Friday, April 07, 2017

Politics and IQ

Are smart people Left-leaning?  There is some recent evidence to say so, though the correlation is weak.  A paper by Michael Woodley is therefore of interest ("Problematic constructs and cultural-mediation: A comment on Heaven, Ciarrochi and Leeson (2011)").

He surveys the literature and shows that the findings go both ways.  On some occasions Leftists score highest while on others conservatives do.

He resolves that the way I do -- by saying that high IQ people are quicker to figure out what is currently socially acceptable and say that.  At the moment being conservative is likely to bring a ton of abuse ("racist") down on your head so it is no wonder that smart people claim to be Leftist


US healthcare: most people don't know what they're talking about

The article below is good at debunking some myths about U.S. healthcare.  It points out factors that distort the national averages.  It skips over the big one, however.  National averages are a poor guide to the health of most Americans.  America has two big minorities that tend to have poor health and which therefore drag down the national averages. If the statistics for whites only are extracted, they show average health levels that are among the world's best

US healthcare is famous for three things: it's expensive, it's not universal, and it has poor outcomes. The US spends around $7,000 per person on healthcare every year, or roughly 18% of GDP; the next highest spender is Switzerland, which spends about $4,500. Before Obamacare, approx 15% of the US population were persistently uninsured (8.6% still are). And as this chart neatly shows, their overall outcome on the most important variable—overall life expectancy—is fairly poor.

But some of this criticism is wrongheaded and simplistic: when you slice the data up more reasonably, US outcomes look impressive, but being the world's outrider is much more expensive than following behind. What's more, most of the solutions people offer just don't get to the heart of the issue: if you give people freedom they'll spend a lot on healthcare.

The US undoubtedly spends a huge amount on healthcare. One popular narrative is that because of market failures and/or extreme overregulation in healthcare, prices are excessively high. So Americans with insurance (or covered by Medicare, the universal system for the elderly, or Medicaid, the government system for the poor) get the same as other developed world citizens, but those without get very poor care and die younger. A system like the NHS solves the problem, according to this view, with bulk buying of land, labour, and inputs, better incentives, and universal coverage.

But there are some serious flaws in this theory. Firstly, extending insurance to the previously-uninsured doesn't, in America, seem to have large benefits. For example, a recent NBER paper found no overall health gains from the massive insurance expansion under Obamacare.* A famous RAND study found minuscule benefits over decades from giving out free insurance to previously uninsured in the 1970s. In fact, over and above the basics, insuring those who choose not to get insurance doesn't ever seem to have large gains. Indeed, there is wide geographic variation in the life expectancy among the low income in the US, but this doesn't even correlate with access to medical care! This makes it unlikely that the gap between the US and the rest is explained by universality.

To find the answer, consider the main two ingredients that go into health outcomes. One is health, and the other is treatment. If latent health is the same across the Western world, we can presume that any differences come from differences in treatment. But this is simply not the case. Obesity is far higher in the USA than in any other major developed country. Obviously it is a public health problem, but it's unrealistic to blame it on the US system of paying for doctors, administrators, hospitals, equipment and drugs.

In fact in the US case it's not even obesity, or indeed their greater pre-existing disease burden, that is doing most of the work in dragging their life expectancy down; it's accidental and violent deaths. It is tragic that the US is so dangerous, but it's not the fault of the healthcare system; indeed, it's an extra burden that US healthcare spending must bear. Just simply normalising for violent and accidental death puts the USA right to the top of the life expectancy rankings.

This is what we'd expect if we approached the topic more honestly, and dug into the detail of healthcare stats. You might think—you might think!—that this is what international healthcare rankings like those from the WHO or the Commonwealth Fund do. Not so. The WHO just looks at a corrected life expectancy measure, but not one corrected for any of the factors which attempt to isolate the impact of healthcare. The Commonwealth Fund's is a mix of high level aggregate measures like physicians per capita and a survey asking people around the world questions like whether "Doctor or other clinical staff talked with patient about a healthy diet and healthy eating". Neither are useless, but they are not the real deal.

Academic papers that drill down into the detail find that the US does well in cancer survival, heart attack and stroke survival, and successfully medicating those with long-term conditions such as diabetes. In fact, when the Commonwealth Fund did this sort of analysis themselves decades ago, the US ranked among the best of countries. This is partly because the US has much more advanced equipment, partly because it funds more costly treatments in general, and partly because it funds the newest treatments, when their marginal costs are often stratospheric. This may subsidise medical research for everyone else.

Now this is not to say the US system works well. The fact that the US spends vastly more than everyone else, and only does a bit better, if that, makes the system pretty unimpressive. But it's important to understand why. The UK really does have "death panels" that refuse treatments because they're extremely costly relative to their tiny impact. The USA has a system where most people can buy—are even subsidised through the tax system to buy—insurance that is as extensive as they like, paying for ever more expensive and marginally beneficial therapies. Eventually you're spending a fifth of your GDP on it.

Maybe if the US government straightened things out—scrapped the incentives that push people to get too much healthcare and deregulated the system to increase competition and push down costs the US would spend a more rational share of its income on health. I think this is pretty likely. But I bet the gap wouldn't go away fully. Americans just have a lot of cash, and want to spend an increasing share of it on their wellbeing as they get even richer. As long as the system is mostly open, I'd expect that to continue.



Levin: Progressivism, Statism 'Is a Poison for Power'

Talking about the judicial branch of government on his nationally syndicated radio talk show program, host Mark Levin suggested that the leftists would use the court to gain power, saying that progressivism, statism “is a poison for power.”

“[P]rogressivism, or as I call it, statism, but either way, is a poison,” stated Mark Levin. “It is a poison, and it is a poison for power.”

Levin’s comments come as Judge Neil Gorsuch awaits confirmation this week in Washington DC.  Below is a transcript of Mark Levin’s comments from his show:

“You need to know, and I know you do, that progressivism, or as I call it, statism, but either way, is a poison. It is a poison, and it is a poison for power.

“And you’ll learn all about it and a heck of a lot more in “Rediscovering Americanism,” but I want to stay on this.

“The leftists decided, the statists decided more than 100 years ago that the key institution that would be used to alter the American landscape, the constitutional landscape, the American culture with rugged individualism, the American psychology of freedom would be the courts.

“First, you needed an all-powerful president, and then you need an all-powerful president who would change the judiciary. And that’s exactly what happened – in big chunks, starting in the 1900s, the early 1900s, and then a massive leap with Franklin Roosevelt. “And it’s never stopped.”



Benign neglect:  How Hong Kong prospered

The power of do-nothing government

Hong Kong could easily be described as the most neoliberal country in the world — a paragon of neoliberal success.

The story of Hong Kong’s growth is both long and fascinating, and could not be done justice in a mere blogpost. But there is one man who is worth mentioning, who has much responsibility for making Hong Kong into what it is today, and yet is all too often forgotten.

John J. Cowperthwaite is not likely a name that you will remember from your history lessons. In fact, it is not likely a name that you will remember at all. He is arguably one of history’s most unsung heroes, and that is a great shame, for he was absolutely instrumental in not only taking Hong Kong’s economy from strength to strength after the Second World War, but also in showing the world that laissez faire economics is workable and brings results.

Milton Friedman said “it would be hard to overestimate the debt that Hong Kong owes to Cowperthwaite”. But he was by no means a self-important man. He had a reputation for being shy, and as an appointed civil servant, he owed no favours to anyone. He arrived in Hong Kong in 1946 as the Assistant financial secretary, with instructions to “come up with a plan for economic growth”. But he came up with no plan, and yet the economy grew. It grew astoundingly. In the decade that he was financial secretary, wages rose by 50% and the percentage of those living in poverty in Hong Kong plummeted from 50 to 15%.

