Friday, November 9, 2012

Further thoughts on the liberal rich

I should have separated out immigration amnesty as a sixth policy. Unchecked immigration helps keep wages down for the lower classes, thus further impeding their ability to rise on the economic scale.

Also, the decoupling of work and welfare and the expanded provision of “benefits” such as unemployment insurance and food stamps help to diminish motivation at the bottom. That makes seven.

Finally (for now), the inattention to the national debt—remember, Obama admitted on the Letterman show that he doesn’t even know what the national debt is—and, a fortiori, the failure to deal with the fiscal gap will further diminish prospects for all those not already rich.

The “fiscal gap” is the difference between the present value of the expected cost of future government obligations—pensions, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, &c. Lawrence Kotlikoff of Boston University estimates that the Federal fiscal gap is $222,000,000,000,000, or about $707,000 per capita. Add to that the state gaps (nearly all states have ridiculously underfunded pensions), and you can easily get to three hundred trillion dollars, which is nearly one million dollars for every man, woman, child, and illegal alien in the United States.

Why do the rich vote for Democrats?

The news is that 8 of the 10 richest counties in America voted for Obama over Romney. Since everyone knows that rich people are selfish criminal bastards who don’t want to pay any taxes, this would seem to be counterintuitive. Why would they do that?

One theory is that rich people tend to be well educated and therefore can be expected to have an enlightened view of their responsibilities and of the role of government in society.

Yeah, right.

Thomas Frank, in What’s the Matter with Kansas, make the liberal—or Marxist—argument that the only criterion one should use to decide how to vote is economic. Since, he argues, Kansas’s economy is actively harmed by Republican policies, it makes no sense that they consistently vote for more of the same.

So, using Frank’s approach, we should look for economic reasons for the rich to vote for Democrats.

Once one is in the top 5% of incomes, additional movement upward becomes very difficult, so one will be more interested in ensuring that one maintains one’s status than in striving to advance it. Throughout history, old money has always looked down upon the nouveau riche. One doesn’t, after all, want hoi polloi moving into one’s nice neighborhood.

Democratic economic policies could well have been expressly designed to keep the rich comfortable.

  1. We have an income tax, not a wealth tax (except for the relatively minor property tax). Thus, once one’s income is no longer derived from wages and is larger than the Social-Security cutoff (currently $110,100), income tax is not a great concern. However, for those trying to become rich, the marginal tax rate (federal, state, and sometimes local income tax, as well as payroll taxes [entrepeneurs are quite aware of both the employee and the employer “contributions” to Social Security]) can easily reach 50%, making the task far, far more difficult.
  2. Our suburbs sprawl throughout the landscape, and most lower- and middle-class families desire bigger houses with bigger yards. These desires, if fulfilled, would naturally diminish the quality of life currently enjoyed by the rich in their suburban enclaves. This explains the long campaign against suburban sprawl. By aggressively promoting policies designed to keep people—especially minorities—cooped up in the urban core, the suburbs are kept safe for the rich.
  3. The rich also need to deal with other countries, who might get wealthy and either compete with them for resources or actually move here. (Illegal immigration of the poor is fine, of course: they need someone to tend their lawns.) Hence the concern with global warming: the policies desired to prevent global warming will also prevent third-world economies from becoming a threat.
  4. Unfortunately, given the structure of the American Constitution, anyone can, in theory, start a business and become rich. However, we can create regulations that will make it prohibitively expensive for all but those who are already rich to do so. Established companies owned by those who are already rich can either be grandfathered out of the regulations, lobby the government for an exception, or simply absorb the costs, relying upon economies of scale. None of these strategies are open to the small businessman.
  5. Most effectively of all, the rich can ally themselves with the government, ensuring that government money is spent on them and on their friends. This is called crony capitalism, and adds further obstacles to upstart competitors. If your competition has a guaranteed permanent contract with the government, they will always have a substantial income advantage over you.

Thus, if you are rich, you would be foolish to vote for policies that would further the economic freedom of those who wish to be rich like you. Such policies would inevitably diminish your relative status and are to be discouraged.

Given the Constitution, there is no conceivable set of polices other than these—higher income taxes, sprawl prevention, anti–global warming, more regulations, crony capitalism—that would be more effective in maintaining those who are now rich at the top of the economic heap. So, really, Frank’s question should be, “What’s the matter with rich Republicans?”

Monday, September 17, 2012

Squeeze, Stretch, and Sprawl

Today, the Pundit of Pundits has a couple of posts and a column about the junior squeeze, the senior squeeze, and the middle-class stretch. Stanley Kurtz's new book, Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities explains all this. If young people are still living in their childhood bedrooms and senior citizens are moving in with their children in those same houses, the housing density in the US will rise appreciably, thus reducing suburban sprawl. So higher unemployment, a stagnant housing market, and much higher energy costs will lead to reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases and less dependence on foreign energy sources. These results are exactly those desired by the Obama administration; is it remotely possible that the means by which they are being achieved are, in fact, intended?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

You Didn't Build Chick-Fil-A

There’s a remarkable difference between the controversy over what Obama says he didn’t say and the one over what he most certainly did say.

Why should “you didn’t build that” be the defining statement of the Obama campaign, while his “evolution” on single-sex marriage is all but ignored? There are, after all, as the current flap over chickens attests, a lot of folks who don’t like the idea ….

