We again gratefully contemplate the terrible price paid by those who gave their all so that America may remain the land of opportunity and the home of the free. The words and photo from Memorial Day - 30 May 2011 still apply.
From the pantheon of America’s richest and wisest, we hear that Warren Buffett has now discovered systemic unemployment, especially of the kind that no amount of education spending will cure. And the man has also concluded that some form of Guaranteed National Income is required to keep blood out of the gutters. A couple of days ago he wrote a piece – ‘Better than Raising the Minimum Wage’ – that was picked up by a number of media outlets. I guess that makes official what we on RR have been discussing and debating for years.
Mr Buffett presents a sensible case for a more robust Earned Income Tax Credit to bring low earning workers up to a comfortable living standard. He correctly tells readers “In recent decades, our country’s rising tide has not lifted the boats of the poor. … No conspiracy lies behind this depressing fact: The poor are most definitely not poor because the rich are rich. Nor are the rich undeserving. Most of them have contributed brilliant innovations or managerial expertise to America’s well-being. We all live far better because of Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Sam Walton and the like.”
Using many words and numbers, he makes the case that technology is moving employable human skill sets to ever higher levels that are simply not accessible to people in the lower cognitive classes. The whole concept was illustrated graphically in the nearby ‘thousand word picture’ (from ‘edX Meets the Workforce’). The problem of using such graphics to vividly illustrate our systemic unemployment is that the overwhelming number of our citizens don’t do graphics, neither do they do numbers. But my oh my, do they do soundbites that promise more.
The above figure shows two overlapping distributions in the form of histograms. The green one indicates how many jobs are available at various levels of worker productivity. Of course, the higher the productivity level, the higher the required worker skill level. The red distribution shows the availability of workers at skill levels able to staff jobs at the indicated productivity levels. Where the green bars are higher than the red, we have jobs that the current workforce, represented by the red bars, cannot fill. And in the lower productivity jobs area, where the red bars stick up higher than the green bars, we have the systemically unemployed workers.
The problem is that new technologies cause the green distribution (bars) to migrate to the right. But the only thing that will increase the skill levels of workers, and therefore help the red distribution to also migrate to the right, is education/training. Unfortunately all those workers at the lower end of the productivity scale are not sufficiently educable. To keep blood out of the gutters, it is these people who must receive a GNI. (Long time RR readers may recall that I have recommended that a half-way route to GNI could be had through the Non-profit Service Corporations established under a dramatically reformed tax code.)
Before finishing, I want to remind readers the difference between welfare, as we know it today, and GNI. To receive some form of welfare you have to qualify under divers regulations, codes, and laws. And you will be vetted by endless bureaucrats to see for how much of this or that program you qualify. GNI, especially the outright grant type, requires very few people to administer, simply because it just pays you the difference between what you are able to earn yourself (maybe zilch) and what the law says you should as a minimum be able to spend every year.
And this brings us to a question asked by a liberal commenter under the previous GNI post – how would you decide which government workers are superfluous or not? From the commenter this came across as a gotcha question to rebut a proposal to save gazillions (for GNI) by reducing government workers. Well, to answer that requires no learning in rocket science or neuro surgery – just start by eliminating the non-performing bureaucracies that serve to dispense corporate and union welfare programs. Examples of these are Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, and ‘administrations’ too numerous to list (others to follow after some consolidation of the few necessary functions they do perform). However, as more people like Buffett are now beginning to realize, we will need to establish something like the FTA, a somewhat lean, mean, and very focused bureaucracy to administer any future version of the GNI (FTA?, that would be the Federal Tit Administration).
[This is the addended transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 20 May 2015.]
Listeners of these commentaries may recall that I support redistribution of wealth. This line drew gasps from the Nevada County Republican Central Committee when several years ago I dropped it into one of the talks I was invited to give. But after explaining why such a program was necessary, most begrudgingly agreed that there was really no practical alternative given the rapidly growing need over the next 15-20 years. The problem with such a proposal is that we have redistributed wealth for over forty years, and it is clear that the way we have been doing it hasn’t worked.
