The Bookworm Beat — 9/8/14 Optics edition (and Open Thread)

Woman writingThis week, when it comes to the top stories, all is not as it seems. What struck me as I read through report after report, and opinion piece after opinion piece, is that we’re surrounded by a swirl of optics that belie the truth. Evidence to support this statement follows:

College student opts to illustrate optics of rape by toting around a mattress

The mainstream media is filled with a bit of performance art by Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia. Sulkowicz claims that three years ago, on her first night in the student dorms, a senior raped her. Sulkowicz eventually reported the alleged rape to the college, which opted not to expel the senior, despite the fact that other female students eventually charged him with rape too. Three years after the fact, Sulkowicz, a performance art major, has come up with a senior thesis that, as I said, has garnered a good bit of attention from the MSM:

Beginning this week, Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz has vowed to carry her mattress around at all times until her alleged rapist is expelled from school. The performance, which doubles as Sulkowicz’s senior thesis, instantly went viral and has been splashed internationally across Facebook, Twitter, and even the Today Show as the latest chapter in the ongoing conversation on how colleges handle sexual assault cases.

Sulkowicz, a visual-arts major, says she was raped by a classmate in her dorm bed sophomore year, and when she reported the incident to Columbia administrators they botched the report, the investigation, and the hearing. In April, Sulkowicz filed a Title IX complaint with 23 other students alleging Columbia has mishandled sexual assault cases.

Emma Sulkowicz

The MSM, understandably, is terribly excited by the optics here. Sulkowicz explains:

Over the summer, I was lucky enough to get into the Yale Norfolk Residency, and I worked on a video where I had to move a mattress out of the room. The idea of carrying a mattress got stuck in my head the way a song gets stuck in your head, and I unpacked why carrying a mattress is an important visual for me. I thought about how I was raped in my own bed at Columbia; and how the mattress represents a private place where a lot of your intimate life happens; and how I have brought my life out in front for the public to see; and the act of bringing something private and intimate out into the public mirrors the way my life has been. Also the mattress as a burden, because of what has happened there, that has turned my own relationship with my bed into something fraught.

What’s singularly missing from the articles I looked at (and I looked at 7 or 8) is any information about the rape. Was she asleep in her bed only to wake up to the feel of a knife pressed against her throat (as happened to a friend of mine who sports a large scar on her face that she received when fighting of her attacker)? Or had Sulkowicz invited the alleged attacker into her room and into her bed? Was Sulkowicz drunk or sober? Was her alleged attacker drunk or sober? The only detail Sulkowicz discusses is her claim that the attacker had anal sex with her. It’s still unclear whether they had any consensual traditional intercourse before the senior engaged in an act at which Sulkowicz drew the line or whether it was indeed a stranger rape or a rape without any preliminary consensual behavior.

Another interesting thing about Sulkowicz’s whole rape narrative is that Sulkowicz immediately decided not to report the rape to the police:  “I didn’t report it at first because I didn’t feel like dealing with the emotional trauma.”  Okay, I get that, but you can’t eat your cake and have it — unless, I guess, you’re an American college student.  In that case, you can claim that you were the victim of a genuinely criminal act, but bypass entirely the criminal justice system (which as built-in rights for the accused) and, instead, simply complain to your college.  Then, if the college refuses to follow the usual politically correct path of destroying the male student’s life, you take to the media, so he can again be tried without due process.  

I’m sure something happened that night in Sulkowicz’s bed.  I just can’t escape the feeling that what took place was something called “gray rape,” which boils down to a scenario in which a girl agrees to sex and then, feeling guilty about what she did, later cries rape.  The media, of course, doesn’t care.

The media’s credulity regarding Sulkowicz’s very self-serving claims (after all, she now has a performance art thesis that’s garnered her fame throughout the Progressive world) may come about in part because of the media’s readily apparent statistical ignorance.  After all, the whole “rape culture” (as in “1-in-5 college women will be raped”) is in itself totally untrue:

MYTH 4: One in five in college women will be sexually assaulted.

FACTS: This incendiary figure is everywhere in the media today. Journalists, senators and even President Obama cite it routinely. Can it be true that the American college campus is one of the most dangerous places on earth for women?

