real lesson. The story is a pretty accurate representation of the “socialization” homeschoolers supposedly deprive their children of by keeping them out of school.

As 1990 New York State Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto put it during his acceptance speech for the award,

“It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety, indeed it cuts you off from your own part and future, scaling you to a continuous present much the same way television does.”

While there is never-ending debate about what children are taught in schools, whether religion should be completely banned from public school or not, whether sex education should be taught, etc., nobody questions the school paradigm itself.

It’s time to consider the possibility that the entire model is wrong. The culture it creates is just one reason. In the absence of adult culture that is at least for the most part based on the rules of civil society, the children, in their ignorance, create their own culture, which is irrational, merciless and often violent. This is nothing new. We’re just confronted with it more now in the age of phone cameras and social media.

It has been the goal of communists and other varieties of statist since Plato’s time to separate children from their parents and have them raised by the state. They’ve largely succeeded.

How do you like the results?

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Trolling Bernie Sanders Part 1

I know. It’s a little like when Kramer was beating up those ten and twelve-year-old kids at his karate school on Seinfeld. But it’s just too hard to resist trolling the commie con man, if for no other reason than to expose him to his confused supporters. So, by popular demand, some highlights from my past few months trolling Bernie.

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Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

It’s Time to Repeal and Replace the Republican Party

Gop slash 2President Trump attempted Friday to put a smiley face on the defeat of the American Health Care Act (ACHA), known to its opponents as “Obamacare Light.” From his perspective, the failure to secure enough Republican votes to pass the AHCA will lead to a “better bill” in the long run, because that future bill will have bipartisan support. The president did not elaborate on how the bill he envisions would be better or what about this bill, which he virtually threatened members of his own party to vote against, he didn’t like.

Opponents of the AHCA opposed it because it was too much like The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) itself. Trump’s comments beg the question for anyone hoping for less government in health care, rather than more: How exactly will participation by the Democratic Party make the next bill better?

It’s fair to say Trump is far from a typical Republican, especially on health care. He’s supported single payer government health insurance in the past, even as recently as his 2016 campaign. But what about the rest of the GOP? If the House of Representatives is any indication, merely tweaking and renaming Obamacare was a viable solution to what they have denounced for seven years as the first step down the slippery slope to socialism.

This is by no means an isolated incident in the GOP’s history. Despite running on reducing the size and influence of the federal government, Republican presidents and Congresses have consistently presided over more significant expansions than the Democrats. A look at historical data on federal outlays reveals that federal spending increases far more when a Republican is in the White House than under a Democrat, regardless of which party controls Congress.

Beginning with Nixon, federal spending has virtually doubled during the administrations of all three two-term Republican presidents. Even Eisenhower increased it fifty percent, despite two year-over-year cuts in 1954 and 1955, respectively, equaling the percentage increase under LBJ’s “Great Society” (although the latter was accomplished in one term). Spending increased far less under Democratic Presidents Clinton and Obama than under any post-war Republican president who served two terms. It seems unlikely that trend will change under President Trump, who has proposed $60 billion in increases to military and Homeland Security spending.

Republican rhetoric also typically includes “slashing” regulations on economic activity, but the reality rarely bears any resemblance to the rhetoric. Like many of his Republican predecessors, Eisenhower created an entire new department, Health, Education and Welfare, which paved the way for LBJ’s medical entitlements. Nixon created the EPA, which alone is responsible for some of the most stifling regulation on business. Reagan is widely credited for massive deregulation, but most of the meaningful deregulation was passed while Carter was president. George W. Bush’s only two meaningful economic policies were the economically destructive Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the TARP bailout.

Over the entire sixty-four years since 1953, voters truly interested in reducing the size and influence of the federal government have decried what have recently come to be called, “RINOs,” (Republicans-in-Name-Only). This is a term popularized during the Tea Party era to describe Republican politicians who run on shrinking the federal government, but who govern more like liberal Democrats once in office. If only a real Republican could be elected, say the grass roots, then the federal government would finally be brought back within its constitutional limits.

But when have these “real Republicans” ever existed? Once upon a time? If one goes back to its founding in 1854, the Republican Party was the big government party. By 1860, the platform included all the familiar big government planks from its predecessors, the Whigs and the Federalists. And spend big they did, particularly on railroads and other infrastructure, in addition to raising protectionist tariffs.

