Saturday, December 24, 2016

Random Measures of Human Progress... We've got it pretty good in 2016

One of the downsides of success is that people sometimes forget what it took to get there. It’s not usually the people who created the success in the first place who forget it, but rather their progeny or the people who experience the fruits of success without having to have actually achieved it…

Mankind has been on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years. To borrow Carl Sagan’s analogy, if the time mankind has been on earth was a calendar, the time the United States has been in existence might be just one day.

For most of the 365 days on that calendar most humans lived largely in conditions of scarcity, barbarity, poverty and war. For most of human history it was the sword that was the defining element of destiny… either by fighting on the battlefields or as a medium of control over other people.

If the Declaration of Independence is midnight on night of the 30th of December, then the year 1900 might constitute noon on December 31st. To put some perspective on today’s world, let’s look a few of things from the year 1900. At the turn of the century the average life expectancy in the world was 31 years and 35% of all babies never made it to their fifth birthday. Half of the American population worked on farms – one of the most dangerous occupations in the world – or in its ancillary industries and for most of the rest of the world that share was over 90%. Slavery still existed in 15 countries, Jim Crow laws existed throughout the south and the bubonic plague was killing 100,000 people a year worldwide. Flight, radio, and television, had not been invented (nevermind the computer and the Internet) and a three minute long distance call would cost five dollars.

Today most humans live in a different world if not necessarily on a different planet… this is particularly true for people living in the West. On that 365 day calendar the period from 2000 to today might only represent the last hour on the last day of the year. But during that hour life for almost every American would be exponentially better than it had been for our ancestress for the previous 99.99% of human history. Today the average life expectancy worldwide is 64 while in the US it’s 79 years and worldwide less than 5% of babies don’t reach their 5th birthday. War still exists, but it’s different. During the two wars the United States has been involved in since 2001 the number of fatalities is near 8,000 while over a period of just over a dozen years of war during the wars of the 20th century Americans lost over 600,000. Today 91% of Americans have mobile phones while 65% have smartphones that are more powerful than the computers that put a man on the moon. Today 95% of Americans work in areas other than farming… something for which we can thank a man named Cyrus McCormick. In 1831 McCormick invented the mechanical reaper that freed men from the soil and changed the world. McCormick made it so that so that rather than spending their lives toiling on dangerous farms most Americans could spend their lives as teachers, plumbers, programmers, golf professionals, accountants, actors, doctors, marketing executives, YoutTube stars, writers and pretty much anything they might want to do as they no longer were tethered to the farm.

Today we can fly virtually anywhere on the planet in less than 24 hours, we can video chat endlessly with anyone anywhere for free, we can fill up our gas tanks for the equivalent of two hours of work, we can order books or dinner or clothes or furniture online and have them delivered to our door in hours or days and watch new movies from our couches or make them on our computers. Ninety nine percent of American households have TVs, 87% have air conditioning and 86% of households have cars.

All of these random measures showcase why someone plucked from Rome from the year 100 B.C. would have much more in common with someone 2000 years later from Atlanta or New York in 1900 than either would have with the average American today a mere 100 years later. The United States today has enormous problems that must be faced and the world has even more. But we should not let those problems, as real as they are, divert us from recognizing exactly what we have and how far mankind in general and Americans in particular have come. As we celebrate the birth of Christ and look forward to a New Year we should take time to reflect on our good fortune to live in a world as wondrous as ours is in 2016… and perhaps that will give us the strength, confidence and desire to make it even better for our progeny.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ice Rinks, Schools and Gangs: Liberals don't really want to fix problems...

As Donald Trump seeks to throw a wrench in the works of how government works... or more often, doesn't, we should be prepared to listen to Democrats and liberals wail at every move.  Just look at the cries that welcomed the nomination of a climate change skeptic to run the borg known as the EPA.  Remember, Trump's the guy who, after NYC wasted $13 million over two years failing to renovate Wollman Rink, went in and accomplished the task in 4 months for $2.25 million...

