Friday, November 28, 2008

The Ten Cannots

Presbyterian minister William J. H. Boetcker's talks on hard work and character were summarized in his 1916 pamphlet The Ten Cannots:
  • You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
  • You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
  • You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
  • You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
  • You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
  • You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
  • You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
  • You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
  • You cannot build character and courage by destroying men's initiative and independence.
  • And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.
Amen, Rev. Boetcker. Why is it that the simple is so hard to understand? Or is it that the simple is so hard to live by?

Citizen Outreach

Monday, November 24, 2008

Civics Quiz

An online civics quiz is being discussed a lot on blogs and talk radio. You guessed it - yet another study showing just how ignorant Americans are of basic (okay, maybe not basic as some of the questions are much tougher than the typical Jaywalking question) American history, government and economics.

According to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute,
More than 2,500 randomly selected Americans took ISI’s basic 33question test on civic literacy and more than 1,700 people failed, with the average score 49 percent, or an “F.” Elected officials scored even lower than the general public with an average score of 44 percent and only 0.8 percent of all surveyed earned an “A.”

So I decided to let my eleven year old daughter take the quiz. She answered correctly 18 out of 33 (55%) with absolutely no help from me. Not bad.

Here is a screen shot of my score:

Addendum: Here is what Walter Williams said about the consequences of such lack of understanding of Constitutional principles as displayed by this quiz.

"With limited thinking abilities and knowledge of our heritage, we Americans set ourselves up as easy prey for charlatans, hustlers and quacks. If we don't know the constitutional limits placed on Congress and the White House, politicians can do just about anything they wish to control our lives, from deciding what kind of light bulbs we can use to whether the government can take over our health care system or bailout failing businesses. We just think Congress can do anything upon which they can get a majority vote."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Political Santas

I am one of those people that get irriatated when stores put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. I have always thought that it somehow diminishes the importance of Thanksgiving as it gets children to start thinking about Christmas when there are a lot of good messages and family times to be had on Thanksgiving. And don't get me started on Black Friday. Addendum: I was at Nordstrom's the day before Thanksgiving and saw a sign that said Nordstrom's won't be putting up Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. The sign said Nordstrom's believes in celebrating one holiday at a time and wished everyone a "Happy Thanksgiving." I wished other stores would do the same.

Having said that, here I go with a Christmas-related post before Thanksgiving. But it really doesn't have anything to do with Christmas. It has to do with a political cartoon.

The above cartoon recently appeared in the Boston Globe and here is Don Boudreaux's response:

Editor, The Boston Globe

Dear Editor:

Dan Wasserman's cartoon today depicts countless gloomy Santa Clauses queued up before a "Unemployment Benefits" office. 2008 will indeed be a sad year for shopping-mall Santas, but other Santas are quite jolly.

I speak of politicians. Like shopping-mall Santas, their job is to entertain requests from strangers for goodies. These strangers (like those on the laps of shopping-mall Santas) give no thought to who pays for the requested goodies - so their requests are childish and ample. Politician Santas are naively taken at their word that they can create wondrous things for all good boys and girls. Assisted in the magical Capital City by self-abnegating elves, who need only avoid giving gifts to the naughty, Politician Santas promise the nice a wonderful bounty.

Alas, one important difference between a shopping-mall Santa and a Politician Santa is that the former immediately forgets each child's request the moment that child pops off of his knee. The Politician Santa, in contrast, works hard at the impossible task of making the magic come true.


Donald J. Boudreaux

Chairman, Department of Economics

George Mason University

Well said Professor Boudreaux.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Meet the New Mason Mascot

This is what the mascot of a university looks like when they are called the Patriots but the school wants to be politically correct:

Bye bye, Gunston.

So after eight years of living with the big green Muppet-like mascot, a mascot that actually looks like a patriot was introduced this week.