It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson and the new Democratic Party leapfrogged the Republicans in terms of big government that Republicans even campaigned on shrinking the federal government, which wasn’t exactly a radical idea following the spending and regulation ramp-up during the largest war in human history to that point. Evidently, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge are the only “real Republicans” to have ever occupied the White House. And let’s not forget that both merely returned policy to that of their 19th century Republican predecessors. Harding and Coolidge praised Alexander Hamilton’s economic policies and governed accordingly.

Considering the present Republican administration, there has never been a better time for those truly interested in smaller government to confront reality: the ninety percent of Republican Congressman who would have voted for the AHCA are the real Republicans. They represent what the Republican Party has been about for the entire 163 years of its existence: big government conservatism.

It’s time to repeal the GOP and replace it with a party truly committed to less government, free markets and a peaceful foreign policy. While the numbers associated with third parties are not encouraging, one cannot ignore the vast potential represented by that half of the electorate who don’t vote at all. Together with the large number of Republican and Democratic voters who “hold their noses” and vote for the lesser of two evils, a new party formed from the Libertarian, Constitutional and Reform Parties, marketed to disaffected non-voters, could represent a viable alternative.

At this point, what could those seeking smaller, less intrusive government possibly have to lose?

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

The Culture of Entitlement in Medicine

medicare-logoSenator Rand Paul has introduced an alternative bill to what he calls, “Obamacare Lite,” a.k.a. the American Health Care Act, introduced by House Speaker Paul Ryan. Paul’s criticism of Ryan’s bill was mild compared to Rep. Thomas Massie’s. Massie called Ryan’s bill a “stinking pile of garbage.”

While Paul’s plan is more free-market oriented than Ryan’s, no plan is addressing the one elephant in the room that must be slain before anything resembling a free market in health care can emerge: entitlements.

While Medicare and Medicaid’s effect on the federal budget is generally acknowledged, seldom mentioned is the percentage of overall health care spending that is tax-subsidized and the effect that has on prices. A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology found that of over $2.5 trillion in total U.S. health care spending in 2014, Medicare, Medicaid and “Other Public Insurance” accounted for 44% of it. By comparison, spending by private insurance companies accounted for only 33%, with out-of-pocket spending a mere 13%. Most of the remaining 10% was attributed to “other payers.”

In other words, almost half of all health care purchases in the United States occur free from the two strongest price-limiting market forces: the freedom not to purchase and finite demand.

Yes, the patients have a choice of which medical services they utilize. But they don’t buy them; taxpayers do. And the taxpayers don’t have a choice. And “demand” means not only the desire, but the ability to purchase a product at a given price. I may want to purchase a Rolls Royce. But if I don’t have enough money, I don’t represent demand for a Rolls Royce.

Price is determined by the intersection of supply and demand. By adding over $1 trillion to total funds available for health care spending, government health care programs significantly increase demand. When demand significantly increases, supply and other factors being equal, prices go up. It’s Economics 101.

If half of all automobiles were purchased by government programs, the price of automobiles would behave just as health care prices do now. And politicians and other “experts” would be wringing their hands over how to solve the automobile crisis and ensure everyone has the opportunity to exercise their fundamental right to drive to work.

Anyone who points out these rather uncontroversial economic realities can expect to be answered with, “What? You want to let my grandmother just die because she can’t afford health care? Do you believe only rich people should be treated for sickness and injuries and everyone else should just be left to suffer?”

Invariably, opponents of these programs take the bait and respond as if government health care programs were solely entitlements for consumers. They’re not. They’re much more entitlements for providers, who believe they are entitled to fees their markets won’t bear.

Having worked in a past life with physicians, hospitals and other providers for over a decade, I had a unique opportunity to understand their thinking (Disclosure: much of this time was spent in management positions at two of those “evil” HMOs). And while there are many exceptions to what I’m about to say, there are two things I found to be true about most physicians. One, they are among the most generous and compassionate people in society. Two, they share academia’s absolute contempt for the free market.

