Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fact-Free Liberals: Part II

Thomas Sowell

Words seem to carry far more weight than facts among those liberals who argue as if rent control laws actually control rents and gun control laws actually control guns.

It does no good to point out to them that the two American cities where rent control laws have existed longest and strongest -- New York and San Francisco -- are also the two cities with the highest average rents.

Nor does it make a dent on them when you point out evidence, from both sides of the Atlantic, that tightening gun control laws does not reduce gun crimes, including murder. It is not uncommon for gun crimes to rise when gun control laws are tightened. Apparently armed criminals prefer unarmed victims.

Minimum wage laws are another issue where the words seem to carry great weight, leading to the fact-free assumption that such laws will cause wages to rise to the legally specified minimum. Various studies going back for decades indicate that minimum wage laws create unemployment, especially among the younger, less experienced and less skilled workers.

When you are unemployed, your wages are zero, regardless of what the minimum wage law specifies.

Having followed the controversies over minimum wage laws for more than half a century, I am always amazed at how many ways there are to evade the obvious.

A discredited argument that first appeared back in 1946 recently surfaced again in a televised discussion of minimum wages. A recent survey of employers asked if they would fire workers if the minimum wage were raised. Two-thirds of the employers said that they would not. That was good enough for a minimum wage advocate.

Unfortunately, the consequences of minimum wage laws cannot be predicted on the basis of employers' statements of their intentions. Nor can the consequences of a minimum wage law be determined, even after the fact, by polling employers on what they did.

The problem with polls, in dealing with an empirical question like this, is that you can only poll survivors.

Every surviving business in an industry might have as many employees as it had before a minimum wage increase -- and yet, if the additional labor costs led to fewer businesses surviving, there could still be a reduction in industry employment, despite what the poll results were from survivors.

There are many other complications that make an empirical study of the effects of minimum wages much more difficult than it might seem.

Since employment varies for many reasons other than a minimum wage law, at any given time the effects of those other factors can outweigh the effects of minimum wage laws. In that case, employment could go up after a particular minimum wage increase -- even if it goes up less than it would have without the minimum wage increase.

Minimum wage advocates can seize upon statistics collected in particular odd circumstances to declare that they have now "refuted" the "myth" that minimum wages cause unemployment.

Yet, despite such anomalies, it is surely no coincidence that those few places in the industrial world which have had no minimum wage law, such as Switzerland and Singapore, have consistently had unemployment rates down around 3 percent. "The Economist" magazine once reported: "Switzerland's unemployment neared a five-year high of 3.9% in February."

It is surely no coincidence that, during the last administration in which there was no federal minimum wage -- the Calvin Coolidge administration -- unemployment ranged from a high of 4.2 percent to a low of 1.8 percent over its last four years.

It is surely no coincidence that, when the federal minimum wage law remained unchanged for 12 years while inflation rendered the law meaningless, the black teenage unemployment rate -- even during the recession year of 1949 -- was literally a fraction of what it has been throughout later years, as the minimum wage rate has been raised repeatedly to keep up with inflation.

When words trump facts, you can believe anything. And the liberal groupthink taught in our schools and colleges is the path of least resistance.



 Committee Members Raise Concerns about OSHA’s Intrusion into Family Farms

House Education and the Workforce Committee members today raised concerns about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) unprecedented intrusion into family farms. In a letter to OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels, committee leaders requested documents and communications surrounding guidance that unilaterally extends OSHA jurisdiction over farms with 10 or fewer employees.

“Family farms are the latest target of the Obama administration’s regulatory overreach,” said Chairman Kline. “All employers have a moral responsibility to protect their employees; however, federal law has long exempted family farms from OSHA inspections. This policy has been supported and enforced by administrations from both political parties for nearly four decades. The Obama administration must explain to Congress and the American people why it believes it can simply circumvent the law through executive fiat.”

