Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How can you debate Ayn Rand?

You know them. They are some your good friends. Very intelligent… favorite politicians are Ron Paul and Bob Barr… usually call themselves libertarians. Points out the many benefits of free markets and failures of government policies. Consider themselves above the fray of partisan politics. No fan of Republicans and especially George W. Bush but if they hear the words “socialism!” or “big government takeover!” they start piling on the Democratic party like the most devoted Fox News slurping Rush Limbaugh fan.

Their intellectual wiring is no different from biblical Christians. Everyone thinks that their beliefs are the truth. What distinguishes these two groups is their belief that they have the ENTIRE truth. To the Christian every single mystery of the universe has been revealed in the bible. To the market worshipper every single mystery of economics has been revealed by Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand. But don’t take Ayn’s word for it they say, just look around you! The omnipotence of free markets is based on airtight, infallible, never proven wrong logic, and is backed by the events of the entire history of human civilization. They will confidently challenge you to provide even a single counter-example.

Child sweatshops, dangerous work environments, discrimination, unsafe consumer products, unregulated derivatives markets that blew up the world economy? Easily dismissed. Government intervention caused the problems, and more intervention will only exacerbate them. Child labor laws did not end child labor… growing real wages brought on by economic growth did. Ralph Nader didn’t make us safer by spearheading consumer protection laws, the market responding to a demand for safer products did. Same goes for lead-based paints. Either that or the lead in the paints can be traced back to some government sponsored monopoly. Anti-discrimination laws didn’t end discrimination, discrimination is a drag on good labor markets, the market ended it itself. Government intervention into the private economy, no matter how well intentioned, is at best unnecessary, and at worst filled with unintended consequences. Just look at Prohibition.

I now debate with these people using two words: smoking bans. A libertarian HATES laws forcing private establishments to ban smoking. It’s a classic case of tyranny by the majority. Why should the majority of the population who are non-smokers assert their preference over the minority when the market is perfectly capable of accommodating both? Why not have smoking bars for smokers, non-smoking bars for non-smokers, and let employees with health concerns protect themselves by picking where to work. Why have a one-size fits all top down economic solution that will have unintended consequences?


How do we know? Because smoking bans are a gigantic success. Not only are employees and customers healthier, but the owners who were terrified this would hurt business are actually reporting higher revenues! Turns out smokers were driving away other customers. This was never a mystery to non-smokers, but it eluded the mystical free market. We are all better off because citizens didn’t wait around for the market to provide smoke-free establishments that Ayn Rand said would come into existence on their own if they were desirable.

One example, but one example is all it takes to disprove “the market will always reach a better solution without government intervention” thesis. Drop the example of smoking bans on your free market worshiping friends. It's doubtful, but maybe they will say something like Ayn Rand disciple Alan Greenspan did after the world economy blew up: "[There was] a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works.”


Monday, February 8, 2010

Really George Will?

The purpose of this blog is not to point out right-wing idiocy. There are thousands of other websites that do a more than adequate job if you have any interest in the subject. (I have very little.) This is not the place to read about Sarah Palin’s latest wildly hypocritical gaffe. I find these topics boring- the analysis is straightforward: she preaches one thing, she does another, she’s a hypocrite, she appears unintelligent, she’s shamelessly making millions off the ignorance of her easily excitable followers… yeah, yeah, ok, I get it.

Up until this point a guy like George Will I have held in higher regard than your generic right-wing hack. He is a Pulitzer prize winner. He looks like a wise Professor. He makes a conscious effort not to appear shamelessly partisan. So after reading this article where he touts a Republican politician’s budget and tax reform plan that is almost too ridiculous to be aired on Fox News – I had to respond.

This is a summary (George Will’s summary, not mine) of Paul Ryan's tax/healthcare/balance-the-budget plan that the wise old conservative sage is so fond of:

Tax cuts/Spending hikes: (money out)
-Under 100k instead of paying 25-35% you pay 10%
-Over 100k you instead of paying 30-40% you pay 25%
-Corporations pay 0% instead of 35%
-No tax on interest
-No tax on capital gains
-No tax on dividends
-No tax on estate transfers
-1/3 of FICA tax for people under 55 goes into personalized private savings
-2300$/individual, 5700$/family credits for private health insurance

Tax Raises/Spending cuts: (money in)
-8.5% value added consumption tax
-Social Security starts paying out at 75 instead of 65

Really George Will? This is going to balance the budget? You’re going to slash taxes, provide universal health care, AND balance the budget with just a VAT and an Eff-You to the 65-75 year old population?

That’s some astoundingly ridiculous math. What is even sillier than the math though, is that George Will thinks this is somehow a politically feasible plan. You might be able to convince the unwashed masses that an 8.5% tax on EVERY SINGLE THING THEY BUY is a good deal for them in exchange for tax cuts on interest, dividends, estates, and capital gains they will never realize – but there is no way, just no way you can raise the SS payout age to 75 without pitchforks in the street.* I bet George Will couldn’t find me fourteen Palin-fans who would agree to that – and yet this is the plan he says succeeds in “refuting the idea that Republicans lack ideas.”