This results in a kind of Jekyll/Hyde aspect to their approach to reimbursement. On one hand, a physician who encounters a patient with no verifiable ability to pay will nevertheless care for that patient, if the need is serious, without hesitation. Physicians and hospitals provide a considerable amount of care every year for which they are not paid, without complaint.

Yet the moment there is a payment avenue, that same physician suddenly loses not only his compassion, but all connection with reality. Many were the times when a physician would say to me words to the effect of, “I’m entitled to higher compensation in return for the years of training I completed and the money I spent acquiring it.”

No, doc, you’re not. It is true that your skills are scarce and will fetch a higher price on the market than skills less scarce. But you’re only entitled to what others have agreed to pay you, like everybody else.

This culture of entitlement extends throughout the health care industry. How many times have you spoken with the billing manager for a hospital or medical practice who makes some form of this passive-aggressive complaint: “Our billed charges for this procedure are $835.00, but your insurance only pays $520.”

I’ve taken to responding, “Yes, I know how you feel. My billed charges to my employer are $1,000.00 per hour, but my paycheck is only for what he agreed to pay me.”

I’m not suggesting physicians’ salaries necessarily must be cut to restore price reality to medicine. A free market may give them a haircut; it may not. But there are many costs other than the physician’s salary in delivering health care  and there is no real pressure on improving efficiency in any of them.

As just one example, think about how many times you provide your health insurance information to your doctor’s office. They get it from you on the phone before even agreeing to make an appointment. Then, you have to write it on a paper form when you get to the office, sometimes more than once, on more than one form. Why? They’ve already captured that info on the phone. It’s in their billing system. Who’s reading, filing and otherwise processing the paper form(s) and why?

Many medical practices run the way they did in the 1950s for one reason: they don’t have to change. Half their revenues are guaranteed, at any price, by a customer base that can’t say no. Grocery stores, which provide products far more vital to human survival than medical care, operate on razor thin margins. Their prices behave normally, when adjusted for inflation. No one seems curious about why that is.

From time to time, proposals are made to try to phase out Medicare and Medicaid, the assumption being that there can be no major market disruption. That’s just another manifestation of the strange notion that medical care is in some sacred and holy category that more important goods and services don’t occupy.

While there are plenty of government interventions on the supply side that artificially inflate health care prices, the most effective way to normalize pricing would be to abolish Medicare and Medicaid tomorrow. That would cut demand for those services immediately by over $1 trillion per year. With a significant decrease in demand comes a significant decrease in prices.

And guess what? There would still be doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and other providers who want and need to deliver care and make profits. Only they’d have to adjust their business models to deliver their products at prices their customers could afford. This may sound scary, but industries have demonstrated their resilience to disruption over and over throughout history. And we’re talking about one composed of people at the far right of the bell curve. All experience says the turmoil would be far briefer and less harmful than the hysterical predictions we can expect from those benefiting from the current system.

Abolishing these programs won’t cut off granny. It will cut off McKesson, Merck and a lot of very wealthy physicians (who’d still be wealthy afterwards) from the government till. We’d all be treated much more like customers by the people whose medical services we purchase and health insurance premiums would plummet.

Proposals like Senator Paul’s will produce positive results on the margin, but until the entitlements are abolished, they won’t succeed in restoring normalcy to the health care market.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

In Defense of Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life


lionel-barrymore-its-a-wonderful-lifeDecember is upon us and that means plentiful opportunities to watch the enduring classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of viewers completely misinterpret heroic Roosevelt-hater and anti-New Dealer Frank Capra’s dystopian nightmare as a heartwarming Christmas tale. And while this writer likely can’t overcome the emotional appeal of angels getting their wings and other fanciful tripe in the film that help convince audiences to accept absurd economic fallacies, perhaps I can at least disabuse them of the vicious slanders they have heretofore accepted regarding the film’s hero, Henry Potter.

We first hear of Potter from George Bailey’s father, Peter Bailey, who badmouths Potter with the usual left wing falsehoods about businessmen. But during Bailey’s envious rant, we learn something important: Henry Potter is a board member of the building and loan. We later learn Potter is, in fact, a stockholder.