Today we are spending about $1T of federal and state revenues annually on 126 separate federal anti-poverty programs in addition to myriads of similar state programs, many of them overlapping and all having little effect on reducing poverty or helping people out of poverty. More than one out of three, or over 126 million, Americans receive benefits from such programs. And of these we have 46M people, the highest number ever, receiving food stamps. Over the last decades more than $20T has been spent to fight poverty, all with dismal results.
The money for this has come from working taxpayers and massive borrowing. But therein lies the problem – of working age Americans, today fewer than two out of three people work or are looking for work. And of those who found jobs during this anemic economic recovery, many are part time workers, and many more work in low paying service jobs and still need assistance. Today’s government quoted 5.5% unemployment rate sends a fraudulent feel-good message. The real jobless rate is still north of 10%, and unfortunately it will be rising in the coming years because of something we have discussed before called systemic unemployment (more here).
Accelerating automation and off-shoring continue to reduce America’s jobs. Ever smarter robots and computers are doing more human work at an alarming rate. The result is that no matter how much we may plan to spend on education, for most unemployed Americans education will not help. So what is the solution for people who simply have no ability to earn enough to support themselves? Today the most often cited answer is a Guaranteed National Income or GNI.
Economists of all stripes have anticipated and recommended a GNI as the final solution to systemic unemployment. From the Right we have agreement from greats like nobelists F.A. Hayek and Milton Freedman; from the Left economists Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Galbraith have weighed in on the need for some form of GNI. Even prominent sociologists and political scientists like the conservative Charles Murray have stated the need for funding Americans who cannot work.
There have been many studies about implementing GNI that include universal grants, negative income tax, and direct wage supplements for those able to earn a part of their income. But all these studies have raised more disturbing questions about the feasibility of any of these plans. All detailed looks at putting in place an adequate GNI conclude that it will be very expensive, costing even more than the current dysfunctional welfare programs.
Responding to these findings, liberal promoters say that, all the unanswered questions about cost and work incentives aside, we should go ahead and try a new federal GNI just based on good intentions. Conservatives counsel caution, and say that we should “pursue incremental steps: consoli¬date existing welfare programs, move from in-kind to cash benefits, increase transparency, and gather addi¬tional data.” They also recommend that the states should fashion and manage their own GNI programs to serve as 'laboratories' trying different alternatives from which the best could be copied by others. (more here)
How will it shake out? - no one yet knows. But it’s safe to say that sooner or later we will wind up with a guaranteed national income that will either fiscally sink us, or give us time to figure out how humans will survive with super-intelligent machines that are smarter than we.
My name is Rebane, and I also expand on this and related themes on georgerebane.com where the transcript of this commentary is posted with relevant links, and where such issues are debated extensively. However my views are not necessarily shared by KVMR. Thank you for listening.
[Addendum] Mercatus Center general director and economist Tyler Cowen (Average is Over, 2013) writes in the NYT (‘Don’t be so Sure the Economy Will Return to Normal’) about his trepidations over the state of the nation, systemic unemployment, and fiscal recovery. I have the privilege of knowing Dr Cowen for the last several years, and have had several private conversations with him about these items of great mutual interest. He is one of the most knowledgeable and reasonable people I have met. Please consider the need for and advent of the GNI in light of his thoughts about our future.
“Islam was never the religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting.” Abu Bahr Al-Baghdadi, ISIS Leader
Indeed Islam has never been the religion of peace. History and ongoing worldwide Islamist terror attest to that. The above quote from a recent ISIS online video is just the latest testimony to a truth understood by all but the most deluded of western progressives. We recall that for war it only takes one to tango, peace requires at least two. Today Islam survives as the only religion whose adherents regularly commit mass murders of people embracing other faiths, and even versions of Islam that are not acceptable to their various sects.