The fact a purported non-partisan conservative like George Will felt it necessary to spend his entire Washington Post column defending the GOP against the “party of no” claim is odd. The fact he did it by showcasing this unserious set of proposals leads us to only one conclusion – George Will is nothing more than a well-dressed waterboy for the GOP. He is Sean Hannity with people skills. He is Karl Rove with a nice head of hair. He is Rush Limbaugh without the oxy addiction. He is not under any circumstances to be taken seriously. This is the last time he will ever be discussed on this blog.

* George Will backs up his laughable notion that raising the SS age to 75 is good policy and palatable politics with this head scratching statement: “The system was never intended to do what it is doing — subsidizing retirements that extend from one-third to one-half of retirees' adult lives.” One-third to one-half? George, life expectancy in America is 78 years old! Payments kick in at 65. That’s 13 years! 16.6 percent of their life (21.6 percent if you want to use the misleading term “adult life”). According to George Will, the average American is living to 89 on the low end and 112 on the high end! Just die already! Going by George Will’s numbers it’s no wonder conservatives keep repeating “America has the best health care system in the world”. They think the US is packed with millions of benefit budget busting centenarians!


One of this blogs loyal followers demanded I run the numbers to see if GW's pet proposal was mathematically feasible (even if it's morally bankrupt) as a budget balancer.

Numbers run:

Income tax cut that may actually be a tax increase when you factor in the vague statement "no deductions". Who knows about the revenue implications - lets call it a push.

VAT tax on the consumption section of the GDP: 6.5% (after a few exemptions for food, clothing, and such that the GOP would undoubtedly insist would be included) of 60% (percent of GDP that's consumption) of 14 trillion (GDP) = 546 billion

SS payouts saved by dicking over the 65-75 crowd: 293 billion

839 extra billion IN

Subtract 370 billion in corporate tax receipts, subtract 30 billion in estate taxes, subtract 125 billion in capital gains tax receipts (the 125 figure is volatile and debatable, I'd argue 125 is way too low long term) subtract 300 billion in FICA taxes diverted into private accounts, 100 billion in extra health care costs, before we even look at dividends, excise taxes we're going to eliminate because of the new VAT, and other stuff we're at

925 billion in lost revenue

My qualitative analysis was right. The numbers don't work to even curb the growth rate of the debt, much less pay it off. They don't even come close. As I suspected, the only way they work is with a voodoo economics argument about the magic that tax cuts will have on GDP growth.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rahm Emmanuel is fucking retarded

Sarah Palin is right: Rahm Emmanuel needs to go. Not for using the phrase “fucking retarded.” (This is a terrible offense Sarah? I thought conservatives erred on the side of free speech over silly things like political correctedness.) Lost in the commotion is who Rahm directed the comment to. Obstructionist Republicans who threaten to filibuster EVERYTHING down to the most trivial apolitical appointments? Democrats like Ben Nelson who join these filibuster threats anytime there’s a prayer of accomplishing something that his corporate overlords won’t be pleased with? Maybe Harry Reid… whose comically inept leadership has turned the Democrats into the first 59 vote Senate minority party in history?

No, of course not. Rahm has few qualms with those people. He saves his ire and his foul mouth for left-wing activists. The people he called “fucking retarded” were groups who had the audacity to suggest they run some ads against Democrats who are obstructing meaningful health care reform. Rahm went on to explain in a feat of anti-logical gymnastics that it’s not a good idea to criticize people who won’t vote with you, because then they might not vote with you.

Rahm is known as a political heavy-hitter- a guy not afraid to get his hands dirty and mix it up. Watching him half the time I have no clue where this reputation comes from. Whenever issues like the public option and the Medicare-buyin are on the table, Rahm is quiet as a church mouse. His reputation as a foul-mouthed ball-breakingly intense operative who GETS THINGS DONE is actually well deserved though. Unfortunately for the people who were inspired by the Obama campaign, the only time Rahm ever turns from church mouse into “Rahmbo” is when he needs something from LEFT-WING Democrats. Liberals balking at funding the escalation in Afghanistan? The stories of Rahm’s arm twisting to get those votes were legendary. When it comes time to get Democrat votes on health care – not only does he not apply any pressure – but he calls people who want to apply some pressure “fucking retarded”. I love the way one blogger put it, “[Rahm is] ready to rumble on behalf of the status-quo.”

The point of this blog post isn’t to discuss whether Rahm is correct in advising left-wing advocacy groups to lay off right-wing Democrats (he’s not), it’s to point out what a giant asshole Rahm Emmanuel is. The fatman Rush Limbaugh, it what was undoubtedly an opiate-induced moment of clarity, nails it: “I think their big news is he’s out there calling Obama’s number one supporters f’ing retards.”