That puts a somewhat different light on his subsequent motion to liquidate the business upon Peter Bailey’s death. Yes, we hear George Bailey repeating the familiar socialist tropes his father did: that Potter only wants to close the building and loan because he “can’t get his hands on it” and considers the little people cattle, etc. But Potter responds with some rather inconvenient facts: the building and loan has been making bad business decisions, providing what we’d now call subprime loans to people who can’t pay them back.

We don’t know how Potter became a stockholder, but the Bailey Building and Loan does not appear to be a publicly traded company. The most likely explanation is Peter Bailey asked Potter for capital, just as George Bailey does later in the film, in between rounds of disparaging Potter as a greedy capitalist. That would be perfectly consistent with today’s “progressives,” who rail against capitalists out of one side of their face while sucking up to them for money out of the other.

But regardless of how Potter became a stockholder, Peter Bailey has a fiduciary duty to him to run the business for maximum profit, providing Potter and the other stockholders a return on their investments, something George Bailey confirms they never intended to do. Instead, the Baileys squander their investors’ money on a do-gooder, subprime loan scheme to make everyone a homeowner. It worked out in fictional Bedford Falls about as well as it did in early 2000s America.

Meanwhile, the Baileys constantly slander Potter’s rental houses as “overpriced slums.” These are the same Baileys whose housing opportunities are more expensive than Potter’s.

Their accusations constantly beg the question: If Potter’s houses are so bad, why do so many people choose to live in them? It’s constantly implied Potter’s customers have no other choice, but what exactly does that mean? Why has no one else, including any of the businessmen on the board of the Bailey Building and Loan, developed rental properties that are higher in quality, lower in price, or both?

The inescapable truth is Potter is wealthy because he provides a product that most satisfies his customers’ preferences for quality and price. If there were an opportunity to provide a higher quality product at a lower price than Potter was charging, a competitor would do so and take market share away from Potter, until Potter either raised his quality, lowered his price, or both.

The Baileys burn with resentment that so many residents of Bedford Falls prudently choose to live in Potter’s less expensive housing than buy a house they can’t afford, financed by the Baileys’ Ponzi scheme. Thus, even after shirking their fiduciary duty to run the business properly, the Baileys spend decades assaulting Potter’s character in a transparent attempt to lure away his customers.

When the Depression hits and the Bailey Building and Loan is exposed for the fractional reserve fraud it is, Potter offers to come to the rescue with a generous offer to buy out its customers. It is noteworthy there is a run on the Bailey Building and Loan and the local bank, but Potter is financially secure enough to save them both, proving once again he is the only honorable businessman in the film.

But we must give the devil his due. George Bailey, the ultimate huckster, saves the building and loan without Potter’s help, convincing the yokel mob making a run on his business to keep their money tied up in his fundamentally insolvent confidence game.

That brings us to the one regrettable act Potter is guilty of, which is concealing the $8,000.00 the incompetent Billy Bailey inadvertently handed him while attempting to make a deposit. It’s true this was an underhanded act, although not unprovoked.

We don’t know how much Potter had invested in the Building and Loan to become a stockholder, but suspect it was a lot more than $8,000. One could make the case he was merely getting back some of the money the Baileys had previously defrauded him of, but there are courts for such matters and Potter should have sought their help if he had a case.

Nevertheless, two generations of Baileys had led a decades-long assault on Potter’s good name, resulting in most townspeople disliking him, even though he has quite literally saved their lives on numerous occasions. Without him, a large portion of Bedford Falls would be unemployed, have nowhere to live, or both. It is not an exaggeration to say that without Henry Potter, Bedford Falls would cease to exist. Yet, thanks to the Baileys, he is the most hated man in town.

Compare Potter’s vindictive reaction when George Bailey crawls to him for help after the $8,000.00 is lost to Potter’s reaction at the board meeting at the beginning of the movie. At the board meeting, Potter dismisses George’s unhinged attack upon him and redirects the discussion to the subject of the meeting: what is best for Bedford Falls. By the latter confrontation, Potter tries to have George arrested for embezzling.

Potter’s dastardly act is totally out of character with the Potter of the earlier scene or any other event we know of in Potter’s life. As far as we know, he has always been a hard-nosed, unsentimental businessman, but has never committed a crime or held a grudge, as he does now. Everything we know about Potter up to this point tells us his vindictive attempt to have George Bailey prosecuted is precisely the kind of emotional decision-making Potter has avoided for most of his life. That is why he is so wealthy at the beginning of the film.

