Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why We Disagree

Why is it that conservatives and liberals have a hard time agreeing on anything? Clearly there is something very different about the way we see the world. Thomas Sowell's book A Conflict of Visions - Idealogical Origins of Political Struggles attempts to describe these two very different worldviews. Sowell is a conservative economist and while most of his books promote conservatism, I think he's even handed in this book. Here's his take, I'm interested to see if you guys agree or disagree.

Sowell's argument is that the basic difference is that conservatives ("constrained vision") see human nature as unchanging and fundamentally selfish while liberals ("unconstrained vision") see human nature as something that can be changed and improved. These opposing visions then have very different ideas about how society and government should function.

Conservatives then believe society is constantly evolving as people, using limited resources and limited reason, establish ways to correctly harnesses man's true nature. Limited government with checks and balances is seen as an ideal system, as politicians and the elite are not exempt from man's basic, selfish nature. Capitalism recognizes the role of incentives in behavior and rewards self interested people for creating goods and services that help others. Justice requires procedural fairness but not results-based fairness.

Liberals on the other hand, think that people can be brought closer to their potential by instituting wiser and more moral policies. They believe that people can be conditioned to do the right thing for the right reason, rather than out of self interest. While conservatives seek the best trade off using limited resources, liberals seek an equitable solution. The elite, with their superior wisdom and morals, should guide the masses toward a more perfect society. Even if there is procedural fairness, there can't be justice is there is too much inequality.

Most people are not all the way in either camp, but does this sound about right?

Monday, September 29, 2008

If Kids Could Vote...

Cracked.com wonders what campaign ads would look like if kids were allowed to vote.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obamanomics Part II

I didn't watch the debate last night and I neglected to record it, but from what I've read, Obama spent a lot of time criticizing Bush's economic policies. Obama said "We have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain." I was unaware that President Bush's economic policies had failed. Taking a look back at the last 8 years, I'm trying to find the high unemployment rates and high inflation that one would associate with failed economic policies and I can't find them. Unemployment has been 4-6% throughout the last 8 years, numbers within the range of what economists consider "full employment." Yes, we have a financial crisis and are currently experiencing slow growth (not a recession), but overall, the economy over the last 8 years has been strong. This is impressive, considering the recession Bush inherited, 9/11 and the Iraq War. I will fault President Bush for his spending but Obama would spend far more.

Obama blames the financial mess on Bush for corporate tax breaks and insufficient regulation. Just how did corporate tax breaks lead to the sub-prime meltdown? And what's wrong with corporate tax breaks? It's not like fat cat CEOs pay the corporate taxes, they are passed down to us through higher prices and lower salaries. Low taxes on corporations stimulates growth. Higher taxes does the opposite. Bush and McCain pushed for more regulation on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and but were opposed by Democrats. Obama, who received the second most campaign contributions from Fannie and Freddie in the Senate, did nothing to help.

Bush's tax cuts, which lowered everyone's taxes, are somehow portrayed as being bad for the middle class. In fact, even though their tax rates are lower, more of the tax burden has been shifted to the rich. After the tax cut, the top 20% went from paying 81% to paying 85% of taxes, The bottom 40% went from 0% to -4% (they now receive a net subsidy).

Obama's economic policies of protectionism, higher taxes on income and capital gains, anti-business labor-union rules, and massive entitlements are already on full display Europe. Obama's proposed taxes on the rich would be the second highest in the developed world, higher than Denmark and Sweden. These economic policies have already failed under Carter and in Europe and they are sure to fail again, but at least we would be more "equal" in our misery.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

KOL to the Rescue

Can the Kings of Leon solve our dependence on foreign oil? Overthinkingit.com notes that rock music quality (as judged by songs on Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time) is directly correlated with US Oil Production (although they had to take out Alaska to make the numbers work). We need more rock, people!