The reality is, Democrats and liberals rarely want government to actually improve things or solve problems... Sure, they say they say they want to improve schools, create more jobs, and reduce crime, but, they don’t really. And how do we know this? Because of the policies they advocate.

One place where this is obvious is in education. Liberals constantly advocate for an increase in education budgets, but there is a zero correlation between that spending and better performance. The United States spends more per pupil on education than any country in the developed world other than Switzerland, yet somehow American students rank in the twenties or thirties when compared to that same group.

And this is not new… Between 1970 and 2006 the per student cost of a K-12 education in the United States tripled while test scores remained flat. For the left, improving education means spending more money, not improving the actual education of students. That increase of money involves not only teacher’s and teacher salaries as they would have us think, but more ominously, administrators and non classroom personnel.  Between 1950 and 2009 the number of students in the United States increased by 96% and the number of teachers increased by 386% while the number of administrators increased by 702%! And there’s more! In 21 states across the country, there are actually more non-classroom personnel in schools than there are teachers! In Texas, over the last 20 years while the student population grew by 37% the non-classroom staff grew four times as fast, surging by 172%.

All of this increase in spending and personnel might be reasonable if students were learning more and scoring better on tests, but they're not, particularly in the biggest urban school districts where most of the money is spent. And of course it’s the big cities where liberals have a virtual stranglehold on education… But then calls for education spending isn’t about education, it’s about government jobs, union dues, and ultimately Democrat campaign contributions.

Another example of liberals not really being interested in the welfare of the people they claim to support can be seen in California where immigration advocates are seeking to have the state destroy CalGang, a database compiled over years that contains the names and information on 150,000 suspected gang members across the state - or at least put it in some inaccessible lockbox.

Why would liberals want this database destroyed? So that Donald Trump can’t access it. Still, why?Because a state auditor observed last year that approximately 13% of the database represented names that were “inappropriately included”. That includes names that should never have been added in the first place, names that should have been taken off for being “inaccurate”, or youths whose parents were not properly notified prior to their being added. In addition the database might be sexist and racist because it’s 93% male and disproportionately minority as 64.9% of its database is Hispanic and 20.5% black.

Activists don’t want Donald Trump to be able to access the information so that hen't can fulfill his campaign promise of deporting illegal aliens who have committed crimes.

Now think about that… this database of gang members, which even by the auditor’s account, is at least 87% accurate, should be “blocked from federal access” because of the possibility someone wrongly included might get deported. Nevermind that being a suspected gang member isn’t sufficient to get someone thrown out of the country. They still need to be here illegally. Nevermind that police agencies across the state are constantly reviewing the database and removing names that are not supposed to be there or no longer supposed to be included. In liberalese, if it’s not 100% perfect then it can’t be used... and even if it were, we can imagine they'd find another rationale for blocking access.

So in a world where gangs are responsible for 80% of all crime and 50% of violent crime, liberals want to mask the membership in gangs of approximately 150,000 Californians so that a president who promised to deport criminal illegal aliens can’t do so because of the possibility that 20,000 of those names maybe shouldn't have been included.  Of course that makes sense in a state where there were 1,861 murders last year... and probably half of those were committed by gangs and gang members.

So here’s the thing… rather than concern themselves with the families of the approximately 1,000 people murdered by gang members in California in 2015, liberal activists would prefer to keep the imperfect database out of the hands of Donald Trump because of the slight chance he might deport someone whose inclusion in the database was possibly erroneous! Liberals would rather protect illegal alien criminals than protect the victims of their crime... most of whom are the same Hispanics they are seeking to "protect" in the first place!  But there's not nearly as much fundraising to be had from advocating for murder victims' families as there is for leading demonstrations against government "injustice" against innocent undocumented workers who went through hell to come to America so they could make a better life for themselves only to be unjustly threatened with deportation by a racist president.  

