Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Republican love for the poor

I had a discussion with some conservative relatives recently that got me thinking.  I asked if they supported Trump's tax cut for the rich that would kick millions of people off their health care plans.  Is that what our country needs right now?  Give people making over $250K a tax cut and kick 20 million people off of health care?  Seems obviously terrible.

"Well, they aren't being kicked off.  They are choosing to not buy insurance.  They now have a choice that they didn't have before.  Before they were forced to buy insurance they didn't want.  Now they can spend money as they choose."

You see how brilliant these conservative think tanks are?  That's probably where this argument originated.  From there to Fox News, to my brother's head.  The think tanks get paid to craft arguments.  Arguments that advance the agenda of the rich.  This is the kind of stuff they come up with.  The rich want tax cuts.  How to make this palatable to the public that doesn't think this is a good idea?  Pretend it is our concern for the poor that drives us.  We only want these poor people who can't afford health insurance to have the choice of not buying it.

I realize that this is a strategy you get over and over.  You know why we shouldn't raise the minimum wage?  It will hurt the poor.  The first person to lose his job when minimum wage goes up is the person with the least amount of skills.  Probably the poorest person.

Isn't it strange that poor people advocacy groups don't advance arguments like this?  They're always flowing from the right wing think tanks whose goal is to advance the arguments of their wealthy backers, like the Koch brothers.

I asked my brother to think this through with regards to health care.  Families making less than $25K get full medical coverage for free right now under Obama Care (if they are in a state that accepted Medicaid expansion).  These people are obviously not better off when you take away their subsidy and they lose health coverage.  People that make between $25K and $60K get a subsidy that phases out the closer you get to $60K.  So people making $30K or $35K are getting a significant subsidy.  We're taking away that subsidy to make the tax cuts for the rich possible.  We're doing this because we're concerned about the poor rather than the rich?

"Yes.  When you take away a person's subsidy this motivates them to stand on their own two feet and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps."

Grrrr.  Again, isn't it strange that Oxfam or other anti-poverty groups do not advance arguments like this (to my knowledge).  They don't say "When can we strip the poor of Medicaid so we can finally see some improvement in their lives."  It's the institutions representing the interests of the rich that advance these arguments.

And it's a common strategy.  We need fewer environmental protections.  Removing regulations will cause the economy to blossom, providing jobs desperately needed by the poor.  We need to invade Iraq to relieve the suffering of the poor, oppressed Iraqi people.  Wealth trickles down.  Tax cuts for the rich, like a reduction in environmental protections, is a shot in the arm for business and will allow them to hire more people.  It's a mere happenstance that my wealthy backers from the coal industry don't want us to pursue reductions in fossil fuel emissions.  What I'm really concerned with is the poor miners in West Virginia.

One thing we know about our government generally is that it is not responsive to the concerns of the non-wealthy.  They justify their policy positions by pretending they do it all for the common man, the poor man.  It's total crap.  What's frustrating is that many common men buy it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Bryan Caplan Podcast Thoughts

So HP, I thought I'd share some thoughts on this podcast you recommended.

Wow, these guys are smug.  And I don't think you are ashamed to say that it rubs off on you.  But man, it's tough to take because to me their ideas are so terrible.  It's ignorance combined with arrogance.  A bad combination.

I was struck in the early part with this contrast.  "YOU are the best arbiter of how your money should be spent, YOU are the better judge as opposed to government."  YOU are super smart and we don't want the government to get in your way.  Later we'd learn that people are pretty smart in signing away their right to sue a corporation and agreeing to settle disputes as dictated by corporate sponsored arbiters.  People are really good judges of whether or not they should acquire health insurance.  I guess people are really good at predicting if they might slip and fall somehow, or maybe develop an infection that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat.  People are super smart.

But then what do you think about the general population?  What's their general understanding of matters like this?  Yuck, yuck, people are so STOOPID.  OK, so people are really wise when it comes to signing away their rights, balancing risk vs cost, etc.  Generally though people are really stupid when it comes to matters related to this.  In fact Caplan wrote a whole book about how people are stupid.  So let's have a free market where concentrated corporate power on one side comes to terms with individual stupid people on the other without any checks by an entity like a government.  Doesn't that seem like a strange conclusion?