While this analysis is a great example of the old maxim that correlation doesn't prove causation (take note, Al Gore), I find the list of the greatest rock songs ridiculous. According to rock music snobs, the vast majority of great rock songs were written in the 60's and 70's. Granted, the 80's was a weak decade for rock, but the last two decades have produced rock that has rocked as much as the rock from the golden age of rock. Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead, the White Stripes? To quote Norm McDonald: "Ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. Can you believe these characters? Way out of line. Way out of line... You know what hurts the most is the lack of respect."

Hat tip Freakonomics.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What a Mess

Congress is right to question the Treasury Department's proposed $700 billion bailout. However, politicians are obstructing the bill for very different reasons. Liberals see a golden opportunity to socialize a large part of our financial system and will dig in their heels in order to increase government control and limit the free market. Conservatives are concerned at the size of the government's investment, they wonder if it will work, and they fear increased regulation will do long term damage to the economy.

Most people seem to agree that something needs to be done to stabilize our banks and avoid a massive pull back of credit that would trigger a recession. Why bail them out for their poor lending decisions? For one, ignore the "Wall Street vs. Main Street" rhetoric. Wall Street includes your retirement portfolio. It includes your chances to get a loan and your company's need for investment to fuel growth. In addition, the government bears much responsibility for the sub-prime meltdown. Beginning in the Clinton Administration, banks were pressured and cajoled into giving mortages to people who were being "discriminated against" for their poor credit. To encourage this irresponsible lending, the government backed these loans. This divorced the bankers from the risk of these loans and they went a little crazy (and they made a lot of money). Other people got in, issuing the loans and then packaging and selling them. Add super low interest rates and you get a huge problem. And I'm not a politician so I can say this: the borrowers who aren't paying back their loans bear a good chunk of blame too.

Normally, Republicans are for deregulation, which is allowing Democrats to dominate the narrative of this crisis, claiming that Republican deregulation caused the problems. Their solution? You guessed it, mega-regulation. In fact, the opposite is true in this case. Recognizing that government, not free markets, was screwing up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Republicans, including President Bush, pushed for more regulation. The recognized that if the government was on the hook if the loans went bad, they shouldn't have risky portfolios. Unfortunately, powerful Democrats stood in their way, including the four senators receiving the most campaign cash from Fannie and Freddie - Chris Dodd, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. The Democrats and the media are now working overtime to rewrite history.

So what to do? Keep in mind, this isn't a give-away. The taxpayers get something for their money, and as the economy recovers, they could actually make money on this deal. Maybe. The government helped cause the problem, they should help solve it. As the Congress and the President work out a compromise, it would be nice if they considered these thoughts from Donald Luskin at NRO:

Even if you grant that this really is a 'crisis,' and that it justifies an extraordinary intervention, there can be no doubt that the $700 billion authority being sought for the purchase of distressed mortgage-related securities is far too great an amount. Of the $1.26 trillion in non-prime mortgages — that is, 'sub-prime' and 'Alt-A' mortgages — $743 billion is already either owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, companies that were shored up by a government rescue earlier this month. That leaves $521 billion, which means the Treasury’s $700 billion would be more than enough to buy them all. And that’s even if the Treasury paid full value. In fact, the Treasury will get a steep discount, considering that many of the mortgages in question are in delinquency or default. Does the Treasury really have to buy every single non-prime mortgage — even the healthy ones — twice over?

And if the Treasury’s authority were scaled down to something more in proportion to the size of the asset market it claims to address — say $350 billion — must that authority be granted all those dollars at once? Couldn’t we start with $100 billion and see how it goes, and go back later for more if necessary?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Kings of Leon

The new Kings of Leon album, "Only By the Night," came out today. I've already listened to it about 5 times in my car and I love it. It's quite a departure from their previous three albums. There are no "Four Kicks" or "Red Morning Light" type songs. The whole album goes along at a slower, more deliberate pace. KOL sounds grown up. I miss the hoarse, random yelps and would like a few more up-tempo songs, but the album is great. Here's a live performance of "Use Someone" (I'm not as crazy about their single, so I didn't post their first music video).