What did this son of a Scottish tax collector do to propel so many into prosperity? The answer is that he didn’t do anything. When a British executive approached Cowperthwaite to ask him to develop the merchant banking industry, Cowperthwaite politely palmed him off and told him that he had better find a merchant banker. Similarly, when a legislator suggested to Cowperthwaite that the government should prioritise the development of promising industries, Cowperthwaite refused and asked how the government could possibly know which businesses had potential and which did not.

Cowperthwaite flat out refused to collect most economic statistics, from fear that doing so would give bureaucrats and legislators an excuse to meddle in the economy. Of course, this caused upset in Whitehall, and when they commanded a group of civil servants to go over and see just what the hell was going on, Cowperthwaite sent them home as soon as they arrived. Yet still from 1945 to 1997 Hong Kong ran a surplus every financial year – surprising all involved because the surpluses were not planned. Rather, they arose as a result of the market being left free.

It was slightly unfair of me to state that John Cowperthwaite “didn’t do anything”. For though his success was largely down to his non-interventionism, ensuring that there was no intervention was backbreaking work. People were always trying to tinker with the economy. But Cowperthwaite maintained: “in the long run, the aggregate of the decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if often mistaken, is likely to do less harm than the centralized decisions of a Government; and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster.”

Today Hong Kong has a GDP per capita at 264% of the world's average, which has doubled in the last 15 years. The World Bank now rates the “ease of doing business” in Hong Kong as the best in the world. It has no taxes on capital gains, interest income or earnings from abroad. Its overall tax burden is just half of that of the United States. Its people are rich and its government small, and for this reason, it makes a fitting cover for our latest paper, but for this reason also, we should be thankful to John J Cowperthwaite.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


Thursday, April 06, 2017

‘Shameful’ Media Defense of Susan Rice in Unmasking Scandal

 Liberals in the media are scrambling to cover for the revelation that Barack Obama’s former National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, unmasked Donald Trump associates in classified intelligence. Media Research Center President Brent Bozell issued the following statement:

“The liberal media’s ‘nothing to see here’ approach to Susan Rice’s politically-motivated unmasking of Trump associates in sensitive intelligence material is shameful. You’d think someone who lied to the press and the American people about her role in the unmasking just two weeks ago would invite more scrutiny. We have a smoking gun that points to criminal activity by President Obama’s national security advisor and the media have shown an utter lack of interest in pursuing the story. If this story is not a top priority for every news outlet, they are aiding and abetting a cover-up. President Trump has every right to be furious with the press and the American people have every reason to be disgusted."



Limited Government is Important -- and Trump is actually limiting it

Fewer than 70 days into the new administration and some in the media are already writing and talking about the "do-nothing" Congress and presidential administration, which critics allege have yet to accomplish anything significant.

Regardless of what you might hear from their critics, you shouldn't believe these baseless accusations. In less than three months, President Trump and Congress have done a lot. Most of their early actions are getting relatively no attention, however, which is occurring for a number of reasons, including the fact most members of the mainstream media are big-government liberals who dislike Mr. Trump and Congress for what they've achieved.

The laws passed and executive orders issued by Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans are substantially different than those actions taken by most previous administrations. Rather than expand the size and scope of the federal government, Mr. Trump and the GOP have worked to reduce government's influence on society - in large part by reversing or blocking "midnight" regulations enacted by Obama administration officials before they finally made their way out the door at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January.

Republicans have long-claimed their party is the champion of limited government, but since Ronald Reagan was president in 1980s, they have done relatively little to back up the claim. Instead, Republican presidents have often pushed their own brand of activism that grew government, including No Child Left Behind, the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, the expansion of prescription drug coverage, a ban on imported semi-automatic rifles, and the creation of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

When Republican presidents weren't busy doing their best impression of big-government Democrats, Republican-controlled Congresses repeatedly failed to block regulations they said are illegal and passed budgets that increased government's power and control.

Thus far, this trend seems to have halted with the Trump administration. Mr. Trump issued an executive order that ultimately ensured the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project President Barack Obama blocked in the waning days of his administration to appease his radical environmental allies.

Mr. Trump also issued an executive order to force reconsideration of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which would have greatly expanded the federal government's control over private property across the United States. Federal courts had previously stayed WOTUS, out of the suspicion it unconstitutionally ignored previous Supreme Court wetlands decisions. Now, Trump ordered EPA to reconsider the rule and has decided not to defend it in court.

Arguably the most far-reaching executive order Mr. Trump has issued is his directive for all administrative agencies to remove two regulations for each new regulation they issue.

On the budget front, Mr. Trump has proposed cutting the budgets of the vast majority of the existing regulatory agencies. For instance, he proposed cutting EPA's budget by more than 25 percent and reducing the agency's staff by 20 percent. In the process, Trump would end all of EPA's climate programs.

Other agencies and cabinet offices would also see significant cuts, including a nearly 29 percent cut to the State Department's budget and an approximately 12 percent cut to the Department of the Interior.

Mr. Trump seems intent to do what he has promised - which greatly conflicts with what other so-called conservatives before him have done - forcing government to focus on its core functions. No more funding for the arts, public television, green-energy boondoggles, or international climate programs on Mr. Trump's watch.

Congress has had the power to review and block major regulations since it passed the Congressional Review Act (CRA) in 1996, but it has rarely used it. CRA allows the House and the Senate to pass resolutions of disapproval to block major regulations issued by federal agencies. Despite tens of thousands of regulations being enacted in the 20 years since CRA passed, Congress has used it only three times to block new rules, and only once has a president signed the resolution. (Mr. Obama vetoed the two disapproval resolutions passed during his presidency.)

Mr. Trump's ascendance seems to finally have stiffened Congress' backbone, because the House and Senate are now using the CRA with a vengeance. Congress has sent more than a half-dozen CRA resolutions disapproving late-term Obama administration regulations to Trump for his signature, and, incredibly, he's actually signing them.

Using the CRA, Congress blocked a regulation forcing local school districts to adopt specific federal teacher-preparation programs and directions for how states and school districts must evaluate and report school performance. Congress also prevented regulations that would have taken away senior citizens' Second Amendment rights if they need help managing their finances.

In its first use of the CRA under Mr. Trump, Congress halted a rule imposed by Mr. Obama that would have unnecessarily threatened over one-third of the nation's coal-mining jobs. Despite the Interior Department's own reports showing virtually all coal mines have no off-site impacts and lands are being restored successfully under existing federal and state regulations, Mr. Obama tried to institute a so-called "stream protection rule," which would have forced the revision of more than 400 regulations.

Contrary to what is being reported, Mr. Trump and Congress are quickly working to achieve one of their most important goals: limiting the size and power of the federal government over people's lives. And in doing so, they are keeping the commitment they made when they took the oath of office, which requires they uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Let's hope the progress continues.



What Congress Can Learn From the Rhode Island Miracle

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more poorly designed program in the federal budget than Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income Americans. The costs are shared between the states and the feds, which means that the more money a state wastes under Medicaid, the bigger the check Washington writes to the state. No wonder the program costs keep spiraling out of control.

Obamacare added nearly 20 million people to the Medicaid rolls, and the Left considers that a policy victory. Federal and state budgets are swelling.

Oh, to return to the days when taking people off of welfare — not putting them on the dole — was the goal.

Conservatives have argued that Medicaid’s management should be turned over to the states through a block-grant allotment of funds. When Republicans proposed this in their Obamacare replacement bill, liberals blew a gasket. They hate the notion of allowing governors to run the program in their states as the governors see fit, free of the thicket of cumbersome federal rules. The Left portrays the idea as heartless and a scheme to rip a hole in the safety net.

