Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An "F" for the Big "D"

An "F" for the Big "D"

Michigan Democrats recently stepped in well deserved controversy by offering up a state budget that proposes supplying every child in the state with an iPod or comparable Mp3 player (See article here: http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007704060333 ).

Now such absurdities hardly cause one to blink these days, but this instance gave me occasion to revisit a past column on "progressive" government and how it's fared in Michigan's only metropolis Detroit.

As a Wisconsinite I can certainly relate to the frustration felt by folks whose states' political landscapes are drastically altered by a single big city. Milwaukee these days has become a parody of itself. The last few years have been marked by the beating death of a man by 20 people (some as young as ten), the gang rape of an 11-year old by possibly fifteen, and the tire slashings of 20 Republican party get-out-the-vote vans on the morning of national elections (the culprits none other than the son of a past Democratic mayor and the son of Democratic congresswoman Gwen Moore).

The situation in Detroit however, a few high-profile cases aside, makes Milwaukee look rather tame . They say there’s a lot in a name, but in this case there’s also a lot in a nickname - at least a lot of irony.

Take Detroit’s most common nickname “Motor City”. It conjures up images of
the once thriving industrial city where state of the art automobiles rolled
off the lines and union bosses were the toast of the town. Today that
picture has somewhat rusted over.

Turns out that in “Motor City” today one-third of local households
can’t even afford a car. And now, to cast further gloom on an already
grim picture, Detroit automakers recently laid off tens of thousands of
workers under crippling labor costs and increased competition.

The city’s other well-known moniker “Motown”, while a play on “Motor
City”, came to be more widely associated with the uniquely styled soul
music that took its name. Yet, like “Motor City”, today “Motown” also
evokes painfully ironic comparisons with the past.

Where once Diana Ross and Co. reigned supreme, today’s most
widely recognized “musical” export is the foul, nihilistic rapper Eminem
while the public face of the city is a bejeweled 34 year-old known as the
“hip-hop mayor” in light of his thug-like entourage and penchant for
club hopping and rap music.

So what went wrong with Detroit? Perhaps a newer, less catchy
nickname for “The D” can lend some clarity to what has become of this
once proud city: “Most Liberal City in the U.S.A”.

That’s the distinction Detroit has earned according to a study of
voting patterns done by San Francisco based Bay Area Center for
Voting Research. While Detroit voters aren’t so liberal in the Howard
Dean,tinfoil hat sense, they are more likely than any other large locale to
favor governmental solutions to perceived problems. No shock
here, but Detroit has been run almost exclusively by Democrats for four
decades now.

A quick overview of their report card:

As of 2004, Detroit had the highest unemployment rate among our fifty
largest cities with 14.1% out of work. This figure was more than
double the 6.5% average of the other forty-nine. Given recent
transgressions Detroit’s figure may now threaten to climb even higher.

Reactionaries quickly jumped on the automakers, but even the liberal
media can’t overlook the fact that local union workers have long been
overly naive in their demands. As it is the average union laborer for a
Big Three manufacturer costs their employer $65 an hour, or roughly
$130,000 per year.

Even those no longer needed on the floor are still staples on the
payroll. Before the recent wave of cuts the Big Three had a combined
12,000 workers idling in job banks passing their time with community
service and crossword puzzles at over $30 an hour each.

Big unions may deliver the Democrats millions of votes, but what they sometimes
give workers are unrealistic promises that risk chasing employers
out of state, into bankruptcy, or overseas, while leaving laborers out of luck.

Surveying Detroit’s other social indicators the scene doesn’t get much
rosier. For example, Detroit today has only half the population it had
in 1950, while a quarter of all land is currently vacant or abandonded.

Strong as they claim to be regarding education decades of Democrats
have left Detroit with nearly half their adults functionally illiterate
(47%). Lest anyone reactively call for more school funding let me add
that Michigan is currently ranked as having the second highest tax
burden in the nation.

With a murder rate over five times the national average Detroit ranks
the fourth worst in the nation. The highest murder rate actually belongs
to the second most liberal city, Gary, Ind..

Survey the list of murder hot spots and the hits keep on coming. New
Orleans, recently exposed by Katrina as crime ridden and corrupt,
notches the second highest murder rate. Yet, only one in four charged
with murder in The Big Easy ever serve time. It begins to make sense
when you reflect that New Orleans has been headed by almost
exclusively Democrats for over thirty years.

Now I’m just piling on, but the third highest murder rate goes to the
fourth most liberal city, Washington D.C.. Only two words need be said
about their political discretion: Marion Barry.

It appears here that while liberal figureheads and ACLU lawyers seek
superficial civil-rights for extremely small, but well funded interest
groups they neglect the most basic of civil right government is sworn
to protect: the right to be secure in your person and property.

The examples abound, but reflection on the left remains non-existent.
With “social progress” like this it’s no wonder, as George Will points
out, that 97 of the 100 fastest growing counties in the nation voted
Republican in 2004. Results can’t be much more clear cut than that.

Who knows, maybe in a show of solidarity with their most reliable
liberal brethren we’ll see the Democrats hold their ‘08 national
convention in Detroit to showcase their handiwork. Gary 2012! I won’t
hold my breath.

For further reading see: http://www.mises.org/story/1918

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

How "Free to Choose" Are You?

“Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow man”
-Milton Friedman

Recent trends suggest (as did his recent death) occasion for another look at those words from the great economist who spent most of his life reminding people they should strive to be “free to choose”.

Dr. Friedman was describing the fundamental understanding of a free society as one in which others, including the government, can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. You could say you are assured non-interference…but that’s all. Success and happiness are up to you.