They are coming to Chicago on Reformation Day, can't wait.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Congratulations Matt and Erin

I'm an uncle! Sarah's sister Erin gave birth to Willem Alexander Dunmore on Thursday. Erin and her husband Matt live in Chattanooga, TN. Matt is a photographer - you can see more pics on his photo blog.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Leftist and the Moderate

Obama is working hard to paint McCain as Bush II. This is laughable as everyone knows that McCain is a moderate Republican who has gone against his party more times than I can count. If he is Bush II, then why did John Kerry ask him to be his running mate and why did Joe Biden say he would be honored to be McCain's running mate and that the country would be better off with McCain as president? The fact is, McCain is the most moderate presidential nominee in a long time.

If McCain's moderate voting record makes him Bush II, then what does Obama's voting record make him? The National Journal ranked him the most liberal senator in Washington for 2007, based on 99 key Senate votes. Joe Biden was ranked third. Get this: Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), the first admitted socialist to be elected to the Senate, is ranked fifth. Obama talks a good game, but he is far, far to the left of the average American.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Post-American World

I just finished an excellent book, The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria is the editor of Newsweek International and writes a column for Newsweek on foreign affairs. I've read his column since I got a chance to meet him when he came to Calvin to give a lecture at the January Series.

Zakaria is probably a liberal, but he is no ideologue, and while I don't agree with all his ideas, he is as knowledgeable as anyone on what's going on in the world. The book is not about the decline of America, but about the rise of the rest: since the fall of the Soviet Union, as the world embraced the free market, there has been huge economic growth in Asia, Africa, and and South America. Zakaria gives special attention to China and India.

I was amazed to learn that for most of the last 650 years, the GDP per capita in China and India remained stagnant at about $500-600. Since embracing free markets about 30 years ago, China's economy has grown by 9% a year. 400 million people have been lifted out of poverty and the average income is seven times higher.

Globalization is changing the world, and fast. The "rise of the rest" is changing the balance of power. Zakaria claims that this post-American world is "one defined and directed from many places and by many people." He explores what these developments mean for our economy and our foreign policy. He is very critical of the Bush administration but also laments the lack of support within the U.S. for free trade. If you are interested in these topics, I think you'll really like the book.

Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that in the early decades of the 21st century, the United States succeeded in its great and historic mission - it globalized the world. But along the way, they might write, it forgot to globalize itself.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Biden's Giving

I've commented before on how many big time Democrats, despite their claims to care so much more about the down trodden than those greedy Republicans, give very little of their own money to charity (Gore, Kerry, Obama, etc.). Byron York of National Review examined Joe Biden's tax returns and found that in the last 10 years, on earnings of $2.4 million, Biden has given a grand total of $3,960 to charity. Not even an average per year, but in total. That is about 1/8 of one percent of his adjusted gross income. The average American household gives 2% of their income, far short of the Biblical tithe, yet still 16 times more than Biden. Does Joe Biden share the same values as the average American when it comes to helping those in need?

Here's another fun fact for you: the top 25 most generous states (as measured by charitable deductions/average adjusted gross income, IRS data) are all red states. I would argue that this is because liberals preach a collective responsibility to help the poor, while conservatives believe in an individual responsibility to help the needy. A collectivist believes he is helping the poor merely by voting Democrat, thereby outsourcing personal responsibility to the government.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


With the war in Iraq going much better, the economy has become the key issue. Before the Republican convention, voters preferred Obama on the economy by 16 points. Now it's nearly tied. Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby on some reasons why:

Obama claims his proposal would lower taxes for 95 percent of Americans, but well over 43 million tax returns, one-third of all those filed, already reflect an income tax liability of zero. In fact, Obama says, his plan would eliminate income taxes for an additional 10 million taxpayers. What he is really proposing, therefore, is not tax relief but a bald transfer of cash - $1,000 per family, he pledges - from the wealthiest Americans to everyone else.