That we in the west still deny the demonstrably bloody nature of a self-declared bloody religion is testimony that ours may no longer be a strong and vibrant culture ready to defend itself against a faith that numbers some of the most sincere, devout, and self-sacrificing followers on earth today. Nowhere is ignorance of this existential threat to civilization displayed more than at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech by liberal Democrat, media pundit, and national correspondent Kirsten Powers represents a long overdue watershed. For years RR has cited the total asymmetry of how those of the Left and Right interpret the First Amendment. The Left continues to prosecute and expand its attacks on Americans who seek to freely voice their beliefs and strongly held convictions. A flood of examples are available at every level of public discourse from Krugman’s recent attack on Alan Greenspan (‘A Liberal Speech Cop Targets Alan Greenspan’) to the chorus of our local leftists (see 'TechTest2015 Survivors' Breakfast' comment stream) ever seeking to silence voices they consider disagreeable or expository.
The collectivists’ cacophony on silencing free speech has become so loud that some prominent liberals are getting worried. Democratic strategist Donna Brazile stated on national TV, “We have to be very careful that we are not practicing a new McCarthyism.” But McCarthy never dreamt of having the levels of speech control that are now routinely practiced by the Left; controls that range from our schools and colleges, through government bureaucracies, to our mass media outlets.
[update] On the matter of equivalence in the proscription of free speech. The awaited comment below came from a sincere mid-roader who took up the gauntlet for the Left which has always maintained that its efforts to roll back the First Amendment are no different from and matched by those of the Right. I suppose that it is an indelible part of the mid-roaders' litmus test to always seek balance in their ascribed sins of the Left and Right.
However, there is not a shred of evidence for maintaining the argument for such equivalency. Anyone from the Right who stands to limit the Left's speech is immediately dunned by his colleagues, and, if unrepentant, is publicly drummed out of the conservative corps. The facts of the matter are that more sensible Democrats (leftists) see the asymmetry to be so blatant today that they are beginning admonish the more rabid colleagues to back off from their Orwellian quest.
[20may15 update] Demilitarization of nation’s police - don’t believe it. Obama's recent order to not sell tracked vehicles, grenade launchers, and 50 cal BMG rifles to local constabularies makes no never mind to the military gear that they already have and can still obtain. As long covered in these pages, military equipments that will remain in local police inventories include armored combat vehicles (e.g. MRAPs), automatic weapons, night vision gear, ... . The main point here is that the feds still want the police to have overwhelming tactical capability to quickly quash any uppity uprising by a more lightly armed public. In the interval full military style SWAT assaults (many erroneous) on private residences continue to increase unabated. A careful look will reveal that Leviathan has shed neither a tooth or claw. (more here and here)
This afternoon the Nevada County Supervisors heard a presentation on the State of Jefferson by the movement's local steering committee. It was followed by public comment from both pro and con residents of our county. I made the following statement during the public comment segment.
I too want to thank you for hearing from the State of Jefferson steering committee. I am a proponent of advancing this historical experiment in constitutional self-government. It is indisputable that the voices and values of rural counties have been largely ignored in many state houses. Until recently these counties have been resigned to their second class status by staying the same ol’ same ol’ course. But to more of us, continuing to follow Rodney King’s appeal to ‘just get along’ brings to mind a famous man’s definition of insanity.
We realize that today the SoJ movement is still new, not well understood, and therefore opposed by more than the usual collectivists whose historical aim has always been to increase the size of Leviathan under which we labor today. For them the creation of smaller and more like-minded jurisdictions such as SoJ is counter to the global unification goal they hold dear.
It also appears that our Nevada County government staff has taken a strong stand against SoJ by suggesting that when compared to other so-called SoJ counties in northern California, our county stands out as the best while still ‘working together with’ Sacramento. However, to me the staff’s data tables tell a different and more illuminating tale. Historically these rural counties have enjoyed productive economies based on agriculture, timber, mining, and recreation. But that was before Washington and Sacramento unleashed their massive bureaucratic assault, enforcing on them versions of dubious and scientifically unsupported bromides that promise to save the environment and stop manmade global warming.