In reality, block granting Medicaid to the states would likely add a new incentive structure to control costs while holding state lawmakers accountable for delivering quality care. Medicaid doesn’t do that right now. It delivers subpar care, with many top hospitals and treatment centers refusing to take Medicaid patients.

We already have a wonderful case study of a state running its own Medicaid program, and Congress and the White House should aim to duplicate this success story.

I am referring to the under-publicized Rhode Island experiment of a few years ago. In 2009, Rhode Island received a waiver from federal Medicaid rules in exchange for a cap on federal costs.

It worked like a charm. A 2013 analysis by Gary Alexander, the former secretary of Rhode Island’s Health and Human Services, found that in the first four years the state’s annual cost increases dropped to less than half of the national pace.

When Rhode Island received its Medicaid waiver, 1 of every 5 residents was enrolled, and costs were growing by 7.5 percent annually. Under the waiver, the state’s official Medicaid documents show, costs rose an average of only 1.3 percent a year from 2009 to 2012 — far below the 4.6 percent rate in the other 49 states.

Rhode Island saved money by reducing the amount of emergency-room visits by Medicaid recipients for routine medical needs. The state saved even more by shifting the elderly out of expensive nursing homes, offering home-care subsidies and promoting assisted-living arrangements. Seniors often would rather avoid institutionalization, making this a win-win.

An independent assessment by the economic consulting firm Lewin Group concluded that reforms allowed under the waiver were “highly effective in controlling Medicaid costs.” The program was found to have “improved access to more appropriate services.”

Alexander has become the Pied Piper for Medicaid waivers. “This is such a terrific solution because in Rhode Island we reduced costs and provided better care. When the state had an incentive to save money rather than spend it, this changed everything.” He added, “State waivers are the way out of the Medicaid crisis.”

But the Left and the Washington bureaucrats don’t want to surrender control of the program. They want a universal, one-size-fits-all solution. We know from welfare reform in the mid-1990s (with work requirements, time limits and training programs) that turning control over to the states will lead to innovative solutions that improve people’s lives — and save money. Why can’t that success happen with health care?

Republicans should continue to insist on solutions to Medicaid that provide some federal funding but allow states maximum flexibility. The GOP block grant makes financial sense and will help ensure that Medicaid doesn’t bankrupt Washington and the 50 states.

The Trump administration doesn’t need to wait. It can start this program tomorrow, simply by putting out word that it will issue Rhode Island-style Medicaid waivers to states that apply. The White House has full authority to do this, and many states will line up for the offer.

One big advocate for this is Vice President Mike Pence. Back when Pence was governor of Indiana, he told me: “If Washington would give me 80 percent of the Medicaid money they now send Indiana but got rid of the red tape and regulations, I would take that deal in a minute.” Donald Trump should listen to his vice president and let the Rhode Island miracle take hold in every state in the nation.



Liberal logic yet again

Hatred of the rest of us is all they know


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Don’t ask cronies to reform crony capitalism


Paul Ryan’s health care “reform” bill was defeated last week without even receiving a vote in the House of Representatives, in spite of the care he had taken to get input from the health insurance industry. That was the problem. In a crony capitalist system, where bad lobbyist-pushed laws and regulations have poured illicit profits into the pockets of oligopolists, the oligopolists are the last people to consult on how to reform those laws. The same dynamic is visible in monetary policy, in bank regulation and in corporate and individual tax. We are a long way from true free-market capitalism, and we won’t get there by consulting the current crony “capitalists.”

Healthcare is a classic example. U.S. healthcare costs 18% of GDP, compared to 12% in the next-highest cost countries, France, Sweden and Switzerland, 11% in Germany and Canada, 10% in Japan and 9% in Britain and Australia. Effectively, the U.S. government pays as much for healthcare as Britain’s state-run system, then private American citizens pay the same amount all over again. The U.S. gets nothing extra in terms of outcomes for all this expenditure; indeed U.S. indicators of healthcare results, such as life expectancy, are distinctly mediocre by rich-world standards.

Whatever your political view on who should pay for what, getting the United States’ appallingly high healthcare costs down to those of its competitors should surely be the top priority, indeed more or less the only priority, in any healthcare system reform.

Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act achieved essentially nothing in the way of cost control. It claimed to do so, replacing Medicaid by a system of “block grants” to the states, but that change does not actually reduce the cost of healthcare at all, it merely shifts it from the Federal government to the states and, inevitably, to America’s less wealthy citizens who depend on Medicaid.

The legislation did nothing about the trial lawyer blight, it kept all Obamacare’s cost-increasing regulations in place, it did not provide for insurers bidding across state lines and it did not remove the egregious 1986 emergency room mandate, by which hospital emergency rooms must treat indigent patients without limit and without receiving any kind of compensation from the state that mandates this nonsense. Without proper cost-reducing measures, the legislation was essentially useless; its 17% approval in the polls was probably higher than would have been achieved once the public discovered what a colossal waste of Congressional time it had been.

The reason for the Ryan bill’s poor quality is that it was designed after extensive discussions with the insurance industry and other beneficiaries of the current system. Ryan is a champion fund-raiser and much admired as a “policy wonk”, largely because of the care he takes to consult the special interests before proposing new policies. Thus, the provisions that might make a serious dent in insurance company incomes were missing from Ryan’s bill, as were provisions that would collapse the cost of medical care overall, reducing the economic rents that health insurers, hospital chains, trial lawyers and others could extract.

This is not a problem limited to healthcare. We are likely to get another almost perfect example of it when Ryan unveils his corporate tax reform plan. While it may include some form of “border adjustment tax”, favored by President Trump, which redistributes income from retailers to manufacturers, it’s likely that the main feature of it will be the abandonment of worldwide taxation and a movement to “territoriality” in corporate tax, by which corporations will pay U.S. corporate income tax only on U.S. income.

This is a move in precisely the wrong direction. The economically neutral and efficient means of taxing multinationals would tax all worldwide income, without any deferral of income earned overseas, but with a full tax credit for taxes paid overseas. The United States has never had this system; corporations’ overseas income is deferred from tax until it is remitted to the United States, under “Subpart F” legislation introduced in 1962.

Thus, we have a system in which U.S. corporations have stashed over $2 trillion overseas to avoid taxes, and companies such as Apple are borrowing domestically to pay dividends and engage in economically damaging repurchases of stock, while keeping ziggurats of cash offshore.

The current system makes no sense at all. It encourages companies to invest overseas, by giving them the potential to avoid tax on the investment, thus discriminating against domestic investment, precisely the problem against which Trump rightly rails. It is also grossly unfair to U.S. individual taxpayers, who have only a very limited ability to use this loophole. U.S. taxpayers who earn income overseas, as I did for some years, must pay full U.S. tax (and in some cases, state tax) on that income, with a modest $75,000 foreign earned income exemption. What’s more if they attempt to keep their own money overseas tax free, in a tax haven bank account, the U.S Treasury goes after the foreign banks, with a spurious excuse of finding terrorist funding, and subjects the taxpayers to threats of imprisonment.

The corporate tax bill Ryan is likely to propose, as favored by corporatist lobbyists from the Wall Street Journal down, would make this economic insanity worse, by allowing all foreign income to be fully exempt from U.S. corporate tax. Of course, the first effect of this would be a “giant sucking sound” of money rushing out of the U.S. into tax havens for spurious foreign investment, doubtless leveraged to the eyeballs by Fed-induced cheap money.