I found it interesting that Rubin subscribes to this myth of the besieged conservative professor on campus, how it's overrun with liberal hordes that must terrorize someone like Caplan, and Caplan had to burst that bubble based on his experiences.  No problems.  In fact economics departments are dominated by conservatives all over the country, not just at George Mason, and it's not much of a problem.  This is part of the side benefit of removing public funding from schools.  It allows right wingers to shower universities with money so they hire the kind of people the corporate world prefers.  Among the conditions of acceptance of money at Florida State from the Koch brothers was:
Teachings must align with the libertarian economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the Charles Koch Foundation would maintain partial control over faculty hiring and the chairman of the school’s economics department—a prominent economic theorist—must stay in place for another three years despite his plans to step down.

It's tough for libertarians to win when the university is publicly funded because if the amount of money coming in doesn't depend on whether the conclusion is what the funder wants to hear the conclusion might as well be based on the evidence.

What do you think of this discussion on policing?  Police departments should be privatized and paid for by the local community.  Rubin asks a good question.  Wouldn't this mean that rich areas, like Beverly Hills, would have a robust police force, even though they have less need for these services, and poorer places will lack police forces even though they need them more?  Caplan's response:  "Well, they just have to make it a priority if they need it and just come up with the money."  This to me is the frustrating thing about libertatarians.  What about the real world?  They do not have the money.  In reality the resources are sent where they are not needed.  Are you concerned?  He doesn't seem to care.  And for me that's a general critique of capitalism.  The resources go where they are not needed.  It's super inefficient.

Or health care.  We're the richest country in the world.  Other first world nations cover all their people with care that the people are generally happy with, and they do it at about half the price.  There was no mention of that fact.  Instead he offers no government support for ordinary poor people.  If they break their leg, tough luck.  Hope charity can help you resolve it.  Rubin asks another great question, but unfortunately when Caplan ignored the question Rubin didn't push him.  Has any place in the real world had charity step in when government help was removed?  Caplan talks a lot but doesn't answer.  He's going to implement a solution that has never worked.  He'd have real people with broken legs and easily treated infections walking around without help and he'd say "tough luck."  Not for him of course with his good salary and benefits, just for the poor.  In the world's richest country where a few crazy rich people have mountains of wealth that they could hardly spend if they tried.  This bizarre lack of empathy is really psychotic.  His priorities are to get tax cuts into the hands of the rich, like the heirs to the Walton fortune.  This is the greater good for him I guess.

Another laughable concept is his idea to pay everyone to take a civics test every year and you get $100.  "How would that be funded?"  He has no idea.  Who would profit from that?  Nobody.  There's nothing preventing that from happening today via charity, but it isn't happening.  This guy is a professor?  I get that he was just saying this is a better way than the current way, but it's interesting to note that on his system this would not happen.

Here's another thing that seems strange to me.  A professor should never call himself an "anarcho-capitalist".  Capitalism is the opposite of anarchy.  As a professor you should know what anarchy is and how it is capitalism's opposite, and how it has been aggressively opposed to capitalism for it's entire history.  It means without hierarchy.  Go to the sweat shops that Caplan probably likes so much and tell the young girls forced to perform sexual favors for the boss how they are the boss's equal and are not the boss's subordinates.  Subordination is hierarchy, not anarchy.

It's a similar story for the world "libertarian".  This was a word that was long identified with leftists.  Now it means someone that somehow sees property rights as some sort of foundational principle, how rich people should continue to acquire wealth from the labor of others.  Rothbard bragged of co-opting the word from leftists.  Businesses are tyrannies.  If you like more power for tyrannical institutions that's fine, but don't call it liberty.  I saw a somewhat good video on this circulating Facebook, here if you missed it.

It's cool that he's a pacifist, but this is another one of those "Who cares about the real world" views.  Capitalism is why we have wars.  Capitalists want access/control of cheap resources and labor.  They do what they can do get access in a peaceful way, but when that fails they will just go to war.  It is property rights that drive war.  So he can be pacifist all he wants, but what he's advocating is the foundation of war in our world.  Did you ever read "Confessions of an Economic Hitman"?  You should, but I know you're busy, so maybe watch this video.  We are at war all over the world because of the needs of the most powerful economic interests in this country, and Caplan wants to strengthen these players.