The one-in-five figure is based on the Campus Sexual Assault Study, commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and conducted from 2005 to 2007. Two prominent criminologists, Northeastern University’s James Alan Fox and Mount Holyoke College’s Richard Moran, have noted its weaknesses:

“The estimated 19% sexual assault rate among college women is based on a survey at two large four-year universities, which might not accurately reflect our nation’s colleges overall. In addition, the survey had a large non-response rate, with the clear possibility that those who had been victimized were more apt to have completed the questionnaire, resulting in an inflated prevalence figure.”

Fox and Moran also point out that the study used an overly broad definition of sexual assault. Respondents were counted as sexual assault victims if they had been subject to “attempted forced kissing” or engaged in intimate encounters while intoxicated.

Defenders of the one-in-five figure will reply that the finding has been replicated by other studies. But these studies suffer from some or all of the same flaws. Campus sexual assault is a serious problem and will not be solved by statistical hijinks.

Fundamentally, though, statistics and other icky facts just don’t matter to the Left.  What matters is control, something perfectly exemplified in an opinion piece in Britain’s Guardian.  The author, Jessica Valenti, accepts as true the overwhelming horrors of a campus “rape” culture (hyperlinks omitted):

Her performance may be singular, but the deep frustration voiced by Sulkowicz is being echoed by survivors across the United States. Despite increased efforts to curb campus assault and hold schools accountable – the FBI has changed its once-archaic definition of rape, a new White House task force wants answers, and schools like Harvard and Dartmouth have promised new policies – the nation’s university administrators are still failing young people in their care. In the last year alone, 67 schools have had students file federal complaints accusing their own colleges of violating the Clery Act or Title IX.

Oh, the outrage! College is a dangerous place for your daughter! Keep her at home, perhaps in a burqa. Oh, wait. Valenti isn’t saying that last bit. She just wants to control speech more and more (links omitted):

Late last week, the first state bill to require colleges to adopt an “affirmative consent” model in their sexual assault policies passed the California senate unanimously. The legislation, which is headed to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for approval by the end of this month (his office declined to comment), effectively requires the presence of a “yes” rather than the absence of a “no” – or else withholds funding from the nation’s largest state school system.

The legislation additionally clarifies that affirmative consent means both parties must be awake, conscious and not incapacitated from alcohol or drugs – and that past sexual encounters or a romantic relationship doesn’t imply consent. The California bill also, importantly, specifies that “lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent”.

It seems like a no-brainer to only have sex with conscious and enthusiastic partners, but detractors say the standard “micromanages” sexuality. The truth is that a “yes means yes” policy “helps to create a shared responsibility, instead of the responsibility falling on women to say ‘no’,” says Tracey Vitchers, chair of the board at Safer (Students Active for Ending Rape). Anti-violence activists are clearly excited about the bill, which – if all goes well – could be adopted by more states with large public university systems.

Pardon me for cynicism, but I don’t believe there’s a “rape culture” at college campuses. I believe that there is a “sexually-saturated, morality-free culture” at college campuses, brought about in large part by Progressive pressure on those same campuses to abandon the role of pater familias. Once upon a time, boys and girls lived in separate housing, and they were not allowed to take a person of the opposite sex to their rooms. Even when co-ed dorms first came into being, boys and girls occupied separate floors. Then, that changed so that they occupied the same floors, but had separate bathrooms. Now, they share everything — including copious amounts of drugs and alcohol that numb the smart parts of their brains.

My verdict based on the evidence available: Without more information, Sulkowicz definitely gets an “A+” for performance art and self-promotion. I’ll reserve judgment on the rape claim until there’s a full trial, complete with due process, a defense, and testimony under oath.

Obama — he of the Greek columns — explains that optics are hard

On Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press show, Obama finally deigned to explain why he went on a chortling, fist-thumbing golf game within minutes of announcing to the world that ISIS had decapitated an American citizen, something ISIS proudly filmed and then boasted about in a widely disseminated video. According to Obama, it’s just so hard to remember that the world is watching you. Somehow it’s unfair that the world’s eyes should be on the person who still bears the title of Most Powerful Man In The World, never mind that he’s reduced that power to the point where America’s weight in the world is no greater than any other little tin pot dictatorship’s world power.

Obama’s disingenuous claim that political theater is “not something that always comes naturally to me” unleashed a marvelous outrushing of tweets, some of which focused on his more egregious acts of political theater (faux Greek columns, speeches at the Brandenburg Gate) and others of which focused on his more embarrassing acts of visual ineptitude. Legal Insurrection has assembled some of these tweets.