There are other examples of this. President Trump’s economic crew, made up largely of alumni of Goldman Sachs, are unlikely to reform the disgraceful Fed funny-money policies that have distorted resource allocation and destroyed productivity growth for the last decade. They are also likely to gut banking regulations that restrict the insane amount of leverage in the system, while retaining those that add cost and bureaucracy, which provide useful barriers to entry against new and smaller competitors.

We are also likely to see this problem in the Trump administration’s “reform” of individual taxes. It may well be inspired by President Reagan’s 1986 tax law, which reduced rates of tax by eliminating deductions. It may well eliminate the deductions relied upon by the upper middle class, for home mortgage interest and state and local taxes. But you can be absolutely sure that, guided as they will be by the billionaires in the political donor class, the tax law’s drafters will not reform the true source of inequality and scams: the charitable tax deduction. This serves the combined purpose of funding a myriad of sleazy left wing agitators and allowing the ultra-rich to finance their lifestyles tax-free through foundations such as the Clintons’ while the merely mega-rich on the two coasts tax-deduct their repulsive social climbing and networking through charity dinners.

There is an overall principle here, and it should be pretty obvious. Once an economic system has moved away from a free market, usually through legislation drafted by panicky and economically illiterate leftists given license by a war or an economic crisis, it creates crony capitalists. These benefit from the new restrictions and build businesses optimized for the restrictions that the laws and regulations have introduced. Very often, as in the case of medical care and modern financial services, the new system absorbs a far larger share of GDP than would the equivalent activity in a free market, with the result that new avenues are opened up for crony capitalists to generate extraordinary levels of profits, while the old free-market businesses are squeezed out of existence.

This happened most visibly in Britain after the 1986 Financial Services Act, when the merchant banks, which had provided sophisticated financial services worldwide, some of them for as long as 200 years at modest economic cost, were within a decade squeezed out by foreign behemoths. The behemoths were much larger (and so less efficient) because of the compliance costs they were forced to absorb, which increased the economic share absorbed by the financial services businesses and their practitioners, while destroying the quality of service that the merchant banks had provided.

Similarly in U.S. healthcare, a business with which I am less familiar, the addition of regulations after 1960 took away the family doctors and small hospitals that had provided good cost-effective services, and pushed the business towards large bureaucratic hospital chains, with teams of lawyers attached to resist shyster lawsuits, plus an entirely new and unnecessary layer of health insurance companies that exist purely to shuffle paper and intermediate between patients and health services providers. As in finance, these new “crony capitalists” have no interest whatever in dismantling the system under which they have grown rich.

Every now and then a government is elected that wants to return, at least partially, to a free market system. To do so, that government must dismantle a host of regulations which in many sectors have destroyed the free market and replaced it with a crony capitalist rent-seeking cabal. The free-market-seeking government will face huge opposition from the crony capitalists, as well as from the myriad of citizens who benefit from heavy regulation, high taxes and government control, or are ideologically in favor of them.

To win through, a free-market government will need to draft the new laws itself, and not rely on crony capitalist help, however generous the crony capitalists may be as political donors. If Paul Ryan is a major political fund-raiser, he should not be allowed near the drafting of free-market legislation.



Meals on Wheels Outrage is Based on a Lie

It made for great copy—irresistibly clickable and compulsively shareable. “Trump’s Budget Would Kill a Program That Feeds 2.4 Million Senior Citizens,” blared Time’s headline. “Trump Proposed Budget Eliminates Funds for Meals on Wheels,” claimed The Hill, in a piece that got 26,000 shares.

But it was false. And it wouldn’t have taken long for reporters to find and provide some needed context to the relationship between federal block grant programs, specifically Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and the popular Meals on Wheels program.

Funding Has Not Been Cut

From Thursday’s conversation in the press, it was easy to assume that block grant programs—CDBG and similar block grants for community services and social services—are the main source of federal funding for Meals on Wheels. Not so.

Instead, as the national Meals on Wheels site explains, the major source of federal funding for the programs, accounting for 35 percent of overall local budgets, comes through the Sixties-era Older Americans Act. (Local programs also obtain support from state and county governments, private donors, and so on.)

According to the website, cuts have not been announced in Older Americans Act funding, although the group fears that they may lie ahead.

So where do the federal block grant programs come in? Well, they give states and localities a lot of discretion on where to allocate the money, one option is to add money to supplement Meals on Wheels funding. Some do use it for that purpose.

But as Scott Shackford makes clear in his new piece for Reason, that isn’t what CDBG is mostly about. CDBG funds regularly go into pork-barrel and business-subsidy schemes with a cronyish flavor. That’s why the program has been a prime target for budget-cutters for decades, in administration after administration.

It’s important to the CDBG program’s political durability that its grantees wind up sprinkling a bit of extra money on popular programs mostly funded by other means. That way, defenders can argue that the block grants “fund programs like Meals on Wheels.”

That’s what happened in the press this week.

Outrage Over Nothing

The New York Times got things rolling by reporting that the new budget proposes “the complete elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds popular programs like Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and other community assistance efforts.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper then boiled it down to a tweet: “On chopping block: $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds programs like Meals on Wheels.”

Meals on Wheels’s own national website, meanwhile, quotes its CEO and president Ellie Hollander being appropriately cautious and conditional: “We don’t know the exact impact yet,” she said. Big cuts “would be a devastating blow.” According to the website, “Details on our network’s primary source of funding, the Older Americans Act, which has supported senior nutrition programs for 45 years, have not yet been released.”

Most of the major press coverage Thursday had nothing at all to say about the OAA, which would only have complicated the shock headlines. And social media burned all day with indignant posts that seemed unaware that no cuts had been announced as of yet in the main program that funds Meals on Wheels.

One reason was the press conference at which budget director Mick Mulvaney faced a host of questions about the new budget release, with Peter Alexander of NBC News pressing him especially hard on the aren’t-you-trying-to-cut-things-like-Meals-on-Wheels angle.

Mulvaney repeatedly tried to switch the conversation over to the shortcomings of the wider CDBG program, and did not bring up the point about OAA funding at all. Amid further awkward exchanges, Mulvaney spoke about how social programs had often not been shown to have benefits.

A charitable reading of his intended point was that activities funded by block grants in general often lack any proof of positive effect; a less charitable reading was that he was trying to single out Meals on Wheels in particular as an endeavor of no proven use to anyone. (A middle ground, I suppose, would have been to call his office for a clarification.) No prizes for guessing which direction the press, from MSNBC to New York magazine, chose to take for its headlines.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


Tuesday, April 04, 2017

A revolt against deference

Frank Furedi

People aren’t rejecting truth – they’re rejecting the values of the elites

When political commentators talk of the emergence of a post-truth world, they are really lamenting the end of an era when the truths promoted by the institutions of the state and media were rarely challenged. It’s a lament that’s been coming for a few years now. Each revolt of sections of the public against the values of the elites has been met with the riposte that people are no longer interested in the truth. What the elites really mean is that people don’t care about their version of the truth. So when the French celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy asserted that people have ‘lost interest in whether politicians tell the truth’, he was venting his frustration at an electorate that no longer shares his values.

Today’s elite angst about so-called post-fact or post-truth public discourse is but the latest version of an historical struggle – a struggle over the question of who possesses moral and intellectual authority. Indeed, the rejection of the values and outlook of the holders of cultural power in many Western societies has long been portrayed as a rejection of truth itself. The reason elite values have been enshrined as ‘the truth’, right from the Ancient Greeks onwards, is because the rulers of society need to secure the deference of the masses. The masses are being encouraged to defer not to the power of the elites, but to the truth of elite values.