Today the years of buckling under diktats from the likes of the EPA, CARB, Water Resources Board, and other government agencies have devastated the region’s economies and resulted in the dire statistics that our county staff has assembled. Nevada County’s placement at the top of that sorry heap has less to do with any bounty from Sacramento, than with our fortunate proximity to a large urban corridor, and our historical but now diminishing industrial base. In short, the data you have been presented is simply a detailed epitaph in the making for rural counties that have gone along to get along with Leviathan, only to reap a dismal reward for their cooperation.
To my mind the only remaining viable alternative to SoJ is our joining or even leading the growing national movement to restore ‘permissionless innovation’ by simply adopting ‘Just Say NO!’ as a response to insane and inane regulations. As a fortuitous coincidence, today is the release date of By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission from the celebrated political scientist and sociologist Charles Murray. This book is a ‘how to’ manual for America’s small businesses and political jurisdictions going viral to effectively resist and turn back regulations which are “pointless, stupid, and tyrannical”. It contains a detailed plan of how Americans can start saying NO!, one regulation at a time. And in the event you missed Murray’s nationally published essay on the subject this weekend, I will gladly email you the link. Gentlemen, I suggest that change for the better is afoot across this land.
Finally, all the arguments against SoJ rest on stasist projections. Stasism is the belief that we can see tomorrow only through the lens of current practices kept rigidly unchanged. Its corollary is ‘if it hasn't been done, it can't be done’. But proponents of the State of Jefferson believe that in this most exceptional country the world has ever seen, the new and the never-been-tried has always served as a beacon to innovation, enterprise, and in the end, a better life. Thank you.
For some years now RR has proffered a solution to government’s overreach in hog-tying us with laws, regulations, and codes which are “pointless, stupid, and tyrannical”. When I have attempted to explain to our elected betters - at least to those who agree that the current regulatory morass painfully afflicts our Republic - how we might break Leviathan’s relentless progress, then they look at me as if I were the family’s idiot offspring, lovable yet not quite all there.
My humble approach consists of exercising civil disobedience county by county across the land in just refusing to implement and/or exercise the pointless, stupid, and tyrannical diktats from on high. The theory being that such a simple response, properly publicized, will go viral across America with other similarly impugned counties joining in to ‘Just Say NO!’ (more here and here) But it requires substantial external plumbing to launch such a response, equipment in short supply among politicians who are devoted to the same ol’ same ol’, and then retirement with dignity. So they have patiently explained to me the futility of even attempting such an exercise in self-determination and freedom, and advised that we should get a firmer grip on our ankles and just bear it.
Well, today this gauntlet has been picked up by none other than political scientist, libertarian, and author Charles Murray, one of the nation’s best-known and celebrated thinkers - The Bell Curve(1994), Coming Apart(2013), and now By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission – in a major essay featured in the 9may15 WSJ. The piece, ‘Regulation Run Amok – How to Fight Back’, spells out the national blight in chapter and verse, and offers some new ideas on how to “insure” success in such a nationwide enterprise which he fully agrees will go viral once started.
If you still consider yourself to be a net wealth creator, then Charles Murray’s ‘call to arms’ should resonate with your ideas about a better plan forward for our nation. However, if you are a devotee of the idea that society should be run with other people’s money, then these ideas will be anathema to you. In any event, ‘Just Say NO!’ has just been awarded national creds.
[This is the transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 6 May 2015.]
“Civil asset forfeiture is a decades-old tool that gives law enforcement the power to seize property if it’s suspected of being related to a crime. … California has safeguards in place to protect innocent people from the harmful practices of civil asset forfeiture. However, a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance (download here) found that such measures haven’t stopped law enforcement agencies from using federal forfeiture laws to circumvent state policies.” So advises a recent report in The Daily Signal. The specifics of how the state’s corrupt law enforcement agencies take advantage of this end-run to enrich their own coffers should enrage all of us. Unfortunately, even though this is a nationwide problem with many calls for reform, for some reason our media chooses not to report such summary takings from innocent citizens.