Everyone has a breaking point. Potter had evidently reached his. Had he been prosecuted for keeping the $8,000.00, which may have been tricky from a legal standpoint, given that Billy Bailey had handed the money to him, he could easily have plead temporary insanity caused by years of psychological warfare waged against him by the Baileys.

We’ll never know, because before Potter has any opportunity to allow his passion to cool and clear up the misunderstanding, George Bailey sets off on his suicide melodrama, followed by a long, self-aggrandizing hallucination about angels and how Bedford Falls would be worse without him. By the time he concludes his childish escape from reality, the same yokels he previously conned during the Depression are now bailing him out once again, foreshadowing so many future bailouts of dishonest financiers whose assets should have been turned over to better management in bankruptcy court.

In one of the darkest moments of the film, George Bailey’s Christmas tree is jostled and one of the bells adorning it rings. George Bailey, now confident he and his fraudulent real estate scheme are safe, suggests the bell signifies an angel has earned his wings, as if his dishonest business dealings and ruthless defamation of legitimate competitors had divine sanction.

Nothing more is heard of Henry Potter, the man without whom Bedford Falls would not exist. He is left friendless and without the one thing he could cling to before George Bailey, the Devil incarnate, wrested it from his grasp: his honor. As the credits roll, evil has triumphed. The economic fallacies inherent in Baileyism become accepted truth, resulting in disaster after disaster, including the most recent in 2008.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol Has Too Sad An Ending for the Season

800px-charles_dickens-a_christmas_carol-title_page-first_edition_1843No Christmas season would be complete without plentiful opportunities to watch stage or television productions of Charles Dickens’ unfortunately immortal A Christmas Carol. The classic Reginald Owen and Alastair Sim movies will no doubt play several times on multiple cable channels. We have a live production showing at the Alleyway Theatre here in Buffalo, N.Y. Or, you could always go full-on retro and actually read the book.

I’m going to pass altogether this year on poor Scrooge’s story and hope for a sequel, even though Dickens is no longer with us. It just doesn’t get me into the Christmas spirit to watch a story with such a dark and foreboding ending. Christmas is supposed to celebrate the birth of new hope.

As Butler Shaffer demonstrated in his brilliant defense of poor Ebenezer, Scrooge was an invaluable benefactor to English society before the events of Dickens’ story. We are not given details of his business dealings other than they had something to do with finance. That Scrooge had been in business so many years and had amassed such wealth is enough for us to conclude he had made many more wise decisions on where to direct capital than unwise ones.

Who knows what housing, stores, railways or other benefits to society Scrooge had made possible through his wise judgment? How many thousands of jobs had he created? Dickens is unjustly silent on this. Whatever Scrooge had financed, we know it was something the public wanted or needed enough to pay for voluntarily. Thanks to Scrooge, however crusty his demeanor, the common people of London were far richer than they otherwise would have been without his services.

His only weakness seems to be sentimentality towards the whiny, presumably mediocre-at-best Bob Cratchett. We know Scrooge was paying Cratchett more than anyone else was willing to or Cratchett would surely have accepted a higher-paying job to put additional funds towards curing Tiny Tim. But we really don’t have any evidence anyone else was willing to employ Cratchett at all, at any salary level. Still, we must defer to Scrooge’s judgment on this and perhaps even laud him for finding a way to employ a substandard employee without jeopardizing the firm as a whole.

Thus, all was as well as it could have been on December 23. Scrooge’s customers were happy, Bob Cratchett was at least employed, thanks to Scrooge, and Scrooge himself was as happy as he could be, considering the ingratitude with which his genius had been rewarded and all the panhandlers constantly shaking him down.

Everything changed on Christmas Eve, when Scrooge was terrorized – there really is no other word for it – by three time-traveling, left wing apparitions. It wasn’t enough to frighten an elderly man with the mere appearance of ghosts. They took him on a trip through time, scolding him for supposed mistakes made in the past and blaming him for the misfortunes of others in the present and future. And let’s not forget the purpose of this psychological waterboarding. They are not, as Shaffer observes, pursuing Scrooge’s happiness, but his money. They are William Graham Sumner’s A & B conspiring to force C to relieve the suffering of X. Politicians A & B use the polite coercion of legislation; the spirits make use of more direct and honest threats of violence.