That this is not widely understood is due to contemporary society’s reluctance to acknowledge that cultural and political life still relies on the deference of the public – passive or active – to the values and moral authority of the elites. The term ‘deference’ – ‘submission to the acknowledged superior claims, skill, judgement or other qualities of another’, as the OED defines it – suggests a non-coercive act of obedience to authority. Hence it was frequently coupled with terms such as instinct, custom and habit (1). In the 19th century, it was frequently used to imply people’s willingness to accept and bow down before the elites on the basis of their superior wisdom. Deference presumed the intellectual and moral hegemony of the educated middle class, or cultural elite, over the wider public.

In recent decades it has been suggested that the era of deference is over. We are told that people are far too critical to defer to the superior wisdom of others. In this context, the idea of deference has acquired negative connotations, and is often identified with uncritical thinking. However, in practice, deference is still demanded by elites. But it is demanded in the form of calls to respect the authority of the expert, because he speaks the truth. So, in almost every domain of human experience, the expert is presented as the producer not just of facts, but also of the truth. Those who fail to defer to experts risk being denounced as irrational, superstitious or just plain stupid. Hence, in 2001, the consummate cynic, Michael Moore, could ask his educated American readers: ‘Do you feel like you live in a nation of idiots?’ Moore knew that his readers would share his contempt for their moral inferiors (2). Today, many sections of the commentariat share Moore’s disdain, and portray people’s rejection of their values, and with it their cultural authority, as something other than it is – that is, as a rejection of facts and truth.

Historically, concern about what is now called fake news and post-truth politics was bound up with a worry about the capacity of ordinary people to discriminate between what the cultural elites interpreted as the truth and other versions of reality. It was Plato, writing through the figure of Socrates, who first raised the alarm about the threat to truth, as he saw it, posed by the invention of reading and writing. Socrates feared that written ideas, unlike verbal communication, could acquire a life of their own, and ‘roam about everywhere’. Writing does not discern between readers who can understand and benefit from a communication and those who will become misled and confused by it. He warned that writing reaches those with ‘understanding’ no less than ‘those who have no business with it’ (3). In line with the paternalistic worldview of his era, Socrates assumed that in the wrong hands, a little knowledge was a threat to the social order.

Socrates’ disapproval of the written text was based, in part, on a conviction that the pursuit of the truth was so demanding that only a few Athenian citizens could be trusted with its undertaking. He insisted that knowledge ‘is not something that can be put into words like other sciences’; it is only ‘after long-continued intercourse between teacher and pupil, in joint pursuit of the subject’ that true knowledge finds its way to the soul (4). Plato’s main concern appears to have been not so much the written text, but its circulation among a mass audience.

In today’s self-consciously inclusive democratic public culture, Socrates’ inclination to restrict people’s freedom to read material of their own choosing and in circumstances of their own making would be seen as anathema. Yet even in the 21st century, the public is often represented as a mass of powerless victims of media manipulation. They have been led astray by tabloid journalism or by the subliminal techniques of advertisers, we are told. Such concerns have become amplified in the age of the internet. And now, after the apparent rejection of the cultural values of the political establishment by populist movements, concern with the supposedly fragile status of the truth often assumes the form of a moral panic.

Socrates’ critique of the capacity of the people to distinguish between truth and falsehood led him to invest his faith in the authority of the would-be experts of the day – or, as he imagined them, ‘philosopher guardians’. He derided the authority of the Athenian demos, and argued that the people lacked the intellectual resources required to grasp the truth. In some of the comments attributed to him in the Apology, what he seeks is not opinion but ‘opinions that are better informed and more completely thought through’ (5). Consequently, Socrates offered an unambiguous argument for deference to expertise.

As he put it, if society is ready to defer to the views of experts and ignore the opinion of ordinary folk on technical matters such as shipbuilding and architecture, why is it not prepared to defer to experts on political matters? In his dialogue with Protagoras, Socrates states that ‘when it is something to do with the government of the country that is to be debated, the man who gets up to advise [people] may be a builder or equally well a blacksmith or a shoemaker, a merchant or ship owner, rich or poor, of good family or none’ (6). Socrates took the view that the people could not be trusted to find their way to the truth. As far as he is concerned, what most people think on political matters is far less important than the views of the one man who really understands the issues at stake – the expert (7).

Socrates believed that in the domain of politics, there was a need for men who possessed the wisdom to grasp what is true. Although he looked to the authority of the moral expert to guide people towards the truth, he was at a loss to explain where such special individuals could be found. It is only in modern times, when the focus shifted from the moral expertise of the philosopher to the factual expertise of the scientist, that the quest for a political expert has been resolved.

Deference to the expert

Public life in Western societies is underpinned by the assumption that people will defer to the opinion of an expert. Politicians frequently remind us that their policies are ‘evidence-based’, which usually means informed by expert advice. Experts have the last word on topics of public interest and increasingly on matters to do with people’s private affairs. The exhortation to defer to experts is underpinned by the premise that their specialist knowledge entitles them to a higher moral status than the rest of us.

In the 19th century there was an ascendancy of the expert as the producer of truth. This was the outcome of the project to construct a form of deference appropriate to the age of mass politics. Strikingly, it was during the 19th century that the question of deference emerged as a major issue in British public life. British elite opinion recognised that ‘natural deference’ to authority would have to be replaced by a new form of deference to the superior sections of society. It was identified by the 19th-century journalist and essayist, Walter Bagehot, as ‘intellectual deference’ (8).

The debate over deference in 19th-century Britain represented an important change in the way that the elites have sought to validate their authority. The most interesting contribution to this shift was made by liberal and utilitarian thinkers who sought to reconstitute deference on a new rational foundation. In his 1820 essay Government, James Mill outlined a theory of political deference that had as its premise the capacity of the new middle class to exercise moral authority over the lower orders (9). Mill wrote:

‘The opinions of that class of the people, who are below the middle rank, are formed, and their minds directed by that intelligent and virtuous rank, who come most immediately in contact with them, to whom they fly for advice and assistance in all their numerous difficulties, upon whom they feel an immediate and daily dependence, in health and in sickness, in infancy, and in old age: to whom their children look up as models for their imitation, whose opinion they hear daily repeated, and account it their honour to adopt.’ (10)

James Mill’s optimism about middle-class hegemony was based on his belief in that class’s superior public virtues. He praised this class for giving ‘to science, to art and to legislation itself, their most distinguished ornaments, the chief source of all that has exalted and refined human nature’. And he sought to reassure those who doubted the capacity of middle-class opinion to influence the behaviour of urban workers and the poor: ‘Of the people beneath them, a vast majority would be sure to be guided by [the middle class’s] advice and example.’ (11)

James Mill’s son, the philosopher John Stuart Mill, believed that the power of persuasion was the most effective way of avoiding instability and conflict. He wrote that the ‘only hope from class legislation in its narrowest, and political ignorance in its most dangerous form, would lie in such disposition as the uneducated might have to choose educated representatives and defer to their opinion’ (12). Mill’s argument for deference was founded on a belief in the authority of the knowledge of the expert. Although he was inclined to be more democratic than most of his liberal contemporaries, he allocated a central role for elected expert representatives in the drafting of legislation (13), insisting that it was ‘so important that the electors should choose as their representatives wiser men than themselves, and should consent to be governed according to that superior wisdom’ (14).

The elevation of the status of the expert along with the professionalisation of expertise’s authority has profound implications for the meaning of truth. As the historian Thomas Haskell pointed out in The Emergence of Professional Social Science (2000), the professionalisation of expertise during the 19th century led to ‘changes in the very notion of truth itself’. Truth was now perceived as the outcome of expert reasoning, and it was assumed that citizens would readily defer to it.