Here are a few more for your enjoyment and delectation:

 

 

 

 

I’ll also add my favorite umbrella optic:

 

 

New Orleans Commemorates 5th Anniversary Of Hurricane Katrina

We’ve all faced that doorway moment but one just has to believe he could have handled it more adeptly.

Commenting on Obama’s risible statement about his deep feelings on learning of Foley’s death (feelings so deep that he was giggling on giggling on the golf course just a few hours later), Scott Johnson had this to say (emphasis mine):

In this case, the photographs suggest that Obama wasn’t all that choked up about the beheading of James Foley. They document that whatever emotion he felt, if any, dissipated very quickly. On that day, the photographs belied the theater. You might conclude that Obama is something of a phony on a matter of great concern to ordinary Americans. Thus Obama’s irritation.

One is struck both by the falsity and the petulance of Obama’s comments. I think Obama lies even to himself.

I disagree with Johnson’s last sentence, insofar as it implies that Obama, when he speaks of his deep feeling, knows that the opposite is actually true, and that he’s a shallow, self-involved, unfeeling man. Instead, I would argue that, when Obama told Chuck Todd that he was really quite shattered, and simply forgot that mere Americans wouldn’t understand the visuals of a man so sophisticated that he could go from shattered to silly within minutes, he was telling the truth . . . his truth. After all, the first rule of malignant narcissism is that the narcissist never lies. Since the truth is defined by his needs, when he makes a statement in accord with those needs, he is telling the truth or, more accurately, he is telling his truth.

The Gaza optics reveal that at least one of the dead wasn’t an innocent child

Elder of Ziyon examined the case of one of those poor, innocent civilians who died in Gaza as a result of Israel’s “unconscionable” Protective Edge assault. He found some damn interesting stuff too.

The optics of Britain’s dissolution are infinitely worse than the reality

A new YouGov poll makes it seem very likely that, after more than 300 years of being a United Kingdom, England will be disunited from Scotland: A majority of Scots suddenly seem inclined to go it alone as their own nation. Traditionalists who are moved by centuries of union, are horrified to think that they might live to see the day when Scotland and England part ways.

One could argue in opposition that what we’re seeing here is a necessary Scottish “reconquista,” as Scotland shakes off the shackles of a mere few hundred years of joinder with England in order to return to its more natural state, which was almost a thousand years of independence. That’s a silly argument, though.

John Fund makes a more serious and impressive argument when he says that, beneath the “it’s all falling apart” optics of dissolution, a Scottish vote in favor of disunion would be a good thing. Currently, Scotland sends a disproportionate number of Leftist members to the British parliament. Getting rid of them would give Tories (who are vaguely conservative) a majority. Additionally, once unanchored to the British treasury, hard Left Scotland might find it economically unfeasible to pursue socialist policies. Sadly, with the older generations dead and gone, I doubt that there’s any possibility that Scotland could revert to the hard-headed, self-reliant Scotland that gave America and the free world some of her greatest supporters of independence.

Scotland, of course, is banking on its oil revenue to keep it afloat, while England will mourn the loss of that same revenue. Again, though, oil may not be all its cracked up to be. As the Saudi countries show, oil money too readily props up otherwise broken, ineffectual economies. And as Venezuela shows, when a government becomes too socialist and broken, even oil money won’t help.

Optics and truth when it comes to American economic health under Reagan and Obama

I’m crowd-sourcing here. A Forbes opinion piece makes a compelling argument that Obama’s recovery economy is much stronger than Reagan’s was, with a better stock market, better corporate health, and better labor participation. I suspect jiggery-pokery here.

The argument I would make, and that many in the comments to that same article make, is that the stock market is propped up by government-printed money that doesn’t have actual wealth backing it; that the labor market is worse because more people have dropped out of the labor force and because the majority of jobs created are part-time or low pay; and that the federal debt and deficit mean that, to the extent we’re completely overextended, even the slightest economic tremor could trigger a massive economic collapse that will make 2008 look like the good times in retrospect.

I would value your input on this one. Both collectively and individually, you guys are better at economic data than I ever will be.

The stupidity of Leftist parody when applied to the iron law of economics

Stephen-ColbertMr. Bookworm likes Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I don’t but, because they’re nattering away on my television, I often find myself watching them anyway.

Colbert, who will soon be filling David Letterman’s vacant chair, has a shtick. His shtick is that he’s a conservative, so his humor ostensibly attacks conservatives at their own game.