Their plot was successful. Scrooge awoke from his night of terror obviously out of his senses and began making one poor financial decision after another. Perhaps buying the largest turkey in the local shop could be excused on Christmas Day. But then, without any evidence of improvement in performance, he raised Bob Cratchett’s salary and promised to take on the Cratchett family’s medical expenses.

After that, we are told Scrooge was “transformed” completely, which we can only interpret to mean he no longer made the kind of decisions that had previously benefited so many. We are told Scrooge’s subsequent behavior was so foolhardy that some people laughed at him. But even this wasn’t enough to snap him out of the permanent delirium with which the spirits had inflicted him.

The story ends on that foreboding note. We are told Scrooge never again returned to the prudent decision-making that had brought on the supernatural terror attack on Christmas Eve. We have to assume the “transformed” Scrooge eventually went out of business, perhaps solely due to overpaying Cratchett, who is 50% of his labor force, perhaps due to the cumulative effect of the many unwise decisions we are told continued afterwards.

Not only was Tiny Tim’s medical care cut off, but the whole Cratchett family was rendered destitute and starving. As Scrooge had already been paying Cratchett more than anyone else was willing to, even before the imprudent raise, we have to assume Cratchett made less after Scrooge went out of business than he did at the beginning of the story, if he convinced anyone to employ him at all.

Worse even than the misfortune that befell Scrooge, Cratchett and Tiny Tim was the misfortune visited upon society as a whole. How many profitable ventures were never financed, both before and after Scrooge went out of business from investing with his heart instead of his head? How many future jobs were destroyed and children of unemployed fathers left sick and hungry?

Certainly, this horror story would be better told on Halloween than Christmas. Christmas is a hopeful holiday, celebrating the birth of the savior of the world, whose parable of the three servants lauds wise capital investment and condemns unwise use of capital. We can only hope some ambitious writer will pen a sequel to Dickens’ dark tale, in which Scrooge regains his senses, fires Bob Cratchett and returns to making the kind of decisions that once raised the living standards of so many.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Trump’s Job-Killing Carrier Deal

trump-carrierDonald Trump has not taken office and already he is delivering on his promise to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States. Yesterday, he visited Indiana to celebrate his part in persuading Carrier to keep 1,100 jobs slated to move to Mexico at its Indiana facility. Speculation of bullying, tax-funded quid pro quo (Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies, holds large defense contracts) and corporate welfare were plentiful.

Today, Zero Hedge reports Carrier was persuaded by none of the above. Instead, the company received “$700,000 a year for a period of years in state tax incentives.” That means keeping the jobs cost the government about $636 per job annually in tax revenues.

It would seem a win-win. 1,100 Americans keep their jobs, Carrier gets lower taxes to avoid having to pass on the cost difference to its customers and all the local businesses in Indiana benefit from the purchasing power that remains there with the domestic Carrier employees instead of being exported to Mexico.

That, as 19th century political economist Frederic Bastiat would say, “is what is seen.” What is not seen is all the consequences of Carrier not moving those jobs to Mexico, where they could produce their products at a lower cost. When those consequences are considered and the ledger is balanced, the deal will have made the United States as a whole poorer and will have cost it jobs.

Let’s first consider the decision in a vacuum, without the tax incentive. Carrier was moving the jobs to Mexico because it could produce the same air conditioner there at a lower cost, which it could then pass on to its customers. Keeping the jobs in Indiana raises the cost of production above what it would be with the move. That forces Carrier to raise its prices.

And we must assume Carrier would have saved more than $636 per worker per year in tax breaks had they moved those jobs to Mexico, or the move wouldn’t have made financial sense. With each worker on average producing many air conditioners per year, saving $636 per worker works out to a negligible cost savings per unit. So, Carrier is likely absorbing some of the higher costs of keeping the jobs in Indiana, over and above what they are receiving from the government. Those costs must be passed on to customers or taken out of profits, the latter resulting in either lower dividends or less money reinvested in future improvements to production.

