Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Progressive Rudeness

Life is full of interesting and educational experiences. My latest resulted from being a guest on Thom Hartmann’s radio show. I was invited on the show because of a recent American Spectator column I wrote entitled “Inequality in Perspective.” In an email, Hartmann’s producer relayed that he “found it to be very interesting and provocative.” Hartmann describes himself as “America’s number one progressive host.”

The interview got off to a bad start. After reading a couple of lines from my article Hartmann asked, “You don’t really believe that do you?” I responded that I never write anything I don’t believe. (I can’t imagine why I would.)

It was Hartmann’s idea to have me on his show. I was, in other words, his guest. We’ve never met. What is the point of starting a conversation with an insult? It violates basic rules of common courtesy. Before allowing me to say a word Hartmann resorted to personal attack and essentially accused me of being dishonest and insincere. Assuming that someone would say or write what they don’t believe says more about him than me.

For the interview that lasted about ten minutes I doubt that I was given more than two minutes to talk. Most of the time was spent with Hartmann reading statistics from articles correlating human happiness with income equality.

In her email inviting me to be a guest on the show, Hartmann’s producer wrote, “In the interest of full disclosure, our politics lean left, however, we promise a polite, respectful and above all a fair discussion of the issues only.” Their disclosure might have been full, but it was not particularly honest. Saying their politics “lean left” is a bit of an understatement. I think it would be more accurate to say they toppled into the left abyss long ago. Hartmann apparently makes promises with no intention of keeping them.

Based on how the interview was conducted, Hartmann was not the least bit interested in anything I might have to say. Frankly, I am still somewhat confused as to why he wanted me on his show. He could have taken issue with what I wrote in my article without having me on the phone.

One thing I will give Hartmann credit for — he is completely up-front about how high he wants tax rates to go. He says he wants the top federal income tax rate to be at least 70 percent. Very few Democrats will ever actually admit what their wishes really are in that regard. For purposes of public consumption, they usually say they only want rates on “millionaires and billionaires” to go up “a tiny bit.” (Repeal the Bush tax cuts, for example.) Robert Reich is the only other prominent liberal I have seen admit he wants rates to go to 70 percent.

Hartmann argues that virtually everything was much better in the 1950s when the top rate was 70 percent. Furthermore, he seems convinced that it was, in fact, those high rates that created an earthly paradise. I did get the opportunity to say, because of all the tax shelters and loopholes then, hardly anyone actually paid that rate on very much of their income.

My brief conservation with Hartmann convinced me more than ever of something I said in my “Inequality in Perspective” article — for many liberals economic equality is the Holy Grail, and the sine qua non.

At my age I am long past being na├»ve. I am never the least bit surprised by the insulting and disrespectful ways liberals relate to conservatives. Liberalism is intellectually bankrupt. It cannot be defended using logic and evidence. Personal attack and insults are all they’ve got.

Conservative talk shows are vastly more popular than liberal talk shows. There are many explanations why, but I’m convinced an important one is simply the difference in politeness and respect shown to callers and guests. Very few people enjoy listening to someone being rude and insulting. Irrelevant personal attack is not particularly interesting. Liberal talk show hosts seem to be tone deaf and are incapable of hearing how they sound to most people, not just conservatives. I’m not advising them to change. In fact, I hope they keep it up. I’ll probably continue to accept invitations to be on their shows. In a perverse sort of way, it’s kind of fun.

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Progressive Rudeness December 20, 2011

Ron Ross Ph.D. is a former economics professor and author of The Unbeatable Market. Ron resides in Arcata, California and is a founder of Premier Financial Group, a wealth management firm located in Eureka, California. He is a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma and can be reached at rossecon@gmail.com.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Inequality in Perspective

Mother Jones contributor Kevin Drum says that “The heart and soul of liberalism is economic egalitarianism.” From what I’ve observed Drum has it right. Merriam Webster’s defines egalitarianism as “a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people.” The Occupy Wall Street’s 99 percent mantra is fundamentally about economic inequality. On the class warfare battlefield, the classes are defined according to wealth and income. Inequality was the underlying theme of President Obama’s much-discussed Osawatomie speech.

What is it about equality that makes it the foremost policy objective of liberals? Why do they apparently have the belief that equality is synonymous with justice and fairness?