What makes Colbert’s shtick fundamentally unfunny, though, is that he has no understanding of conservative ideas or, indeed, of anything at all. His starting point is a parody image of conservatives — hate women, hate minorities, love the evil rich, want to kill everybody with guns.  That’s not funny.  It’s just crude.

Then, his alleged humor attempts to build on this parody, looking at headlines through the stained, warped filter of his politic animus.  The result is something without any intrinsic humor. It only makes people laugh if they’re inclined to laugh at any insult directed to their political opponents, no wit or insight required.

My premise for this post, therefore, is that it’s not funny when ill-informed people try to parody something that they’ve already reduced to a parody.  Working off this premise, I want to introduce you to a video and, even better, its rebuttal.

The video came about when Funny or Die partnered with Kristen Bell (who is the voice for the redhead in Frozen) does a Mary Poppins parody supporting a hugely increased minimum wage. The video’s production values are wonderful. Kristen Bell has a lovely voice to begin with and does a very good Julie Andrews imitation. The melody is a nice, subtle homage of “Spoonful of Sugar,” without simply being a retread. Really, the whole thing is great, except….

Except that the premise is insanely stupid. It accepts blindly that, if the government forces employers to pay people above market rate, everyone (except the evil, abusive employers, of course) will have more money.

The video makes no effort whatsoever to rebut the fact that the iron laws of economics work no matter what DemProgs desire.  If the government forces employers to pay their employees more than the market will bear, employers will just hire fewer people. The result will be that a few people will have more money, although they’ll be expected to do more work for that money. Many small businesses may stagnate, rather than grow, shrinking further the employment pool.  Ultimately, instead of having lots of people employed for low wages, you’ll just have lots of unemployed.

You know why the video makes no effort to work through these problems, of course.  It doesn’t try because it can’t.  In a battle between the iron laws economics and witless Progressivism, the former always wins.  That leaves the latter with nothing more than superficial cuteness (a parody) justifying its simplistic economic demands (the parody piled on the parody).

The problem for conservatives, of course, is that their ideas, while inevitable, require some intelligence to explain and understand.  And, because they’re complex, they require a little time and space.  A short rebuttal to a well-produced video is hard to do.  Reason’s Remy, though, has taken a stab at simplifying the rebuttal, and he’s done a pretty fine job:

So, if your Facebook friends start touting Bell’s Poppins, feel free to tag them with Remy’s Bert.

My favorite comment on Democrat spin celebrating the new joblessness under Obamacare

Unemployment LineOver at JustOneMinute, Tom Maguire explains just how weak the Democrat spin is when it comes to celebrating the end of “job lock.”  It’s a great post, but as quite often happens over at my blog, the real brilliance appears in the reader comments.  From Ignatz:

I believe the Republican idea was to decouple insurance from employment not decouple the employee from employment.

Why do I like that?  Because it sums up in one sentence what it took me an entire post to write.

Hat tip:  American Thinker

Democrats gloating about the end of “job lock,” hide the reality of “poverty lock” and “job loss”

Unemployment LineWhen the CBO announced that Obamacare was going to have a deleterious impact on jobs over the next few years (as in 2.5 million fewer people in the work force), those opposed to Obamacare not unnaturally glommed on to those numbers as proof that Obamacare is an economic disaster.  After a moment of stunned silence, however, Democrats came roaring back with celebratory paeans to the end of “job lock.” James Taranto helpfully rounded up some good examples, beginning with Paul Krugman:

In his New York Times column today, former Enron adviser Paul Krugman cheers the news that ObamaCare subsidies are expected to have a greater-than-expected disincentive effect on work:

On Wednesday, Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, said the obvious: losing your job and choosing to work less aren’t the same thing. If you lose your job, you suffer immense personal and financial hardship. If, on the other hand, you choose to work less and spend more time with your family, “we don’t sympathize. We say congratulations.”

And now you know everything you need to know about the latest falsehood in the ever-mendacious campaign against health reform.

Although it was charitable of Krugman to warn readers off the rest of his column, those who heeded his admonition not to read on missed his amusingly worded nod in the general direction of reality: “More subtly, the incentive to work will be somewhat reduced by health insurance subsidies that fall as your income rises.”