Fed vs Reality. America’s financial mavens extend their record of missing the mark on predicting our GDP growth. Why is this important? Well, it’s their prognostications that not only drive their own policies on things like setting short term interest rates and managing their considerable assets, but these somewhat worthless predictions are still used by businesses and the financial management community to make their own plans and do buying/selling of securities. In short, our central bank’s hubris driven ‘experts’ have no idea what the economy is doing, and yet they continue to drive monetary policy. Look at the nearby record of their recent performance – the predicted intervals are large, yet they still missed every actual measure of GDP growth.
Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s socialist senator, has laid out his priorities as our next president. His chances of getting the Democrats’ nod range between slim and none, however, his impact on who runs for the progressive side will be significant. First, if he starts pulling Hillary to the left, then Lizzy ‘the native American’ Warren will be tempted to jump into the fray. In any event, having the Bernie Sanders faction of the Democratic Party out in the open before their convention will be very illuminating for those voters who can still be illumined.
An initiative to study California becoming an autonomous state is now gathering signatures. Its passing “would create a panel of government officials and private experts to explore establishing California’s autonomy from the United States.” The thinking behind this initiative is that California is a net donor state to the feds who seem to be intent on the fiscal destruction of America – why should California continue to contribute to such an enterprise when it could do better going its own way? There’s a lot more to be said about how California would operate as a semi-autonomous region that is still tied to the United States. For openers, California is America’s leading light in socialist policies and programs with a very large fraction of the country’s ignorant and indigent. If this initiative is to appeal to some latent desire for self-determination, then one must ask what kind of ‘self’ is the California that wants to determine itself. And if successful, how will it change both its politics and governance to survive as an independent state, or does it intend to show the world how a new Socialist Republic of California does collectivism correctly?
The lamestream has been extra silent about the Raisin Takings. You do, of course, know about Horne v. USDA that started wending its way through SCOTUS last week? This is where the government trucks pull onto your farm and demand that you fork over a percentage of your harvested crop for which they pay you zilch. They have been playing these games on and off since the Depression – remember the grainy newsreels showing federal agents pouring milk from those galvanized metal milk cans into the gutters?
Most people have never heard that our government has been doing such things ever since. The explanation given is that keeping your product off the market will raise prices, and that will be for the common good. There is something in the Constitution about that called the ‘takings clause’ which says that if the government has to take any of your property to serve a greater public need, then they have to pay you a fair price - “just compensation” - for it. Zilch is not just compensation.
The Horne family has been making raisins in Fresno for decades, and the hoops the federal legal system has asked them to jump through is summarized in this piece, ‘The Incredible Raisin Heist’. One of my favorites from the report was the feds telling the Hornes that they would be fairly compensated by selling their remaining raisins into a market that would then pay them a higher price when California’s raisin confiscations are figured in. Oh yes, a runner up was ‘if you don’t want to have your raisins taken by the government, then you shouldn’t grow them in the first place’. You gotta love the progressive road to tyranny via a nod to socialism along the way.
I bring this up because Horne will be a seminal property rights case of this century, bigger than Kelo v New London was in the last one. But this one is being fought within a new understanding ever since people like Obama, Clinton, and Warren started telling their gruberized constituencies that all enterprise and success in the private sector was really due to and came from government. Therefore the government could reach into your pockets or property and take what they damn well wanted, because it is really theirs to begin with.
Lately this message has been strongly argued in these pages by readers of various collectivist hues. The scary part is that we as a nation are now so dumb and coddled that at least a third of Americans would be ready to march under the hammer and sickle in a heartbeat, given the promise that inequality would then be stamped out and they would get their ‘fair share’.
Notice what brings this to the fore are the ever more frequent statements in the lamestream by liberal politicians and progressive pundits pointing out the common basis for the state’s claim on your property and perspiration. If what you own or accomplished in any way involved anything that was built, administered, or accessed through the collective, then your rights to those fruits are secondary to that of the collective, i.e. the state. The state determines its cut and takes it off the top; what’s left over is yours, and if that remnant cannot sustain your enterprise, then it’s too bad – the ‘peepuhl’ come first.