Why only $1,000? Why not $10,000? Wouldn't that help the economy even more? What is the "fair share" the rich must pay, Senator Obama? The top 1% of earners already pay 40% of all income taxes.

Obama also favors increasing the capital gains tax from 15% to 20-25%. Obama argues that we had robust growth during the Clinton administration when the tax rate was 28%. This is misleading because we saw better economic growth after the rate was cut to 20% in 1997.
Obama doesn't favor increasing the capital gains tax to increase tax revenue, but because of "fairness." From a primary debate with moderator Charlie Gibson (Youtube video):

Gibson: "In each instance, when the rate dropped, revenues from the tax increased; the government took in more money. And in the 1980s, when the tax was increased to 28 percent, the revenues went down. So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?"

Obama: "Well, Charlie, what I've said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness."

Wow. McCain would leave the capital gains rate alone and favors lower taxes for all Americans, including the "rich," who are typically small business owners who are creating jobs for other Americans and producing goods and services we enjoy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Republican Controlled Congress?

A new Gallup poll shows the Republicans surging ahead in the battle to control Congress. In a "generic ballot," where voters are asked which party they would vote for in their congressional district, likely voters now prefer Republicans 50% to 45%. Despite only 18% approval ratings for the Democratic controlled congress, the Dems had big leads until recently. If these poll results play out in the election, the Republicans probably take back Congress.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Michigan vs. Notre Dame

The Onion previews Saturday's Michigan/Notre Dame game. It's going to be a long season, but at least I didn't come into the year thinking they'd win the national championship for the first time since, well, ever. So I'll refrain from throwing things and wait until next year when Rich Rod gets some recruits that actually fit his system.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Conor Oberst

Another album I picked up recently is the new one from Bright Eye's Conor Oberst. It's his first solo album in 13 years, recording with the Mystic Valley Band. The album is considerably more upbeat than the Bright Eyes albums, but if you're new to Bright Eyes I'd highly recommend the I'm Wide Awake It's Morning album.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Biden's Big Mouth

Quite the running mate Obama has chosen. He recently said that if McCain and Palin were elected, it would be "a step back for women." Then came this gem:
I hear all this talk about how the Republicans are going to work in dealing with parents who have both the joy, because there's joy to it as well, the joy and the difficulty of raising a child who has a developmental disability, who were born with a birth defect. Well guess what folks? If you care about it, why don't you support stem cell research?

That's classy, using Palin's son with Down Syndrome to make false claims about your opponent. McCain and Palin support federal funding for adult stem cell research but oppose using federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. He is also suggesting that Palin must not care about children with disabilities if she doesn't agree with him on embryonic stem cell research. If Biden cares about it so much, how much money has he donated to private research into embryonic stem cell research? My guess is exactly $0.

*Update: Now Obama has called Governor Palin a pig. She has them running scared and they don't know what to do.

Ra Ra Riot - Dying Is Fine

I just got Ra Ra Riot's album - the Rhumba Line. It's really good. Their sound is somewhere in between Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend and the Shins. Here's their single, Dying Is Fine.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Just a Little White Ball...

Sorry for the lack of postings and replies to your comments. I left Wednesday night for my annual golf trip in northern Michigan with some college friends. I'm by far the worst golfer in the group, but I had a great time. We played some of the most beautiful courses in Michigan. Thursday we played 9 at A Ga Ming's Torch course on Torch Lake before rain chased us away. Torch Lake is said to be the third most beautiful lake in the world - the whole area is a great place to vacation. Friday we played Hawk's Eye twice. I had never played it before, but I think it's my third favorite course after Arcadia Bluffs and Bay Harbor. Saturday we played the Chief (keep your driver in your bag) and then back to A Ga Ming to play Sundance, which ranks near the top for me as well. We always save the best for last - Arcadia Bluffs on Sunday. It is a stunning links course on 3,100 feet of frontage on Lake Michigan (I took this picture, instead of my usual practice of poaching them off Google images). It is ranked the number one public course in Michigan and it's in the top 10 nationally. It's hard to hit your ball out of bounds (very helpful for my tee shots) but there are huge sod walled bunkers everywhere that are next to impossible to get out of and the greens are speedy and undulating. We played 99 holes of golf in 4 days, not a bad little weekend.