Bingo. Barack, Rahm, and the Democrats have failed to deliver for their base on big ticket items like health care, financial reform, and war withdrawals. They have failed to deliver on simple small ticket items like repealing DADT. Many of the liberals who worked so hard to elect these people are frustrated. Some of them are concluding it might be a good idea to let their candidates know that just because he has a D next to his name he won’t get their support if he acts like a Republican. You’d think Rahm’s message, whether he was sincere or not, would be, “Hang in there guys, don’t start calling out the Democrats yet…I know we haven’t had much progress, but just be patient and I really appreciate your support.”

Nope. His message is we are "fucking retarded”. No Republican leader would EVER disrespect his base like that – no matter what crazy ideas (outlawing contraception anyone?) are harbored in their brains. For Rahm to drop the R-Bomb over an excellent political and policy suggestion is a gigantic slap in the face, not to mentally challenged people, but to the people he owes his job to. The Democrats have disrespected me all year with their actions and lack of actions… now they’re explicitly disrespecting me with words. Rahm’s attitude is a perfect example of why they’re headed from powerless majority party to powerless minority party.


*Update*: Rahm apologized! Maybe he's not so bad after all. Oh wait, he apologized to the disabled community, not to his political supporters.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hey Abortion Voters: The politicians you elect are LAUGHING at you

That title was not meant to be prickish. It was meant to get your attention. It was not meant to belittle pro-lifers. It is actually directed at abortion voters on both sides of the issue. I am probably closer to a pro-lifer than I am a pure pro-choicer personally. But this blog is not about discussing difficult issues like abortion. My personal feelings (and your personal feelings) are completely irrelevant when pointing out that the title of this blog post is absolutely true.

It is not true for every right-wing politician (there are lots of adorably genuine pro-lifers who would do anything to end abortion) – but for the ones who matter, the ones in the know, the ones with the power do anything, it’s true. They’re laughing- hopefully they have enough shame not to laugh all that hard, but they’re at least chuckling.

If this blog has a theme it’s to shine light on things so stupidly obvious they shouldn’t even be up for debate- yet for some reason they’re not even recognized by most people. Like Bill Simmons says about his Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain analysis, what I’m about to say “isn’t really even up for debate”:

Roe Versus Wade will not be overturned in the next 50 years, no matter what. I add the 50 year caveat to be safe, but even then it would only happen if there were seismic shifts in the electoral makeup of the country.

The reason is simple. Republicans national electoral prospects would be annihilated. Their pro-choice opposition would be energized by the ruling, donating heavily and heading to the polls en masse, sure, but that wouldn’t be the big concern. The real problem a Roe reversal would cause is a gigantic chunk of their supporters stopping to give a fuck about who they elected to office. Demonizing the gays is good fun, but it will never pay the bills like abortion. After a monstrous victory like overturning Roe, a huge segment of pro-lifers would basically leave electoral politics. (Or even worse, find they have more in common with the other side.) They would happily declare victory and go home, they never much liked it anyway.

The intelligent, optimistic pro-lifer concedes all that but says, “The Supreme Court is an independent branch of the government, the justices won’t be swayed by the electoral implications of their rulings” – to him I say, “You really think that right-wing judges would deliver a death blow to the Republican party by reversing Roe? After Bush v Gore? OMG YOU ARE SO ADORABLE!”

Remember 2000 and 2004? They were going to be “the most important elections of all time for abortion” because of the impending Supreme Court appointments. If Bush won there would finally be enough votes on the court to end Roe. If Gore/Kerry won, reproductive rights would be safe. One of the most difficult to counter arguments against Ralph Nader was that a Bush victory would equal the end of Roe – there was simply too much at stake.

But this was a lie. Roe-conscious abortion voters were laughed at by their politicians on BOTH sides. Roe v Wade was never at stake. How do we know? Well for one, Bush won in both 2000 and 2004. After recognizing his “error” with Harriet Miers, he appointed the right people (according to a lot of conservatives this was about the only thing he didn’t screw up) and yet Roe v Wade still stands. Not only does it stand, but we never even hear about it anymore. “It takes time! Things happen very slowly on the Supreme Court!” True – but that’s not the reason there has been no action on Roe. The reason is reversing Roe (side note: I am not a fan of Roe's constitutional argument, its footing is dubious) would kill the GOP.

Abortion voters you are being laughed at. Every time you bust your ass electing a President so he can appoint the justices to reverse Roe you are being made a fool. It will not happen. There will be endless judicial backlogs and appointment “mistakes” (LOL) like David Souter and Harriet Miers… there will always, always be some reason it can’t quite happen yet… always some reason you have to keep donating time, money, and votes to the GOP.

The Republican party has a lot more respect for their conservative Christian base than the Democratic Party (who won’t even end DADT) has for me, however. While they will never, EVER give them the big prize that is ending Roe, the GOP will throw their pro-life base bones all the time. Parental notification laws, mandatory counseling/shaming sessions, hurdles for insurance to cover abortion- it doesn’t take a reversal of Roe to make safe, affordable abortions hard to come by. Pro-life issues voters are not completely irrational for supporting the GOP. Roe will ALWAYS stand, but if things work out maybe a girl won’t be able to get an abortion before a mandatory announcement in her Facebook status. (Ok, that WAS meant to be prickish.)