Krugman, of course, was not alone.  He was just the most obnoxious voice in the rising Leftist chorus chanting “Hallelujah!  Job lock is over!”  James Taranto again:

E.J. Dionne, Washington Post: “Oh my God, say opponents of the ACA, here is the government encouraging sloth! That’s true only if you wish to take away the choices the law gives that 64-year-old or to those moms and dads looking for more time to care for their children. Many on the right love family values until they are taken seriously enough to involve giving parents/workers more control over their lives.”

Ron Fournier, National Journal: “The GOP has seized on CBO’s conclusion that the equivalent of more than 2 million Americans would use Obamacare subsidies to leave the workforce. No longer tied to jobs merely to cling to health insurance, some people will retire early, work part time, start a business, or spend more time with their families.”

Eric Boehlert, MediaMutters (on Twitter): “CBO: Obamacare will give workers more choices; some workers might chose [sic] to work less to spend more time w/ families….RW condemns as awful?” (Beats us what radiological warfare has to do with anything.)

Salon’s Alex Pareene is so excited, he wants to expand the welfare state even more: “Universal income and healthcare won’t create a Marxist (or even Keynesian) utopia of leisure. . . . But it’d give people the ability to spend more time with their families, to enrich themselves, to get educated, and even to just [futz] around a little more.”

Taranto goes on to note that, before the above spinning began, “leaving to spend more time with the family” was almost invariably a Washington, D.C., euphemism for “been fired” or “about to be arrested/indicted.”

Behind the puff and spin, though, as is often the case with Democrat pronouncements, lurk the lies and misinformation.  Two examples struck me.

First, regarding “job block,” this is a concept that’s been floating around for quite a while now.  Back in 2012, when Nancy Pelosi enthused about becoming a “whatever,” “job lock” referred to situations in which people with preexisting conditions were trapped in terrible jobs because they couldn’t risk leaving their employer-provided insurance policy behind.  Many people, of all political stripes, recognized that this was a problem.  (Republicans suggested fixes such as high risk pools or the ability to buy cheaper coverage across state lines.)

What the Democrats are so excitedly celebrating here is a new type of job lock, one that applies, not to people with preexisting health conditions but, instead, one that applies to people with preexisting low-paying jobs.  Why?  Because thanks to Obamacare, a large cadre of people suddenly cannot afford to move up professionally.  They cannot afford to look for a better paying job.  Heck!  They can’t even afford to get a pay raise.  After all, if they’re one of the unlucky ones, moving up by the wrong dollar will cost them $20,000.00.

Thinking about it, rather than saying that people are “job locked” under Obamacare, it’s more accurate to say that they’re “poverty locked.”  While they can’t move up economically that’s to the $20,000 penalty for doing so, they can move down:  they can take a series of low-paying jobs or, if they really want to, just leave the work force entirely.  After all, that’s already what several million people have done in the Age of Obama.

The other Democrat lie is the implication that this thrilling “no job-lock status quo” can last indefinitely.  In fact, the subsidies that people to have health insurance while holding low-paying jobs or being unemployed come about because other people are generating wealth that the government can take and redistribute.  However, as more and more people find that creating taxable wealth for themselves is a counterproductive proposition (earn a dollar more in pay, pay $20,000 more for insurance), fewer people will be earning the kind of salaries that will fund all the subsidies.  This is the perfect illustration of the Thatcher dictum — i.e., that socialism is wonderful until you run out of other people’s money.

The Democrats can spin the CBO’s prediction as much as they like, but the sorry fact is that it creates poverty-lock or job-loss, and that’s both personally demoralizing and economically unsustainable.  In the end, people will find that they’ve gotten more than they bargained for.  Not only will they be poverty-locked and job-lost, they’ll also be uninsured.

Why Americans aren’t buying into Obama’s economic inequality shtick

Obama_RedArmy_zpsa0367967

For Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela’s death came like manna from heaven.  After all, until Mandela’s passing sucked all the oxygen out of any other news stories, the headlines, even from Obama’s staunchest cheerleaders, were about Obamacare.  The cheerleaders printed stories bravely admitting that the exchange is still bedeviled with problems, but assuring Americans that it’s way much, super-de-dooper, extraordinarily, wonderfully better and will soon be functioning perfectly.  The naysayers not only pointed out flaws in the system, and told heartrending stories about on the people consigned to death because of those flaws, but also warned that the worst is yet to come.  Newspapers and TV news stories were no longer happy places for our president.