It all has to do with those (usually mythical) “dog whistles” that politicians are so allegedly adept at.

No one who was paying attention could look at Obama’s 2008 campaign and assume anything other than that his protestation of belief in traditional marriage and his opposition to single-sex marriage were simply election-year expedients intended to be discarded at the first practical opportunity – as, indeed, they were.

Similarly, no one paying attention could possibly mistake Obama for a small-government politician. But it is not yet politically expedient for him to campaign on his true belief, that the economy should be completely controlled by the Federal government, so he still pretends that he’s a “middle of the road,” “reasonable,” “moderate” capitalist like nearly everyone else in Washington.

But everyone knows that that’s not so: that he is, in fact, the most radical politician ever elected to office (and, yes, I include Kucinich) whose ultimate goal is the complete dismantling of the free enterprise system and the institution of state control over every aspect of our lives: what kind of cars we can drive, how far we can drive them, where and how often we can fly, what we set our thermostats to, what kind of groceries we can buy – and all in the name of “ensuring fairness,” “protecting our health,” and “combating global warming.”

So when he lets the mask slip and says – or appears to say – what everyone knows he really thinks, people get excited and Obama must, again, deny that he is who he is and believes what he believes.

Friday, March 9, 2012

College and the Arts

Instapundit linked to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The author, Alex Tabarrok, writes that
In 2009 the United States graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math, and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual-and-performing-arts graduates in 1985.

I come from an artistic family: both my parents were musicians, as are my wife and stepmother; our eldest is a fashion designer; our youngest is a songwriter; and I write poetry. Among the seven of us, we have lots of non-technical degrees (though I do like to point out that I was the only English major in my class on partial differential equations). And, of course, we have met many, many others who also have arts degrees.

With few exceptions, arts degrees are unlikely to be worthwhile. Art is, fundamentally, something an artist does, not something an artist studies.

The model for learning the arts is not the college classroom, but the master-apprentice relationship. Though I do think that anyone who wants to be a serious musician should spend some time in a conservatory learning ear training and counterpoint and harmony and such. Even so, the mentoring relationship is much more important: think of Nadia Boulanger.

The rest of the academy should be approached carefully. In the field I know best, a strong case can be made that the academicalization of poetry has utterly destroyed its audience: it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that more people write it than read it. The reason for that is simple: a comparison of "unknown verse not worth knowing" from the 19th century with similar verse produced today is instructive: the older stuff is usually technically competent -- on the level of a mediocre TV show, pleasant enough, but insignificant. The modern stuff is acutely painful to read or listen to (and still insignificant).

But what other visual and performing artists need is mentoring and work experience. A sculptor needs to learn to cast bronze. A fashion designer needs to know how to spec a design for large-scale production. A painter needs to learn to mix paints. A poet needs to learn prosody (well, OK: that's controversial -- the number of poets today who can tell an anapest from a dactyl is vanishingly small). An actor needs to act; a dancer, to dance. And for his acting, an actor will learn everything -- and dancers, well ....

On the performing side, I think we suffer from the self-esteem movement. My wife teaches voice and piano. It is absolutely the case -- as has always been true -- that no more than a handful of her students will ever make a living at music and extremely unlikely that any of them will make a good living at it. And yet they are all and always told how wonderful they are.

The mother of one of her students reported on a college fair at a local high school, where the most popular major investigated by the students was Musical Theatre. This major did not exist even 20 years ago. And a bigger waste of time and money can scarcely be imagined: one can have private voice lessons, acting classes, and dance classes for a fraction of the cost of college (and pay for it with the proceeds of food-service work!) and have the freedom to audition for professional jobs. If, after a year or two, one has not been hired, then one can simply move on to something else.

So -- if you want to be an artist, stay out of college. Find a mentor. Make art. Perform. Then, when you've failed -- and almost all of you will -- you can go to college (or not) with some idea of what you can and can't do. And you will not be carrying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cocktail #2: The Burnstini

Most of you should recall that Burns wrote O my Luve's like a red, red rose. But love is more than roses: it can be bitter, and it can be spicy. So:

2 oz vodka
1 oz rose syrup
1/2 oz Campari
1/2 oz Domaine de Canton

Shake with ice; strain into a Martini glass.

Warning: this drink is very, very red. Do not attempt to drink it except as the first of the evening, especially if you're wearing white.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A new cocktail: The Mellow Mullah

We need to find a way to get this to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Years ago, my eldest daughter and I had a falooda at an Indian restaurant (note, though, that its origins are Persian). We liked it. But ... my youngest took one look at the vermicelli and seeds among the pink rose syrup and vanilla ice cream and started to cry.

So I found a rose syrup at a local South Indian grocery store. Inspired by the memory of falooda, I offer you the Mellow Mullah:

2 oz vodka
4 crushed green cardamom pods
scant 1/8 tsp vanilla extract
a grind of black pepper (not too much!)

Mix the above and let sit for at least one hour.

Put the above in a cocktail shaker. Add

1 1/4 oz rose syrup
1/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Domain de Canton ginger liqueur
1 oz half-and-half

Shake vigorously; strain into chilled martini glass

Alas, I just looked up 'mellow mullah' and someone else beat me to the name. But my recipe's better and way more Persian -- or at least as Persian as a cocktail can be!