“The Obama administration has repeatedly targeted farmers- the foundation of many communities across America and in my district - with new regulations, the latest assault coming in the form of the Department of Labor’s attempt to boldly reinterpret a policy that has been in place since 1978 and supported by both Republican and Democrat administrations,” said Rep. Walberg. “Federal law is abundantly clear that family farms are exempt from OSHA jurisdiction and this latest attack must stop immediately.”

Since 1971 OSHA has been responsible for enforcing federal workplace safety and health standards. Congress has adopted statutory language since 1978 that prevents OHSA from inspecting farms with 10 or fewer employees. This policy has been signed into law by presidents dating back to the Carter administration. As the members note in their letter:

Now, without any public notice or review, the Obama administration has begun to overturn this legal standard through executive fiat. The June 2011 guidance redefines “farming operations” in order to allow OSHA inspectors onto family farms. Under the agency’s new and unprecedented logic, it appears anything outside of the actual growing of crops and raising of livestock could be deemed “non-farming operations” that would subject family farms to OSHA inspections. The guidance is a clear attempt to circumvent the law and the will of Congress.

Committee members urge OHSA to withdraw its guidance and ask the agency to deliver documents and communications regarding this policy change by January 28.



A trip around Cuba

“Don’t even think about driving in Cuba.”  That’s what I was told by an American man and travel industry pro who has visited the Caribbean people’s republic more times than I’ve left my home country combined.

“But I’ve driven in Lebanon,” I said. “And Albania.” No one drives as badly as the Lebanese and Albanians, bless their hearts. Even the Iraqis and Israelis drive like Canadians by comparison. “Besides, Cuba hardly has any cars. How bad could the traffic possibly be?”

“The roads are dark at night and filled with pedestrians, bicycles, and animals,” he said. “There are no signs and you’ll be arrested if you get in an accident.”

Getting arrested in a communist police state ranks on my to-do list alongside being stricken with cancer and getting snatched off a Middle Eastern street by Al Qaeda.

I wanted to rent one of Cuba’s classic American Chevys from the 1950s and roam at will through the countryside, but who would I call if the car broke down or I got a flat tire? My cell phone does not work in Cuba. I can’t fix a Cuban car by myself—that’s for damn sure. Cubans improvise with all kinds of random things under the hood, including, as one resident told me, parts from old Russian washing machines.

Capital cities are bubbles. And much of Havana is in ruins after decades of hostile neglect by Fidel Castro. Most of it looks like a war zone minus the bullet holes. What does the rest of the country look like? Is it better? Or is it somehow even worse?

I had to get out of town. Renting a car wasn’t advisable, so I took a bus. I don’t like traveling that way, but it seemed like the best option. First stop: Bay of Pigs.

The warning to eschew renting a car, I have to say, was a bit overblown. I could have driven myself where I wanted to go without too much trouble. Traffic outside the city was miniscule, including pedestrian, bicycle, and animal traffic. The roads are smooth and wide open. Just ten minutes outside the Havana metro area, my bus had the road to itself. And the bus came with a guide, so I didn’t have to just guess what I was looking at.

It was an easy road, too. Most of Cuba is more or less flat. I could see off in the distance outside the window because the landscape is not forested. It consists mostly of grass, stray palm trees, sad little agricultural plots, and unused fields gone to the weeds.

Taking a bus came with another advantage I hadn’t foreseen. I didn’t have to stop at the checkpoints.

I’m used to seeing military and police checkpoints when I travel abroad. Every country in the Middle East has them, including Israel if you count the one outside the airport. The authorities in that part of the world are looking for guns and bombs mostly. The Cuban authorities aren’t worried about weapons. No one but the regime has anything deadlier than a baseball bat.

Castro’s checkpoints are there to ensure nobody has too much or the wrong kind of food.

Police officers pull over cars and search the trunk for meat, lobsters, and shrimp. They also search passenger bags on city busses in Havana. Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote about it sarcastically in her book, Havana Real. “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.”

If they find a side of beef in the trunk, so I’m told, you’ll go to prison for five years if you tell the police where you got it and ten years if you don’t.