While many students liked Gunston, many of the alumni at George Mason University did not. I am going to give credit to the alumni who posted on the sports message board Well done Zoners. The Patriot is a more fitting mascot for a team that has made it to the Final 4 and the #1 Up-and-Coming School in the country.

Now let's get back to the Final 4 soon.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How to raise entrepreneurial children

Over at The Austrian Economists blog, Steve Horwitz asks about the relationship between parenting and entrepreneurship. His post touches on some of the problems with “helicopter parenting” I made here, or what he calls “hyper parenting.” While I don’t have any great insight on this subject, it is nonetheless relevant to the mission of my blog. So, I am going to post some of Steve’s comments and, if you are interested, you can go to the original site to read more. There are also some really good comments to Steve’s original post so be sure to check those out as well.

What many developmental psychologists argue is that the ideal parenting strategy is to raise your kids in ways that make them "feel safe in taking risks." That might seem contradictory, but the idea is that kids need to know that they can take risks by exploring new things or people and that they will both reap the rewards of doing so and bear the costs of doing so, at least short of something catastrophic. The idea of "feeling safe in taking risks" is what true psychological attachment is about, rather than the very mistaken notion of "attachment" that is in vogue with "attachment parenting," which is just another name for the over-involved parenting that is the problem.

Well-attached children feel safe in exploring the world because they know that they can always return to the "secure base" of their parent(s).

It has always seemed to me that well-attached children will be much more able to exercise entrepreneurship than those who have been hyper-parented. They are used to exploring the world and exercising their own judgment, and understand the relationship between risk and reward. And if their parents allow them to fail and to feel the consequences of that failure (again, short of severe injury and the like), they also understand that failure is one of the great motivators for succeeding and for learning. Constantly shielding our kids from taking risks and possibly experiencing failure will be likely to lead to adults who are similarly risk-averse and who cannot understand why failure is a part of learning and growing.

Steve is quickly becoming one of my favorite bloggers. He consistently blogs about stuff I care about, his take on a subject is often thought provoking, and he writes with passion.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Story of Childlike Innocence and Wealth Redistribution

Why Can't We Just Spread the Wealth Around?


Gracie and her dad liked hiking. They enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the energizing exercise. But most of all, they enjoyed the time together. It gave them time to talk and be themselves. They never referred to it as hiking; it was always “going on an adventure” for they would seek to find something new every time – even if it was the same trail they had been on many times before.

While Gracie was only seven, she was an excellent hiker. She was also very inquisitive. She would ask her dad about all sorts of things she had heard at school, on TV or at home. For such a small child, her questions were thought provoking. Her dad always was impressed with her questions for they taught him to look at life through a child’s eyes. Her innate sense of justice was pleasing to him. But just like many adults, her prescription for correcting an injustice was not always well reasoned.

On this particular Saturday, Gracie had questions about some things she had heard on the news. (Now her parents don’t normally allow her to listen to the news because it is often filled with pictures and words of an ugly world that they wanted to shelter her from for at least a few more years, but sometimes she overheard things.) It turns out that she had overheard a news story where a presidential candidate had said that the rich weren’t paying their fair share of taxes and how he was going to spread the wealth around. That there are rich people when others are poor simply didn’t sound right to a seven year old.

Her father asked, “What would you have someone do?”

She said, “I would tell the rich to pay more taxes. Why can't we just spread the wealth around?”

Her father replied, “That sounds good, but it might lead to unintended consequences.”

“Unintended consequences? What’s that?” exclaimed Gracie.

With a little bit of shame, Gracie’s dad explained, “Sometimes when we do something – even with the best of intentions – we make the situation worse. Like when I helped you build an Indian dwelling for your history project but I did most of the work. I meant well, but by doing all the work, you didn’t really learn what your teacher wanted you to learn about Indian life. I cheated you. The unintended consequence was that you were not able to explain how you had constructed the dwelling in front of your class.”

“It’s okay Dad, next time I will do my own work. But what unintended consequences might result from making the rich pay more taxes?” Gracie asked.