Experts versus the people: an unresolved tension

Most experts are responsible and well-meaning individuals who have an important contribution to make to the welfare of society. However, given the authority enjoyed by expertise, it is not surprising that it has become the target of political manipulation. The consolidation of the political role of experts, and the reliance of politicians on expert advice rather than on their own analysis, has encouraged the development of a form of authority that violates the fundamental norms of democratic accountability. Politicians now find it all too easy to retreat behind the experts. And they are happy for issues to be complicated, rather than simplified, explained and resolved.

The problem is not expertise in itself. Society needs expert authority on technical and scientific matters. But it does not need expert authority for political decision-making; in that sphere, rather, it needs people to exercise their own political judgement.

The flipside of the apotheosis of expertise is the idea of an incompetent public. This is why, historically, the ambiguous relationship between democracy and a reliance on expertise has led many commentators to draw pessimistic conclusions about the capacity of the public to play the role of a responsible citizenry. The public are seen as irrational, governed by emotion rather than reason. As a result, the public’s refusal to defer to the experts is perceived as a threat to the political order – because it promises the rule of unreason and emotion. The political elites do not see a decline in deference to their opinions for what it is – a rejection of their values; rather, they experience it as a rejection of the facts and even of truth itself!

Plato’s disdain for the demos and his advocacy of the authority of the expert have reappeared today in the form of the anti-populist script. It was not surprising that during the EU referendum campaign, anti-populist commentators were outraged and horrified when then Conservative minister Michael Gove said: ‘I think the people of this country have had enough of experts.’ From the media and political establishment’s standpoint, all that stands between civilisation and barbarism is the authority of the expert.

It’s worth thinking about why Socrates was unable to explain where political or moral expertise could be found and how it could be institutionalised. He failed because politics and morality are not appropriate subjects for the pronouncements of experts. Science can certainly provide facts, but not truths. It is only through the public interpretation of facts that people arrive at truths.

Truths are simply not reducible to scientific reasoning. When Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers, stated that ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident’, he was giving voice to something that was not simply a product of reasoning. As the political philosopher Hannah Arendt explained, ‘by virtue of being self-evident, these truths are pre-rational – they inform reason but are not its product – and since their self-evidence puts them beyond disclosure and argument, they are in a sense no less compelling than “despotic power” and no less absolute than the revealed truths of religion or the axiomatic verities of mathematics’ (15). In the current climate, different attitudes towards the truth will not be decided by the ‘facts’, but by the contestation of cultural authority.

In recent years the decline of deference towards the Western establishment’s truths has prompted it to wage a crusade against populism. This has led to a new stage in the decades-long Culture War. What stands in the way of the elite crusade to regain deference is the wisdom of the people.



Which Commandments?

There are three different versions of the Ten Commandments (seen as the Ten Suggestions by liberal churches) in the Torah.  Which is most authoritative?  I have an article up on my Scripture Blog which looks at that.


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


Monday, April 03, 2017

Scientists predict reading ability from DNA alone

Reading ability is a major component of IQ so this is another step forward towards measuring IQ directly from brain features

Researchers from King's College London have used a genetic scoring technique to predict reading performance throughout school years from DNA alone.

The study, published today in Scientific Studies of Reading, shows that a genetic score comprising around 20,000 of DNA variants explains five per cent of the differences between children's reading performance. Students with the highest and lowest genetic scores differed by a whole two years in their reading performance.

These findings highlight the potential of using genetic scores to predict strengths and weaknesses in children's learning abilities. According to the study authors, these scores could one day be used to identify and tackle reading difficulties early, rather than waiting until children develop these problems at school.

The researchers calculated genetic scores (also called polygenic scores*) for educational achievement in 5,825 individuals from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) based on genetic variants identified to be important for educational attainment. They then mapped these scores against reading ability between the ages of seven and 14.

Genetic scores were found to explain up to five per cent of the differences between children in their reading ability. This association remained significant even after accounting for cognitive ability and family socio-economic status.

The study authors note that although five per cent may seem a relatively small amount, this is substantial compared to other results related to reading. For example, gender differences have been found to explain less than one per cent of the differences between children in reading ability.

Saskia Selzam, first author of the study from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, said: 'The value of polygenic scores is that they make it possible to predict genetic risk and resilience at the level of the individual. This is different to twin studies, which tell us about the overall genetic influence within a large population of people.'

'We think this study provides an important starting point for exploring genetic differences in reading ability, using polygenic scoring. For instance, these scores could enable research on resilience to developing reading difficulties and how children respond individually to different interventions.'

Professor Robert Plomin, senior author from the IoPPN at King's College London, said: 'We hope these findings will contribute to better policy decisions that recognise and respect genetically driven differences between children in their reading ability.'

*Calculating an individual's polygenic score requires information from a genome-wide association study (GWAS) that finds specific genetic variants linked to particular traits, in this case educational attainment. Some of these genetic variants, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), are more strongly associated with the trait, and some are less strongly associated. In a polygenic score, the effects of these SNPs are weighed by the strength of association and then summed to a score, so that people with many SNPs related to academic achievement will have a higher polygenic score and higher academic achievement, whereas people with fewer associated SNPs will have a lower score and lower levels of academic achievement.



Is Putin the 'Preeminent Statesman' of Our Times?

By Patrick J. Buchanan

"If we were to use traditional measures for understanding leaders, which involve the defense of borders and national flourishing, Putin would count as the preeminent statesman of our time.

"On the world stage, who could vie with him?"

So asks Chris Caldwell of the Weekly Standard in a remarkable essay in Hillsdale College's March issue of its magazine, Imprimis.

What elevates Putin above all other 21st-century leaders?

"When Putin took power in the winter of 1999-2000, his country was defenseless. It was bankrupt. It was being carved up by its new kleptocratic elites, in collusion with its old imperial rivals, the Americans. Putin changed that.

"In the first decade of this century, he did what Kemal Ataturk had done in Turkey in the 1920s. Out of a crumbling empire, he resurrected a national-state, and gave it coherence and purpose. He disciplined his country's plutocrats. He restored its military strength. And he refused, with ever blunter rhetoric, to accept for Russia a subservient role in an American-run world system drawn up by foreign politicians and business leaders. His voters credit him with having saved his country."

Putin's approval rating, after 17 years in power, exceeds that of any rival Western leader. But while his impressive strides toward making Russia great again explain why he is revered at home and in the Russian diaspora, what explains Putin's appeal in the West, despite a press that is every bit as savage as President Trump's?

Answer: Putin stands against the Western progressive vision of what mankind's future ought to be. Years ago, he aligned himself with traditionalists, nationalists and populists of the West, and against what they had come to despise in their own decadent civilization.

What they abhorred, Putin abhorred. He is a God-and-country Russian patriot. He rejects the New World Order established at the Cold War's end by the United States. Putin puts Russia first.

And in defying the Americans he speaks for those millions of Europeans who wish to restore their national identities and recapture their lost sovereignty from the supranational European Union. Putin also stands against the progressive moral relativism of a Western elite that has cut its Christian roots to embrace secularism and hedonism.

The U.S. establishment loathes Putin because, they say, he is an aggressor, a tyrant, a "killer." He invaded and occupies Ukraine. His old KGB comrades assassinate journalists, defectors and dissidents.

Yet while politics under both czars and commissars has often been a blood sport in Russia, what has Putin done to his domestic enemies to rival what our Arab ally Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has done to the Muslim Brotherhood he overthrew in a military coup in Egypt?