Before Mandela’s timely passing, Obama attempted to change the subject by pivoting, yet again, to “economic inequality.”  (Or as Ed Driscoll nicely said, “It’s Deja Pivot All Over Again.“)  Boiled down to its essence, this Progressive (read: communist) world view says that there are poor people in America and there are rich people in America, and that’s simply not fair.  All people should be poor!!  Okay, the Progressives don’t actually say that last sentence, but one only has to look at every communist experiment in the history of the world to know that this is the reality behind heavy-handed government “correction” of “economic inequality.”

The Occupy movement, which nobody remembers now, was supposed to be the protest to end all protests when it came to economic inequality.  Americans were expected to rise up against the evil one-percent.  Only that didn’t happen.  Too many Americans were unimpressed when they saw computer-toting Ivy League students making common cause with drug addicts, felons, rapists, all of them complaining that a tiny percentage of Americans are very, very rich.  This cavalier response worsened when Americans realized that the Progressive/Democrat party is rife with one-percenters (Obama, Kerry, the Clintons, Pelosi, Reid, etc.), and reached a peak of disgust when the Occupy camps become rat-ridden cesspools that cost cities tens of thousands of dollars to clean up.

While a certain percentage of Americans, when polled, will reliably say they hate that the rich are so rich while their incomes are stagnating (although too few realize that Obama’s statist economic policies cause this stagnation), the reality is that, to Progressives’ (and Obama’s) despair, Americans just can’t get all that worked up about “economic inequality.”  This reality lies in the fact that Americans know something Obama, Democrats, Progressives, and other Leftists refuse to recognize:  America does not have a roach motel economy and that’s despite the Left’s best efforts to turn it into one.

What’s a “roach motel economy,” you ask?  It’s one in which people are frozen in place, with minimal economic or social movement.  That is, they check into an economic stratum, but they don’t check out.  Or, as a spoiled prince says to Aladdin in the eponymous movie, “You are a worthless street rat. You were born a street rat, you’ll die a street rat, and only your fleas will mourn you!”

One doesn’t have to look to Disney to see what a roach motel economy looks like.  In all non-free market societies, whether we’re talking ancient Mesopotamia, medieval Europe, or Castro’s Cuba, it’s not just that, as the Bible says, “the poor you always have with you.”  What’s common to all these societies is that the same people are always poor.  Check into Mesopotamia, 16th century France, or Cuba, and you’ll see that if the father was poor, then his father was poor, and his father was poor . . . going back to time immemorial (or the Cuban revolution).  In each of these stagnant, stratified societies, there were always a few who managed to claw their way up the hierarchy, and another few who carelessly squandered their way down the hierarchy, but class and economic status were fixed.  Likewise, in communist countries, everybody’s poor together, world without end, amen.

Just like Black Flag’s famous “Roach Motel,” poor people check in, but they don’t check out, nor do their children or grandchildren.  Economic status (and class status) are fixed:

Leftist view of socio-economic mobility

Up until Obama and his cohorts came along, the American view was very different. Class was mostly determined by economic status, and economic status was open to anyone who had the discipline and wits (and sometimes the gambler’s instinct) to make it happen. As the wonderful Tenement Museum in New York shows through census studies, immigrants lived in poverty, their children became working class, and their grandchildren were middle class or beyond.  If you’re born into poverty in America, neither you nor your descendents are likely to become Bill Gates, but in a generation or so, unless you’ve become hooked on Welfare-crack, you’ll have left the slums behind.  In a free-market society, with maximum individual freedom, social and economic mobility are a reality:

The American reality of socio-economics

America hasn’t had a revolution because, Leftist propaganda to the contrary, the socio-economic boxes are not roach motels from which no one escapes. Instead, they’re stops along the road of one person’s life, or a family’s generations. People can check in and they can leave. Sometimes they move up and sometimes they move down, but movement is constant.

Of course, Obama and his crew are doing their damndest to halt this free flow of socio-economic movement. With true leftist instincts, through economic leveling, they want to consign this entire nation to the poverty box, subject to a few overlords who get to enjoy the nation’s vast resources. What these leftists don’t realize, though, is that America’s greatest resource has always been her people. Imprison them in poverty, and the overlords’ wealth will quickly vanish.