“Well,” her father answered, “it might lead to fewer jobs and more poor people.”

“Why is that?” Gracie asked.

Her dad attempted to explain, “Owning a business is risky. Many business owners fail many times before they succeed. By taxing successful people more, you would be reducing the incentive someone has to succeed.

“Here is an example that might help you to understand better. Suppose some parents didn’t feel it fair that some children in your class get C’s and D’s. There should be more A’s and B’s given regardless if the children did the work. So the teacher takes some of the points from the successful students and gives them to the poor performing students.”

Gracie interrupted, “But that wouldn’t be fair for Ricky Johnson to get some of my points – he doesn’t even try. Why should I be punished for doing well?”

“That’s right,” her father continued, “likewise progressive taxation isn’t fair either. If a successful businessman is asked to pay more taxes because others have less money, then he is punished for doing well . . . just like you.”

“But some kids do try and still don’t make all A’s and B’s,” Gracie said.

“Under the system of grade distribution, these children would be punished the most,” Gracie’s dad said.

“Why is that?” asked Gracie.

“Those kids that worked hard but still couldn’t make the A or B honor roll before will soon realize that with grade distribution they could get points added by doing less work, but might actually give up points in a few subjects if they continued to work hard.” Gracie’s dad said.

“What have I always told about hard work?” Gracie’s dad asked.

“You say that you would rather have a child that works hard than a smart child that didn’t have to work hard because he might become bored or lazy.” Gracie replied.

“There will always be a reward for hard work as long as the envious don’t use the government to punish hard work. When hard work is punished, like through tax policy, then even hard workers will become reluctant to work hard. When that happens there will be no one to take money from and we all will be poor.” Gracie’s dad said sadly.

So Gracie and her dad walked along the path saying nothing for a few minutes while she took in the lesson her dad was trying to teach her. Then she asked, “Why would a presidential candidate support a policy that is so unfair?”

Her dad said that many people confuse fairness with outcomes and not process. “What does that mean?” Gracie asked. “Well, some people think fairness means everyone gets the same grade, for example, regardless of effort. But fairness doesn’t mean that at all. In fact, it means just the opposite. Fairness dictates that your teacher not show favoritism and grades be awarded based on merit.”

“So the teacher’s pet shouldn’t get special treatment?” Gracie asked.

Her dad smiled for he knew that Gracie was the teacher’s pet and responded, “I didn’t say that . . . maybe special treatment is a reward for being a good student that works hard and obeys the rules? But the teacher should grade your paper, uh, I mean, the teacher’s pet’s work just like she would any other kid.”

“Oh, she does!” Gracie exclaimed.

As they headed back home up a big hill Gracie and her dad held hands and enjoyed the beautiful day. Gracie asked, “Dad is it fair that we get to enjoy this beautiful day and my sister can’t?” Gracie’s sister was born with a birth defect that prevented her from enjoying these long walks. “No.” Her dad said somberly. “It isn’t fair. But she enjoys it when we go on shorter walks and I give her a piggy-back ride. And she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She finds enjoyment in other things that her disability doesn’t prevent her from doing, like writing and music.”

“Would it be okay if the government helped her?” Gracie asked softly.

Her dad did not answer at first. He thought of how nice it would be if the government could buy his younger daughter a motorized wheelchair that could go off-road so the three of them could hike together. But then he answered Gracie, “No it would not. A possible unintended consequence of the government spending $25,000 to buy all disabled children a special off-road wheelchair might be that research dollars were diverted from helping find a cure for your sister’s birth defect. You see, government taxation to fund such programs soaks up private savings at the expense of private investment, including investment in research. Or more likely, the increased taxes needed to buy these expensive wheelchairs forced other families to make cuts in their budget so that their children couldn’t take a vacation to see their grandparents this summer. The bottom line is your sister is our responsibility. If we look to the government to take care of her then we will become dependent upon others to provide for her. Your mother and I will not always be here. She will need to learn to provide for herself. If a person was born short then it wouldn’t make sense for that person to dream of playing professional basketball, would it? Abilities have not been distributed evenly. Some are smarter, some are prettier, and some are more athletic. We must develop those abilities that we have been given.”