What has Putin done to rival what our NATO ally President Erdogan has done in Turkey, jailing 40,000 people since last July's coup — or our Philippine ally Rodrigo Duterte, who has presided over the extrajudicial killing of thousands of drug dealers?

Does anyone think President Xi Jinping would have handled mass demonstrations against his regime in Tiananmen Square more gingerly than did President Putin this last week in Moscow?

Much of the hostility toward Putin stems from the fact that he not only defies the West, when standing up for Russia's interests, he often succeeds in his defiance and goes unpunished and unrepentant.

He not only remains popular in his own country, but has admirers in nations whose political establishments are implacably hostile to him.

In December, one poll found 37 percent of all Republicans had a favorable view of the Russian leader, but only 17 percent were positive on President Barack Obama.

There is another reason Putin is viewed favorably. Millions of ethnonationalists who wish to see their nations secede from the EU see him as an ally. While Putin has openly welcomed many of these movements, America's elite do not take even a neutral stance.

Putin has read the new century better than his rivals. While the 20th century saw the world divided between a Communist East and a free and democratic West, new and different struggles define the 21st.

The new dividing lines are between social conservatism and self-indulgent secularism, between tribalism and transnationalism, between the nation-state and the New World Order.

On the new dividing lines, Putin is on the side of the insurgents. Those who envision de Gaulle's Europe of Nations replacing the vision of One Europe, toward which the EU is heading, see Putin as an ally.

So the old question arises: Who owns the future?

In the new struggles of the new century, it is not impossible that Russia — as was America in the Cold War — may be on the winning side. Secessionist parties across Europe already look to Moscow rather than across the Atlantic.

"Putin has become a symbol of national sovereignty in its battle with globalism," writes Caldwell. "That turns out to be the big battle of our times. As our last election shows, that's true even here."



Here’s What Happened to Workers After Philadelphia Passed a Soda Tax

Pepsi announced last week that it will lay off around 100 employees at distribution plants that supply the Philadelphia area. This is the latest blow for the city’s new beverage tax, which went into effect in January.

“Unfortunately, after careful consideration of the economic realities created by the recently enacted beverage tax, we have been forced to give notice that we intend to eliminate 80 to 100 positions, including frontline and supervisory roles,” Pepsi spokesman Dave DeCecco said, according to

However, the layoffs could be quickly reversed if the beverage tax is abandoned, according to DeCecco.

“If the tax is struck down or repealed, we plan to bring people back to work,” DeCecco said, according to Reuters.  The tax is currently under appeal in the Commonwealth Court, with arguments anticipated to begin in early April.

Although it is commonly known as the “soda tax,” the law also includes all “non-100 percent-fruit drinks; sports drinks; sweetened water; energy drinks; pre-sweetened coffee or tea; and nonalcoholic beverages intended to be mixed into an alcoholic drink,” according to the city of Philadelphia’s website.

The tax, passed in June 2016 by the Philadelphia City Council, adds 1.5 cents to every ounce of liquid, which amounts to an 18-cent tax for a 12-ounce can of soda and a $2.16 tax for a 12-pack of soda.

The tax was implemented to finance pre-kindergarten programs, increase funding to public parks and facilities, and improve the health of Philadelphians, according to a statement published online by Mayor James Kenney’s office.

Since the law was enacted, some local consumers and businesses say they have suffered.

Bloomberg reported:

Canada Dry Delaware Valley—a local distributor of Canada Dry Ginger Ale, Sunkist, A&W Root Beer, Arizona Iced Tea and Vita Coco—said business fell 45 percent in Philadelphia in the first five weeks of 2017, compared with the same period last year. Total revenue at Brown’s Super Stores, which operates 12 ShopRite and Fresh Grocer supermarkets, fell 15 percent at its six retailers in the city.

According to Bloomberg, the CEO of Brown’s Super Stores, Jeff Brown, said, “In 30 years of business, there’s never been a circumstance in which we’ve ever had a sales decline of any significant amount, I would describe the impact as nothing less than devastating.”

Daren Bakst, a research fellow in agricultural policy at The Heritage Foundation, said:

“The Philadelphia City Council decided it knew what its city residents should eat and drink. Freedom was apparently not important to them,” Bakst told The Daily Signal in an email. “They didn’t care that it would undermine freedom. They didn’t care that it would hurt small businesses in their city. Nor did they care that a tax like this is regressive, hurting the poor the most because a greater share of the poor’s income goes to food purchases.

“The Philadelphia City Council deserves all the blame that is coming their way. For those unfortunate individuals who are losing their jobs, they can thank this to the arrogance of people who think they should socially engineer diets,” Bakst said.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


Sunday, April 02, 2017

Leftists have no principles -- They say only what suits them at the moment

Democrats seem to be currently afflicted with what may be best described as a case of politically convenient amnesia. This sad condition has been most clearly evident through the confirmation process of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and symptoms include acute displays of remarkable levels of hypocrisy. Observe these past statements by leading Democrat leaders contrasted by these same Democrats' most recent statements. Beware, witnessing the total reversal of opinion on attempting to block a nominee's confirmation by these Democrats might temp one to scream out a slew of frustration-induced profanities.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in 2013: "We much prefer the risk of up or down votes and majority rule [on judicial nominees], than the risk of continued total obstruction. That's the bottom line no matter who's in power."

Schumer now: "The irresistible, immutable logic is, if the nominee doesn't get 60 [votes], you change the nominee, not the rules."

Senator Tim Kaine in October 2016: "If [Republicans] think they're going to stonewall the filling of [the SCOTUS] vacancy or other vacancies, then a Democratic Senate majority will say, 'We're not going to let you thwart the law.' And so we will change the Senate rules to uphold the law."

Kaine now: "The way I look at it is the Supreme Court is the only position that requires you to get to a 60-vote threshold, which means it mandates that there be some bipartisanship and that is appropriate. Life tenure. Highest court in the land. Should have to get to 60 votes." And, "I will oppose his nomination."

Senator Elizabeth Warren in November 2013: "If Republicans continue to filibuster these highly qualified nominees for no reason than to nullify the president's constitutional authority, then senators not only have the right to change the filibuster, senators have a duty to change the filibuster rules." And she also said, "We need to call out these filibusters for what they are — naked attempts to nullify the results of the last presidential election."

Warren now: "I believe Judge Gorsuch's nomination should be blocked."

To be sure, the filibuster is a Senate rule subject to the desires of any Senate majority. Both parties use those rules to political advantage. What's striking is Democrat sanctimony.



A Health Care Plan So Simple, Even A Republican Can Understand!

Ann Coulter

Right now, there’s no free market because insurance is insanely regulated not only by Obamacare, but also by the most corrupt organizations in America: state insurance commissions. (I’m talking to you, New York!)

Federal and state laws make it illegal to sell health insurance that doesn’t cover a laughable array of supposedly vital services based on bureaucrats’ medical opinions of which providers have the best lobbyists.

As a result, it’s illegal to sell health insurance that covers any of the medical problems I’d like to insure against. Why can’t the GOP keep Obamacare for the greedy — but make it legal for Ann to buy health insurance?

This is how it works today:

ME: I’m perfectly healthy, but I’d like to buy health insurance for heart disease, broken bones, cancer, and everything else that a normal person would ever need, but no more.

INSURANCE COMPANY: That will be $700 a month, the deductible is $35,000, no decent hospital will take it, and you have to pay for doctor’s visits yourself. But your plan covers shrinks, infertility treatments, sex change operations, autism spectrum disorder treatment, drug rehab and 67 other things you will never need.

INSURANCE COMPANY UNDER ANN’S PLAN: That will be $50 a month, the deductible is $1,000, you can see any doctor you’d like, and you have full coverage for any important medical problems you could conceivably have in a million years.