As the next four years unfold and liberals seek to thwart Donald Trump -  the hero of Wollman Rink - at every juncture, keep in mind that their goal is never really achieving the outcomes they claim to advocate, whether it’s better education, lowering crime or virtually anything else. If it was they would abandon liberal sophistry and start advocating policies that actually work. But as those rarely increase their power, their bank accounts and ultimately their control, so don’t count on it.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Donald Trump: Barack Obama Part Deux?

Two of the most dysfunctional areas of the American economy are healthcare and education, not coincidentally, two of the areas of the economy that the government has the most control and influence.

In healthcare, while there is ostensibly some private elements to it, the reality is that government regulations control almost every aspect of it. From the HIPAA forms about sharing your information you sign at the doctor’s office to what services insurance must cover to how much doctors can charge – or more accurately, get reimbursed for – Medicare patients. As much as one might want to point the finger at Obamacare, the reality is, healthcare was a mess long before Barry gave us the disaster that fittingly bears his name.

Much of that dysfunction stems from the fact that in healthcare there is little correlation between what people pay and the services they get. Why? The main reason is because insurance covers almost all of the cost for healthcare, and most Americans get their insurance through their employer, tax free. And why is that? Why isn’t health insurance like car insurance or homeowner’s insurance? Because of the government, of course. It largely started during WWII when wages and price controls were implemented and in 1943 the IRS made health insurance a tax free benefit to employees… and thus employers could offer insurance benefits to attract employees when they had little control over what they could pay. After the war Congress codified the There are other reasons of course, including government regulations that prohibit insurance companies from offering insurance across state lines, a broken tort system, and the general dysfunction in the Medicaid and Medicare programs.

In education the story is a bit different. Government directly controls in excess of 90% of the education spending in the country. Although most of the dollars are spent at the state and local level, the federal government has been seizing more and more control for the last 40 years, particularly after the establishment of the US Department of Education under Jimmy Carter. Add to that the fact that the Democrat party is almost a wholly owned subsidiary of the teacher’s unions and you understand that most large cities, school systems are not about education, but rather they are a jobs program for Democrat politicians and union donors. And the result is an education system that is more expensive than virtually any in the world on a per capita basis, but one that produces students who trail much of the developed world in testing and keeps the most challenged students in the worst performing schools.

The bottom line is that government does very little well, whether it’s education, healthcare or and we’ve come to see, choosing business outcomes. Just look back at Barack Obama’s green energy boondoggles, from Solyndra to Fisker… they are big versions of the failures states and local governments have been making for decades with their various sports stadium financing failures. Government deciding how businesses should be run and getting choosing winners and losers in business is just as much of a failure of what they’ve done with education and healthcare.

But change is in the air. We have a businessman who will be running the country, who will fix things, starting with business… Um… not so much.

Donald Trump, already known as a fan of big government and eminent domain has, even before he’s been sworn in, taken steps to show that we may be looking at four more years of the same thing… only with different oxen being slayed or spared the ax. Rather than talking about making America a place where companies want to invest, hire and operate, rather than talking about America being a place that all companies can make a profit, Donald Trump has been threatening companies who might have the audacity to try and escape America’s confiscatory tax rates by moving jobs overseas. Indeed last week he “saved 1,000 jobs” by meeting with Carrier and… giving them tax breaks from the state that other businesses can’t get!

So here we have a new president who uses the bully pulpit to threaten companies who don’t do what he wants and he uses tax breaks to get others to do so. That sounds very much like Barack Obama eight years ago… and we know how that turned out with lots of debt, failures and a GDP that has averaged under 2%. With Trump, rather than targeting coal and energy companies the bullseye will be on companies who want to make money for shareholders by escaping an uncompetitive business environment in the heavily regulated United States.

Of course Trump hasn’t even been sworn in yet. Maybe this was just a one off with Trump trying to fulfill a very specific campaign pledge. But then again, maybe not. Either way, it doesn’t say much for Donald Trump’s appreciation for free markets or limited government.