“Ah,” says the supporter of this move, “but many people are willing to pay a little more to keep those jobs in America!” Perhaps, but the economic consequences remain. Assuming the price of an air conditioner would be $5,000.00 if produced in Mexico and keeping the jobs in America only raises prices by the $500, Americans are now paying $5,500.00 for an air conditioner instead of $5000.00. They get no more for their money than they would have paying $5,000.00. All they have in exchange for the $5,500.00 is the same air conditioner.

Had the job moved to Mexico and that same air conditioner been available for $5,000.00, the customer would have been able to afford an air conditioner and a bicycle, or an air conditioner and a new carpet, or an air conditioner and a new suit, for the same $5,500.00 he now spends to get the air conditioner only. The consumer is poorer because of the deal. His standard of living is lower. And let’s not forget that for every one employee producing air conditioners, there are hundreds or thousands of people consuming what those employees produce.

At the end of the day, the ledger balances to this: the same number of air conditioners are being produced, but at a higher cost. That difference in the cost of production is lost. The standard of living of everyone who consumes air conditioners is lowered by however much more it costs to produce air conditioners in Indiana instead of Mexico. We assume it is $500, but the exact figure is not important. They are poorer by whatever amount the diminished efficiency increases production costs.

“But kind sir!” says the apologist, “you have missed something. You have forgotten the purchasing power of those 1,100 employees, which will help local businesses and keep that wealth in America. That creates jobs that otherwise would have been lost!”

No, it is not forgotten. It is merely balanced against purchasing power lost by all those consumers of air conditioners and against all the jobs they would have created with the $500.00 they would have spent with local businesses, had they saved it in purchasing the air conditioner. The air conditioner customer who also bought a bicycle, a new carpet or a new suit also created jobs or supported existing jobs, which are now lost. And not one in a million knows where they went. The unseen killer of those jobs is the decision to make the same air conditioner at a higher cost in Indiana than at a lower cost in Mexico.

It doesn’t end there. Let us not forget the 1,100 jobs lost in Mexico, the third largest importer of U.S. exports. Because of the lost purchasing power of Mexican consumers, U.S. companies who export to Mexico lose revenue and must lay off workers.

When the whole ledger is balanced, the jobs lost in the U.S. at least equals those 1,100 retained and likely far exceeds them, as inefficiency grows exponentially as its effects ripple throughout the economy.

Finally, the apologist for the deal makes his last stand. “Yes, good sir, you make many fine points. But this deal involved lowering taxes for Carrier, which bestows upon them the same savings they would have realized by moving the jobs to Mexico. And even you must agree that lowering taxes and paying productive workers is better than allowing the government to use it less efficiently!”

Well, there is the rub. The government is doing with those lost taxes precisely what the apologist said. It is using them less efficiently than the market would have. The market would have moved those jobs to Mexico and lowered the cost of air conditioners. The government has used its taxing power to keep the jobs in Indiana and raise the cost of air conditioners above what it would otherwise be if the jobs moved to Mexico, with or without the tax incentive.

But even on the tax incentive there is more that is not seen. It is not as if the $700,000.00 in tax revenues were left in the hands of the taxpayers, who might use it productively. 100% of it went to subsidize the higher cost of producing an air conditioner in Indiana instead of Mexico. And the government went on spending the same amount as before, simply collecting the $700,000.00 Carrier doesn’t pay from others, now or in the future.

So, while the cost of the tax break is not added to the sticker cost of the air conditioner, the public is still paying that additional $636 per worker per year in the additional taxes collected to make up the government’s loss on Carrier. The public is also poorer by whatever price increase or profit reduction is necessary to offset the additional costs the company agreed to absorb to make the deal work.

No matter what defense the apologist offers, there is no escaping this. By keeping those jobs in Indiana instead of letting them move where the market is directing them, the net effect is the United States as a whole is at least $636 poorer per year for every employee kept in Indiana by the deal. It also loses jobs due to the higher prices it still pays for air conditioners, over and above what the tax break could alleviate, or the wealth lost in dividends or reinvestment Carrier sacrificed to absorb whatever additional cost savings it had to forego to keep the jobs in Indiana.  And this is one little company and just 1,100 jobs. Imagine if Trump delivers on his promise to keep or bring back millions?