Mine is a two-step plan (and you don’t have to do the second step, so it’s really a one-step plan).

STEP 1: Congress doesn’t repeal Obamacare! Instead, Congress passes a law, pursuant to its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce, that says: “In America, it shall be legal to sell health insurance on the free market. This law supersedes all other laws, taxes, mandates, coverage requirements, regulations or prohibitions, state or federal.”

The end. Love, Ann.

There will be no whining single mothers storming Congress with their pre-printed placards. People who want to stay on Obamacare can. No one is taking away anything. They can still have health insurance with free pony rides. It just won’t be paid for with Ann’s premiums anymore, because Ann will now be allowed to buy health insurance on the free market.

Americans will be free to choose among a variety of health insurance plans offered by willing sellers, competing with one another to provide the best plans at the lowest price. A nationwide market in health insurance will drive down costs and improve access — just like everything else we buy here in America!

Within a year, most Americans will be buying health insurance on the free market (and half of the rest will be illegal aliens). We’ll have TV ads with cute little geckos hawking amazing plans and young couples bragging about their broad coverage and great prices from this or that insurance company.

The Obamacare plans will still have the “essential benefits” (free pony rides) that are so important to NPR’s Mara Liasson, but the free market plans will have whatever plans consumers agree to buy and insurance companies agree to sell — again, just like every other product we buy here in America.

Some free market plans will offer all the “essential benefits” mandated by Obamacare, but the difference will be: Instead of forcing me to pay a premium that covers Mara Liasson’s special needs, she’ll have to pay for that coverage herself.

I won’t be compelled to buy health insurance that covers everyone else’s gambling addiction, drug rehab, pregnancies, marital counseling, social workers, contact lenses and rotten kids — simply to have insurance for what doctors call “serious medical problems.”

Then, we’ll see how many people really need free health care.

Until the welfare program is decoupled from the insurance market, nothing will work. Otherwise, it’s like forcing grocery stores to pay for everyone to have a house. A carton of milk would suddenly cost $10,000.

That’s what Obamacare did to health insurance. Paul Ryan’s solution was to cut taxes on businesses — and make the milk watery. But he still wouldn’t allow milk to be sold on the free market.

Democrats will be in the position of blocking American companies from selling a product that people want to buy. How will they explain that to voters?

Perhaps Democrats will come out and admit that they need to fund health insurance for the poor by forcing middle-class Americans to pay for it through their insurance premiums — because otherwise, they’d have to raise taxes, and they want to keep their Wall Street buddies’ income taxes low.

Good luck with that!

STEP 2: Next year, Congress formulates a better way of delivering health care to the welfare cases, which will be much easier since there will be a LOT fewer of them.

No actual money-making business is going to survive by taking the welfare cases — the ones that will cover illegal aliens and Mara Liasson’s talk therapy — so the greedy will get government plans.

But by then, only a minority of Americans will be on the “free” plans. (Incidentally, this will be a huge money-saver — if anyone cares about the federal budget.) Eighty percent of Americans will already have good health plans sold to them by insurance companies competing for their business.

With cheap plans available, a lot of the greedy will go ahead and buy a free market plan. Who wants to stand in line at the DMV to see a doctor when your neighbors have great health care plans for $50 a month?

We will have separated the truly unfortunate from the loudmouthed bullies who simply enjoy forcing other people to pay for their shrinks and aromatherapy.

And if the Democrats vote against a sane method of delivering health care to the welfare cases, who cares? We have lots of wasteful government programs — take it out of Lockheed Martin’s contract. But at least the government won’t be depriving the rest of us of a crucial product just because we are middle class and the Democrats hate us.

There’s your health care bill, GOP!



The Generational Divide

The young are liberal, the old are conservative. An exception might be coming.

In politics, demographics are key in messaging, for organizational platform development and for policy priorities.

Demographics are pretty consistent with one fact: Age is a major factor in one’s party affiliation. The younger the voter, the greater likelihood said voter is leftist or moderately Democrat in their worldview and philosophy. Logically, the inverse is also often a truism — the older the voter, the greater the likelihood of he or she leans center-Right or far-Right.

An old adage, inaccurately attributed to Winston Churchill (and various others), states: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re old, you have no brain.”

While the fascination is usually on the monikers given for each generation and the corresponding traits, it’s the traits found within these age groups that impact the usefulness of the tiered grouping of our adult population.

Using classifications employed by the Pew Research Center, the Silent Generation would currently be 71-88 years of age. This group generally holds a worldview framed by the hardships of war and economic depression — sacrifice, personal responsibility, loyalty and the call to adulthood during crisis. Some 48% of Silents are politically center-Right.

Baby Boomers range from 52-71 years old and are likewise largely defined as having a strong work ethic, and being goal-centric, self-assured and more disciplined. And 44% of the Boomers vote to the political Right.

The next stratum is Generation X, Americans who are now 36 to 51 years old. This groups tends to be more “me” centric, hence their individualistic approach to social, civic, corporate and political engagement. This is the first generation to live to work, not work to live, and they vote to the Right of center 37% of the time.

Finally, Millennials are 18- to 35-year-olds raised to seek constant communication, input and connection. This group is motivated by meaning, with their productivity linked to a purpose that is well communicated or marketed. Just 33% of Millennials vote Right.

So what?

As our cultural institutions — education, media, family, faith, government, entertainment and business — move to the left, the immersion of individuals into an environment defined by a “progressive” vision has changed American culture. Interestingly, as adults age with the vivid responsibilities of life, such as parenting, debt, investment, business expansion and countless other realities, a great deal of progressive failures are exposed. One’s worldview becomes no longer framed by an academic exercise in social justice, love and tolerance, but by real life.

As we’ve noted, the more recent one’s birth year, the more one’s political affiliations tend to be more to the left end of the spectrum. But that may soon change based on early research into Generation Z. These post-Millennials have never known life without the Internet, Islamic terrorism or the hyper-partisan climate at the local, state and federal levels of government.

Again, so what?

Some of the oldest of Generation Z voted in the 2016 elections. And the question is, will this be yet another group of youth with an entitled and emotion-based approach to life? Or will it be a generation guided by effective role models and adult leaders?

Based on early unscientific data, these first-time voters, raised during times of recession and personal debt, are more fiscally conservative than their Millennial elders.

A survey of 50,000 high school students aged 14 to 18 years old was shocking: Donald Trump won among participants by 46% to Hillary Clinton’s 31%. A majority identified as Republicans in this Presidential Pulse Study’s entire polling audience.

Further, those casting their ballots for the first time acknowledged the economy as the most important issue followed by education, gun rights and health care. Fifty-six percent declared the country is headed in the wrong direction. That’s a stark departure from the “progressive” mantra that Barack Obama was great and the answer was more of the same through Hillary.

An article notes that Generation Z identifies honesty as the most important trait of a leader. These kids have a greater respect for older generations, and seem to possess the trait of realism instead of excessive optimism.

That presents an opportunity. Conservatives must not only include the soundness of small government and value of fiscal discipline for the older generations who are more conservative, but the “so what” of meaning and purpose to win the hearts and minds of Millennials and Generation Xers. And endeavoring to win over Generation Z will pay immense dividends.

President Donald Trump spoke quite candidly on the campaign trail, absent the politically correct lexicon of the Left. He pulled no punches in his simple, yet direct, message. Perhaps his populist approach also appeals to Generation Z. Perhaps they’ve seen what leftism hath wrought and want no part of it.

As always, time will tell, but time also has a way of making people more conservative. That’s life experience for you.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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