Obamacare versus arithmetic, with a side trip into the nature of disengaged consumers

Charlie Martin, who has a real knack for simplifying fairly complex mathematical concepts, has a post today about the fact that, when it comes to Obamacare versus math, math wins every time.  I’d like to add my mite to that, which is that, when you have no dog in the fight, you don’t care how expensive the fight is.  As you’ve gotten used to, I’m going to make the journey from the specific (that would be me and my experiences) to the general (a wholesale condemnation of big government, which is the same as bad economics.)

I go to a different dentist from the rest of my family, because I started going to him 15 years ago, and never saw any need to change when they jumped ship to a different guy.  I like the man, I like his office staff, and I like the care I’ve been getting there.

Because we have dental insurance, I’ve never once written a check to my dentist’s office.  I get my teeth cleaned twice a year, like clockwork, and I have no idea how much it costs.

I went recently for a cleaning (you’d be dazzled by my smile) and, as always, didn’t pay.  My husband also went recently and, as always, didn’t pay.  The insurance statements for both our treatments came in on the same day.  These statements revealed that both dentists charge more than our coverage allows for a cleaning, and that both dentists accepted as payment in full the coverage maximum, even though it was less than their “official” charge.  One could say that this proves that insurance works, since the dentists’ willingness to cut their price to the insurance maximum shows that dental insurance controls costs.  Maybe….

What was just as interesting, though, was the fact that my dentist charges $36 more for a cleaning than my husband’s dentist does.  (If that dollar amounts sounds interesting to you, that’s also the recent decrease in food stamp money for a family of four over the course of a month.)  My husband was upset that my guy charges more.  I wasn’t:  (a) I’m not paying it and (b) the insurance company “stiffed” both guys, so it’s the dentists who should care.

The really important point, and the one that completely eluded my husband was that — and I’m repeating myself here — I didn’t care.  I get the services, but I don’t pay.  I have no incentive whatsoever to shop around for a cheaper, yet still good, dentist, and my dentist has no incentive to change his prices.  Either the insurance pays him his rate or it doesn’t.  If it does pay his rate, his high charging gamble paid off; if it doesn’t . . . well, he tried, so no harm no foul.

This is a marketplace distortion, where there is no connection between services rendered and money paid.  The problem isn’t greedy insurance companies; it’s disinterested consumers.  As for the insurance companies, they don’t negotiate either.  They just set caps and that’s the end of it.

I had the same situation years ago, when Kaiser paid for a jaw guard for me because I was grinding my teeth to dust.  I made two visits to the dentist, the first to get a mold for the jaw guard, and the second to get the jaw guard fitted.  The total time I spent there was about 40 minutes.  I saw the dentist for less than ten minutes, total.  I paid for the guard myself ($250 in lab costs).  Kaiser just paid for the dentist’s time and services.  I should add that this took place in the early 1990s, when money had more meaning.  The dentist charged Kaiser $800 for his time and service — and Kaiser paid every cent. I actually called Kaiser to complain.  I was pleased with my jaw guard, but this was still highway robbery. Kaiser was unmoved.  The dentist’s charge fitted into its chart, and that was the end of that.

That event, incidentally, was when I figured out that the problem with America’s healthcare market wasn’t rising medical costs or greedy insurance companies (although both are factors).  It was that the customer doesn’t pay, so the customer has no incentive to shop around or strike bargains.  Because the person getting the services couldn’t care less about the price (it’s other people’s money), there is no competition and there are no cost controls.

My realization about medical costs twenty years also started my turn towards conservativism.  That’s because I figured out that the more things that the government pays for, the worse the market distortion.  The government is not using its own money, it’s using your and my money.  We care about our money, but the government doesn’t.  If it overspends, it just uses its police power to demand more money from us.  That’s its nature, just like the scorpion’s nature.  The only way to control this is to make sure that government is responsible for paying for the smallest number of things possible.

What frustrates me is that people in my neck of the woods don’t get it.  I suspect we have one of the highest concentrations of MBAs in the world right here in Marin, and that we’ve probably got a fair percentage of American’s with STEM backgrounds too.  But try to explain market realities (engaged consumers, competition, and distortion) to them, and you can see the moment that logic flees and faith takes over.  Their eyes start whirling in their heads and they say “No, government is big enough to force price cuts.”  Worse than this economic lunacy is the fact that they don’t recognize that they are advocating tyranny by applauding government’s coercive power to force free citizens to offer services to the government for lower than market prices.  (In this regard, please note that Democrats now want to force doctors who, last I checked, weren’t slaves, to accept patients who will bankrupt them.)