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

The Irony Everyone’s Missing in the Hamilton-Pence Controversy

hamilton-penceFour days after Mike Pence was lectured by the cast of the hit musical Hamiltonand booed by its audience, the controversy rages on. President-elect Trump sent out the expected angry tweet demanding an apology. The left melodramatically gasped, “freedom of speech,” even though no one has suggested government action against the actors. And, suddenly, the right is more offended than an SJW at an Ann Coulter lecture. Even Trump whined about the theater being a “safe space.”

The only person who doesn’t have a strong opinion on this is Mike Pence. He handledthe situation with uncommon grace, shrugging off the boos from the crowd with a line for the ages: “That is what freedom sounds like.”

All of this pales in comparison to the supreme irony everyone is missing in this whole overblown controversy. Here we have the cast of a musical that holds Alexander Hamilton in an admiring light expressing deep anxiety about a president who just won a stunning upset victory after running his campaign largely based on the political ideas of – wait for it – Alexander Hamilton.

Read the rest at the Foundation for Economic Freedom…

The Electoral College is Vital to Freedom and Peace

400px-1992prescountymap2Retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) filed legislation proposing an amendment to the Constitution abolishing the electoral college. She and many across the United States believe the president should be chosen by direct popular vote. This would be a huge mistake. The electoral college is vital to freedom in a republic the size of the United States.

Lest this be taken as a partisan argument for Donald Trump, let me clear the air. I did not vote for Mr. Trump. I understand the aversion many in both parties have for his style and even the substance of some of his policies. I understand the disappointment of Clinton supporters. I’m a libertarian from Buffalo, NY. My team never wins, neither in politics nor anywhere else – believe me, I understand!

But regardless of my reservations about Trump, the manner in which he was elected must be preserved as the only way to preserve a nation this large and culturally diverse.

Michael Moore recently called the system antiquated and only created to protect the dubious “rights” of slave states. Not so. In fact, it was created to protect smaller states from domination by the largest, including slave state Virginia. Let’s remember, the people of the original thirteen states did not have to accept the Constitution. Rhode Island, which passed laws to gradually emancipate its slaves from 1784-87, didn’t ratify it until 1790.

It’s primary reason for holding out was the addition of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, measures which clarified the restrictions on the power of the federal government, but did not protect slavery. What it did ensure was that larger states like Virginia and Pennsylvania were not able to dictate how Rhode Island governed its internal affairs. The very first clause of the First Amendment, properly understood, prohibited the federal government from establishing a national religion, like the Church of England. Rhode Island, founded in the name of freedom of religion by a man kicked out of Massachusetts because of his religious beliefs, was especially concerned about this.

While some of the particulars are different, the underlying principle remains the same. The United States is a diverse federation of drastically different cultures. Those who believe New York City, Atlanta, GA, Boise, ID and Los Angeles, CA aren’t different cultures just aren’t being honest with themselves. As President Obama is so fond of saying, E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one).

There are some laws the federal government enforces within the states, based on its power to regulate interstate commerce. But the executive who enforces those laws must represent the people of every state, especially given how culturally diverse they are. That’s why we have an electoral college. That is why the people of Idaho, many of whom may find the societal values in places like New York or California abhorrent, agree to abide a chief executive who most likely comes from a place like that – because they and their culture have an equal say in electing him, even if they’re outnumbered.

If the shoe were on the other foot and Midwestern evangelical states had a population advantage, you can bet New Yorkers and Californians would be defending the electoral college to the death.

The beauty of our system is that it allows people with vastly different beliefs and values to live together in one federal republic dedicated to protecting their freedom to hold those beliefs, right or wrong, so long as they do not infringe the rights of others. To transform the republic to a pure democracy and allow a few, cosmopolitan states to rule over people who don’t share their beliefs would truly be tyranny and a threat to domestic peace.

The Constitution guarantees “to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,” not a democratic one. The founders were wise in this respect. In the name of diversity, freedom and peace, we should keep the electoral college.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

He, She, They, Him, Her. Period.

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Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.