No one is allowed to have lobsters in Cuba. You can’t buy them in stores, and they sure as hell aren’t available on anyone’s ration card. They’re strictly reserved for tourist restaurants owned by the state. Kids will sometimes pull them out of the ocean and sell them on the black market, but I was warned in no uncertain terms not to buy one. I stayed in hotels and couldn’t cook my own food anyway. And what was I supposed to do, stash a live lobster in my backpack?

I did see animals once in a while, but nothing I couldn’t have handled in a rental car. Cows sometimes wander across the road on open ranch land in the American West where I live. No big deal. In the forested parts of the West, deer dart in front of cars every day. That can be fatal for deer and driver alike. Cows on the road in Cuba were no kind of problem.

I was actually glad to see cows on the road because the bus slowed enough that I could get a good look at them and even take pictures. Whatever the Cubans are doing with cattle, it’s wrong. The poor things are skeletons wrapped in leather. No wonder milk, meat, and cheese are so hard to come by.

I know next to nothing about cattle ranching, but the eastern (dry) side of my home state of Oregon has plenty of ranches, and I can tell you this much: Oregon cows have a lot more land to roam free on. They wander for miles eating scrub out in the semi-desert.

Agricultural fields in Cuba are microscopic, whether they’re for ranching for farming. They’re misshapen and haphazardly planted as if they’re amateur recreational farms rather than industrial-scale operations that are supposed to feed millions of people. My father grows pinot noir grapes in a vineyard no larger than these, but he really is doing it for recreational purposes in his retirement. He’s happy if he breaks even.

Cuba doesn’t even break even—hence the checkpoints to ensure no one is “hoarding.” The country could produce many times the amount of food it currently does. Deforestation wouldn’t be necessary. Most of the Cuban landscape I saw is already deforested. It’s just not being used. It’s tree-free and fallow ex-farmland. I’ve never seen anything like it, though parts of the Soviet Union may have looked similar.

Imbecilic communist agriculture practices aren’t the only problem. An invasive weed from Angola is choking half the farmland that would be in use, and no one seems to have a clue how to get rid of it.

More interesting than the cows and the fields were all the people on the side of the road. I saw hundreds between Havana and Cienfuegos waiting for someone with a car to stop and pick them up.

Americans think hitchhiking is dangerous, and it can be in the US, but in many parts of the world it’s perfectly ordinary. In Cuba it’s sometimes the only way to get anywhere. Asking for and giving rides are as casual and routine as letting a stranger read the newspaper in an American coffeeshop after you’re finished with it.

My driver blew right on past the poor Cubans. The government-owned bus was strictly for foreigners who booked the ride in advance. No ragged peasants allowed!

Much more HERE



A hard b*tch: "Texas state senator and aspiring governor Wendy Davis made herself known with an infamous 11-hour filibuster that blocked a proposed state ban on late-term abortions – an effort that eventually proved futile. Still, Davis' PR stunt reinvigorated the Left's “war on women” rhetoric. Pathetically, as it turns out, the abortion advocate had to conjure up some BIG lies to make her own biography sell. She was first divorced at age 21, not 19 as she previously claimed while testifying in a federal lawsuit (but don't anticipate any punishment for perjury). Also left in the shadows are key facts pertaining to her second husband, attorney Jeff Davis, whom she divorced in 2005. Mr. Davis financed the rest of his wife's schooling through Harvard before being dumped the day after her student-loans were paid off. She also made no effort to win custody of her two children. All this proves one thing: She's still a hero for Democrats.

DeBlasio Punishes 1% in NYC Snow Storm:  "Class warrior and New York City mayor Bill deBlasio seems to be acting on his apparent animus toward the 1% -- residents of Manhattan's (well-to-do) Upper East side confirm that section of the city remains unplowed in the ongoing northeast blizzard.  My husband, attending business meetings in the city, confirmed that buses and taxis are stuck in intersections on the UES and the streets are difficult to navigate. It is impossible to find any sort of transportation in that area. What de Blasio might consider is what that means -- not just for the prosperous residents -- but for the small businesses, cab drivers, truckers and other "workers" who serve that section of town."


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