McCain/Palin's Big Bounce

The Republican Convention and the addition of Governor Palin to the ticket have given McCain a huge boost in the polls. Before the convention, McCain trailed Obama by 7 points. Now, among registered voters, McCain leads 50% to 46% and among likely voters, he leads 56% to 46%. The poll was taken from Friday to Sunday, included 1,022 voters, and has a margin of error of +- 3 points. Historically, convention bounces tend to wither a little, but having a ten point advantage at this point is better than I thought possible.

One of the reasons the Republican convention was so successful because it shattered the narrative of McCain presented by Obama at the Democratic convention and the narrative of Palin presented by the media. Obama told you that McCain is Bush II, but his record clearly shows him to be a maverick reformer. The media and Obama told you Palin was inexperienced, but we found out about her impressive record of battling corruption and oil companies as well as fighting her own party on government waste. Obama now looks even less experienced in comparison, and he's on the top of the ticket.

Other interesting developments:

  • Biden told Meet the Press that life begins at conception, but he wouldn't dare impose his "religious" views on other people. Maybe we shouldn't impose our "religious" views about murdering people outside the womb either. At least he doesn't think the issue is "above his pay grade."
  • Obama on the surge in Iraq: “I think that there’s no doubt that the violence is down. I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated." Go ahead and say it, "I was wrong to oppose the surge, and John McCain was right."
  • Obama now says he would delay rescinding Bush's tax cuts for wealthy Americans if the economy is weak (he didn't mention that we had robust growth of 3.3% last quarter). Is this an admission that raising taxes on the rich hurts the economy?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Nerdy Fun

Here's a great game my brother Nate turned me onto: Fantastic Contraption. It's described as a "fun online physics puzzle game," which sounds suspiciously like homework, but it's pretty fun.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Obama Takes On Palin

Obama: "Well, my understanding is that Governor Palin's town of Wasilla has, I think, 50 employees. We've got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. You know, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month. So I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute I think has been made clear over the last couple of years."

McCain campaign: "For Barack Obama to argue that he's experienced enough to be president because he's running for president is desperate circular logic and it's laughable. It is a testament to Barack Obama's inexperience and failing qualifications that he would stoop to passing off his candidacy as comparable to Governor Sarah Palin's executive experience managing a budget of over $10 billion and more than 24,000 employees."

Also, Obama doesn't seem to realize that Palin is no longer the mayor of Wasilla, but is now the Governor of Alaska, or that he is running against John McCain, not Palin for president.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Thoughts on Labor

Seeing how we just celebrated Labor Day, why don't we look at the candidate's views on the number one labor issue going into the election? "The Employee Free Choice Act" passed the House, but couldn't get past the Senate Republicans' filibuster. Obama has promised to sign it into law.

Democrats took a page from Orwell in naming the bill, this "free choice" legislation actually denies workers the right to a secret ballot when considering whether to unionize. Instead, union organizers would be allowed to threaten, bribe, stalk, and otherwise bully workers into supporting the union until they have a majority. Employers would also be required to be "neutral," meaning that they would be prevented from sharing information that might dissuade workers from unionizing and they would have to require workers to sit through pro-union speeches.

No doubt this legislation is bad for employers (and consumers). But isn't it better for workers to retain the right to a secret ballot? Then they can choose what they think is best, without a union thug looking over their shoulder. Unfortunately for Democrats, secret ballots make it harder to unionize. Labor unions have been declining in popularity among workers in the last 20 years. Workers have tired of idiotic work rules and union corruption, as well as the politics. This is troubling for Democrats, who get 96% of the billions that labor unions pour into political campaigns.

John McCain opposes this legislation and sponsored a bill to protect the right to a secret ballot. Just another example of Obama choosing party (and special interests) over country.