There are a number of problems with making equality a policy objective. Foremost perhaps is it’s a whole lot more complicated than its proponents might believe. Liberals seem never to take the effort to analyze or diagnose the sources of what they see as problems. Their concern rarely penetrates the surface. Those who are the most upset about inequality never seem to reflect on why there is economic inequality in the first place or what other societal goals we would have to sacrifice in order to achieve it.

The kind of equality liberals focus on is economic equality. Why do they fixate on that one dimension? There are, of course, several explanations. Liberals see income leveling as a cash cow. The government needs money, wealthy people have money, ergo, go get ’em!

Other reasons include the fact that liberals believe that money can buy happiness. It also demonstrates how much they are ruled by envy.

Liberals believe that wealth causes poverty. Whether or not they realize it, they are Marxists. Marxism is an ideology based on the belief that owners unfairly expropriate wealth that should be going to labor. Marx would be proud of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Marx’s “labor theory of value” is not so much a theory as a lame attempt to sell the exploitation myth.

A well-known quote from The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels is “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.” That is a gross distortion of history, but it is a perfect synopsis of the bedrock philosophy of liberalism. The left perceives the world as a battle between the oppressed and the oppressors.

The equality crusaders rely on what could be called a “quantity theory of good and evil.” The enemy has been quantitatively defined, rather than the usual qualitative approach. It consists of ranking the population from top to bottom as measured by income or wealth. The degree of evil corresponds to the percentiles. Those in the hundredth percentile, the so-called “one percent,” are especially evil. The quantitative method excuses them from actually having to think about the flesh and blood individuals in the one percent. It provides an easy way for simple-minded people to know who to hate.

This way of defining villainy makes it a renewable resource for class warriors. If the current population of the top one percent got fed up and moved to Australia, there would be a brand new top one percent to demonize.

If equality is a prerequisite for happiness, we will never be happy. Even if it were possible to achieve economic equality, numerous other kinds of inequality would still exist — beauty, IQ, athletic ability, health (physical and mental), creativity, and talent, to name just a few.

Obviously, equality is unattainable. Making it a precondition for happiness is an extremely bad idea. It makes as much sense as saying you can’t be happy unless the planet stops rotating — “I simply must have daylight 24 hours a day!” Liberals would have a much higher likelihood of being happy if they accepted inequality as a fact of life rather than something to be battled against. If we can’t have fairness and justice without equality, then we will never have fairness and justice. As is the case with the rest of liberalism, equality is a utopian fantasy.

For the sake of argument, let’s grant that less inequality would be a good thing. As is true of all objectives, more equality can only be achieved at a cost in terms of other objectives. If we insist on cutting the economic pie into equally sized pieces, we will end up with a smaller pie since it would eliminate any economic incentive to produce.

Most people who earn high incomes have made significant sacrifices to do so. They typically have stayed in school longer than most people, studied harder, worked longer hours, and taken more risks. Do we not feel they ought to be rewarded for these sacrifices? Isn’t being rewarded for such behaviors itself an important aspect of fairness? There is simply no way to distribute income that is “fair” in every way.

The left’s obsession with equality is the primary reason they despise the market. A market economy generates unequal wealth and incomes. That bothers them so much they are willing to forego all the advantages of a market economy.

In regard to many of life’s most important dimensions we are, in fact, equal. Most important is the fact that “death is the great equalizer.” Sooner or later we all die. No one, no matter how wealthy, lives forever. Rich or poor, if you eat too much you’re probably going to gain weight. If you act like a jerk you will have no real friends. In many ways, life treats us all the same. The same basic rules apply to us all.

Both liberals and conservatives care about equality. They differ, however, in regard to what they mean by equality. Conservatives want equality of opportunity, liberals want equality of outcomes.

In his book Free to Choose Milton Friedman wrote, “A society that puts equality — in the sense of outcome — ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom…. On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality.”

Cuba is one of the left’s favorite countries. Almost everyone in Cuba receives the same income: $15 a month. Grinding poverty in a country in spite of their amazing natural and human resources, but at least they have economic equality! (And, of course, “free” health care.) Cuba is a case study illustrating the real cost of making economic egalitarianism “the heart and soul of liberalism.”

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Inequality in Perspective December 9, 2011

Ron Ross Ph.D. is a former economics professor and author of The Unbeatable Market. Ron resides in Arcata, California and is a founder of Premier Financial Group, a wealth management firm located in Eureka, California. He is a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma and can be reached at rossecon@gmail.com.

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