The saddest thing is that our system was constituted to let us retain the means to oppose the rapid rise of an obvious and palpable tyranny. It was not designed to handle such bit by piece insults to our liberties through bread and circuses. Instead, it was designed to be managed by leaders of education, honor, and goodwill, who are vetted and elected by a suitably informed electorate – recall Jefferson’s, ‘A nation ignorant and free, that never was and never shall be.’ Today’s evaporation of our freedoms underlines the results of ignoring Jefferson’s wisdom – hence liberty, property, and security are on the wane.
Most people around here have probably missed what is happening with the efforts to launch two historical initiatives – to hold a Constitutional Convention or Con-Con, and separate certain northern rural counties from California to form the new State of Jefferson. The basis for both initiatives are contemplated in our Constitution, and proponents of both assert that they will follow the prescribed legal pathways to the letter in order to bring about these historic changes.
The Constitution’s Article V provides for holding a national Con-Con as one of the methods the Constitution may be amended. If the legislatures of 2/3 of the states apply to hold a Con-Con, then Congress “shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments”. As of today 34 or 2/3 of the state legislatures have passed such ‘applications’ to hold the first ever Con-Con. However, the never-tried application process is a bit murky because some states have withdrawn, and some have then re-applied. It will be up to Congress and/or the Supreme Court to resolve the matter.
There are energetic factions on both the Left and Right who desire such a revisiting of the Constitution. The Left seeks to do a massive rewrite in order to achieve a “modern constitution” in accord with their socialist tenets, and the Right seeks a very focused approach to insert a balanced budget amendment. Both sides feel that once a Con-Con is launched, they will be able to control the assembled conclave for their respective ends. Any work product output by the convention must then be ratified by ¾, or today 38, of the states. Both sides feel they can muster at least 13 states to block ratification of any adopted amendments that they oppose.
From the looks of it, I believe the Left has the more accurate view of what can be done to gain their ends once the Con-Con is gaveled into session. You can google Con-Con or go to my blog, Rebane’s Ruminations, for more information and participate in a debate about the matter.
The State of Jefferson or SoJ movement is about two years old. California’s northern rural counties strongly believe that their voices have not been heard in Sacramento, and that the state has been acting contrary to their interests for several decades. This sentiment, with related initiatives, has been shared by rural Americans in many states. Here in California six northern counties have passed resolutions asking our legislature to start the separation process which ultimately will reach Congress. The intended extent of SoJ will be from Placer to Mendocino counties in the south, and reaching up to the Oregon border.
In addition to the counties that have formally declared for separation and formation of the State of Jefferson, eleven more counties, including Nevada County, have active SoJ formation committees. All these efforts have been roundly dismissed, denigrated, and mocked by California’s Left. Then about two weeks ago a new political action committee named ‘Keep it California’ was formed. The objective of this PAC is to organize strong and vocal opposition to the SoJ movement, thereby giving lie to the assertion that SoJ has been nothing but the frothings of “a small group of extremists”.
The stated opposition to SoJ centers around a sclerotic analysis of the new state’s economy that grossly misrepresents its financial and commercial prospects. The real fear is that as SoJ continues to gain momentum, then so will similar movements in other western states. And that would totally torpedo the progressives’ design for an American future as delineated in the UN’s Agenda21 vision. But SoJ proponents believe that in this most exceptional country the world has ever seen, the new and never-been-tried has always served as a beacon to innovation, enterprise, and a better life.
The Nevada County Board of Supervisors will hear a presentation by the county’s SoJ steering committee on 12 May at the Rood Center scheduled for 1:30PM. There will be an appeal for the Supes to join Nevada County with those in favor of forming the new State of Jefferson. In attendance will be members of Keep it California who also plan to have their voices heard. Please consider attending this meeting from which I promise you will emerge either informed or enflamed, or perhaps both.
My name is Rebane, and I also expand on this and related themes on georgerebane.com where the transcript of this commentary is posted with relevant links, and where such issues are debated extensively. However my views are not necessarily shared by KVMR. Thank you for listening.