You have your rights and others have theirs, so long as nobody demands anything from anybody else but non-interference. Simple enough you’d think, but in practice we’ve been all too quick to drop that understanding for personal preferences. We want to be free to choose for ourselves, but have no problem employing force when others don’t choose what we think they should.

As America’s most brilliant Longshoreman Eric Hoffer said: “We all have private ails. The troublemakers are they who need public cures for their private ails.”

So, who are these “troublemakers” anyway? Well we pretty much all are. But while folks of every political leaning are guilty, today only those of the liberal/progressive persuasion are actually proud of it. Try as you will you’d be hard pressed to find initiatives from today’s Democrats that don’t take from someone or mandate something. While Republicans have their share of liberal impulses (huge agricultural subsidies to the tune of half all farm income and a vast expansion of Medicare) they at least acknowledge the rights of people to their earnings and property.

In fact, in this sense liberalism/progressivism the world over shares the same fundamental flaw as Islamic fundamentalism: They both attempt to foster virtue through force, which of course is impossible. An act can only be virtuous when you are free to choose otherwise.

For instance some fundamentalists argue that women be made to cover themselves because modesty is a virtue. Modesty certainly is a virtue, but by making burqas mandatory they actually remove the possibility of virtue there. Only those women who freely choose it have claim to said virtue.

Back home liberals/progressives use force all the time in the name of virtue. Raising taxes is the most glaring offense, but others examples like affirmative action, minimum wage laws, campus speech codes, eminent domain land seizures, etc. abound.

Some taxes are necessary, but today the fact is that over 40% of your income will go to the government one way or another and well over half of those taxes are simply given to someone else deemed more in need. We actually spend three times as much on welfare as it would cost to raise every poor family above the poverty level. Personally giving help to someone in need is virtuous. Paying taxes with the the threat of jail if you don’t is not.

Affirmative action is doubly problematic. Not only do forced quotas effectively negate the virtue of mostly nondescriminating employers but they also needlessly cast a shadow of doubt over the virtuous achievements of so many.

Now comes Barack Obama’s call for “Universal” health care. As I pointed out before, rights are only valid if they impose no measurable burden on another person. So can we provide health care to everyone without imposing a burden on anybody else? Not a chance. If you’re healthy and your neighbor drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney, who bears a heavier burden with “Universal” health care? The answer is simply whoever makes more money. I see no virtue in that.

Not only is virtue through compulsion impossible, but often the rhetoric of those arguing for it runs in stark contrast to virtue by appealing to envy. Dr. Thomas Sowell writes “Envy was once considered to be one of the seven deadly sins before it became one of the most admired virtues under it’s new name ‘social justice’.” Charges like “tax cuts for the rich” come to mind.

Friedman also wrote” A society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither.” And he was right. When we take our eyes off of the prize (freedom) to demand superficial equality and pretend we’re virtuous we forget that our successes are all the more remarkable precisely when they aren’t guaranteed. Only when we are truly “free to choose” can our actions take on true meaning.

Education Degradation Part III

-While tragic, the recent stabbing of a 12 year old girl at a local middle school has no doubt vindicated those parents refusing to accept boundary changes quietly. In the case of some students let’s face it, those students moved will without question be put into schools that are rougher places. Will they survive? Of course. Will they be better for it? Probably not.

Parents who are concerned with their children’s school environment, pay taxes, and very well may have chosen their address on account of the neighborhood school have every right to protest this and every reason to be perturbed by the arrogant manner in which the local school board president has dismissed them.

-A local columnist recently lambasted those parents protesting TeenScreen, the proposed universal mental health screening of our local 8th graders. While he is correct in pointing out the good intentions of the program’s sponsors, he subsequently dismisses those of the parents and is sadly mistaken on almost everything else, not the least of which being that schools have any business dealing in mental health in the first place. This columnist (Bill Guida), in classic liberal elitist fashion, told parents to butt out and leave it to the experts. Unfortunately the only people who can really explain their suicides are no longer with us and the only likely result of the screening would be more money in the pockets of both psychologists and drug companies. However Mr. Guida has long made clear the low esteem in which he holds the sense of everyday people, favoring smoking bans and mandatory helmet laws for those without free will and recently claiming that folks (except him of course) are “force fed” fast food via advertising. Just listen to the experts and the gummit’ will make everything alright…

Mr. Guida being no peculiarity, contemporary liberals/progressives, forever frustrated with Americans’ fondness for rugged individualism, have always seen schools as their great opportunity for experimentation with collectivism. Every time the schools take on another unnecessary responsibility like feeding children, babysitting, sorting them by race, etc. they see a microcosm of their perfect society: the government (largely made up of them) providing for every waking need. At one time this fact wasn’t at all hidden. Those considered the founders of our public school system were nearly all avowed socialists.

These disagreements weren’t always necessary. But like so many other things, when you add the word “public” to anything it’s like putting ketchup on a steak, it can only be so good. This should come as a surprise to no one however after the track record of public housing projects, public assistance (welfare), public retirement (Social Security), public healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid). Those that weren’t immediate failures are nonetheless impending economic disasters.

I apologize for the imagery, but can any of you honestly say you prefer public toilets to your own? The tragedy of the commons is very real. Parents can forbid their child from playing with the third-grader next-door with the fowl mouth and mean streak when he drinks, but at school they’re powerless. Parents can teach that one religion, one country, one attitude is preferable, but once they get to a public school they will hear that everything under the sun is equal and the only one’s who are lesser are those that would dare to say otherwise.

School choice in the form of vouchers would do much to remedy this rift, not to mention school crowding...