Gracie added, “Maybe if she wasn’t limited by her inability to get about, she would not have become such a wonderful writer and pianist?”

Her dad smiled. His child had impressed him once again. And made him proud.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Quote: Churchill on Democracy and the Average Voter

The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with an average voter.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Major Parties Colluding to Keep Third Party Identifiers off Ballots

Here is the Tennessee presidential ballot. Lot of candidates, but notice what is missing? The third party candidates have not been identified by their party. Why? Because the Democrats and Republicans know that, if a voter can't readily identify which "independent" candidate represents which third party, it will reduce votes for third party candidates.


From a FoxNews article on the Two-Party Monopoly:

Bob Barr has no chance of winning the election. But regardless of what you may think of his politics, or that of third-party candidates like Ralph Nader or Chuck Baldwin, this system is rigged. The two major parties have effectively cemented their grip on power by creating laws that make it virtually impossible for upstarts to compete with them. They have effectively done with campaign laws what federal business regulations tend to do in the private sector — protect the behemoth, entrenched dinosaurs that dominate the industry by making it too expensive and difficult for anyone to challenge them.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Teach them early that there is a monopoly in elections in America

This morning on the way out the door, my two daughters told me that there was going to be a mock election at their school today.  I asked, "Are you voting Barr or Baldwin?"  My oldest daughter said something to the effect, What if they don't have the third-party losers on the ballot?  I explained that according to that line of reasoning only one candidate should be on the ballot because it does not appear that McCain has a chance either.

Anyway, on the ride home tonight, I was told that, sure enough, they did not have any "third-party losers" on the ballot.  The kids could only vote for Obama or McCain.  I gather my kids' school used some national Internet school mock election site. 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Then why vote?

In my last post I made the point that my one vote will not be the deciding vote in a presidential election. Then why vote?

Here are a few of my reasons for voting:

  1. It is my tribute to those who gave their lives so that I can. I know that that probably isn’t technically correct. And I realize that the Constitution does not specifically give me a right to vote, it none the less does establish the framework of a democratic republican form of government. And the concept of voting for your representatives is very much part of what makes up a democratic republic. And while most (all?) of the wars this country has fought had nothing to do with me retaining my “right to vote,” the Revolutionary War certainly set the stage for a government by the people.
  2. It is my duty as an American. I believe that people have the duty to do certain things even if there is not an obvious benefit. Voting is one of them. So what if the costs (lost productivity, transportation to and from, etc) of voting greatly outweigh any expected benefits. Now keep in mind, it is also your duty to vote for candidates that will truly “uphold and defend the Constitution” and that means voting for candidates that understand the limits placed on government by the Constitution. If you are a Jaywalker, either become more informed or DO NOT vote.
  3. Since I typically vote third party, I am sending a message - however small -that I took the time to go to the polls but didn’t like either of the two major party candidates. If you don’t vote, they will just assume you are apathetic and, therefore, they can do whatever they like once elected. It is my small protest against our current two-party system that constantly gives us slick politicians with no real substance or understanding of the meaning of the Constitution. They all seem to especially have trouble with understanding the Tenth Amendment. You know, the one that says, ”The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
  4. By voting third party, I am registering a vote for principled positions as opposed to the person. Very often I have never even heard of the candidate I vote for. All I know is he has aligned himself with the positions of a particular party. And almost without exception, third parties have not been corrupted by the coalition building of the two major parties in their attempts to get the most votes. If a candidate loses by 20,000 votes and a third party candidate received 21,000 votes, maybe the major party candidate will get the message that his position on certain issues were the reason.
  5. It feels good. It also feels good when I take part in a meaningless online poll. Sure there are more costs to actually voting, but I enjoy doing it.