If you want more information about government’s deleterious role in the marketplace, check out Wolf Howling, who calls Obamacare the “mother of all market distortions.”

What happens to the American economy when, as is inevitable, the health insurance industry collapses? *UPDATED*

AJ Strata, who knows complex computer systems, has a few choice words about the administration’s recent statements regarding its plans to fix the exchange.

Also, here’s something I’m not seeing discussed anywhere:

As you’ll recall, the anti-corporate Left concluded that GM was too big to fail and that banks are too big to fail (although not to big to shake down).  However, the same Leftists seem perfectly good with the collapse of the insurance industry.  When I say “collapse of the insurance industry,” I’m not just talking about the fact that Americans will be uninsured.  For the Left, that’s an outcome devoutly to be wished, since they can then socialize medicine.  I’m speaking, instead, about the actual collapse of companies that employ tens of thousands of people and have billions of dollars in pension plans.

Because insurance companies are no longer providing insurance (i.e., pricing their services using actuarial risk tables) but instead are simply being forced to pay for products by taking from the rich and giving to the poor (which makes them sound like Robin Hood, except they’re a Robin Hood who’s acting only because the Sheriff of Washington has a bow and arrow pointed at his back), they will go broke eventually.  And if the young and healthy refuse to buy insurance, the companies won’t just go broke eventually, they’ll go broke immediately.

Then what?

What happens to the American economy when Blue Cross and Blue Shield and AETNA and Kaiser and all the other insurance companies collapse in a distempered heap and, at the same time, hand their tens of thousands of employees pink slips, along with the assurance that all their retirement benefits are gone with the wind?

I’m thinking that, when that day comes around, 2008 will look like a trial run for total and complete economic collapse in America.  I have no contingency plans for that eventuality.  I can only hope that my family can salvage something from the wreckage, so that my last days aren’t spent at a level of poverty rivaling that of the average Calcutta street dweller.

UPDATEYuval Levin is on the same page as AJ Strata when it comes to the problems associated with the “best and the brightest” swooping in to help out.

Crowd-sourcing question: Why is the stock market still going up?

I understand that the Dow Jones average consists of a very cherried-up bunch of stocks.  Nevertheless, it usually is at least somewhat tied to what’s going on in the real world.  That doesn’t seem to be true lately.

In the face of Middle Eastern instability; Iran being months away from having a nuclear bomb; a stagflation economy; a potential shutdown and, if Obama ignores the 14th Amendment, a default; and the Obamacare exchange’s disastrous, with all the future trouble that portends, the stock market keeps going up.  That seems very counterintuitive.

I have to believe that what’s going on with the stock market now is a bubble.  After all, because a stagnant job market, a weak economy, and unstable national security are all inconsistent with a strong, healthy market.  Add in the fact that the constantly-changing Obamacare rules, regulations, and crony exemptions keep employers and investors befuddled and cautious, there should be no reason for the market to rise.  And yet it’s rising. . . .

My question is twofold, I guess:  Am I right that this is a bubble?  And if I’m right, what the heck is causing it?  Nothing I look at today signals to me that investors should be cheerful and optimistic.

It looks like someone in the MSM needs a review of the “Parable of the Broken Window”

It looks as if someone at Mayor Michael “the friendly fascist” Bloomberg’s eponymous report needs some education in basic economic principles.  Bloomberg Views’ Matthew Klein took it upon himself to comment upon a New York Post story about several burglaries in a high-end New York building.  Klein suggests that there’s no reason to be upset because — hey! — the targets are wealthy:

When the thief fences $10,000 or $100,000 in jewelry from an heir who barely knows what he owns, the thief will feel much richer and spend most of that money. Maybe he will buy a new car, or go on a bender at strip clubs, or rent a villa in a beleaguered European country. The heir might be somewhat upset, but it’s hard to believe that he will suddenly cut back on his spending because he needs to recoup a relatively small loss. In fact, the heir might end up spending more money as he tries to make his apartment safer from future robberies.

You can understand a lot about America’s dire economic straits if you realize that this kind of idiocy shows up in one of the country’s premier financial publications.  What Klein says is a variation of the “broken window fallacy,” which Frédéric Bastiat’s wrote about in 1850, albeit with a soupcon of Marxism thrown in for good measure:

Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James Goodfellow, when his careless son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation—”It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?”

Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.

Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier’s trade—that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs—I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, “Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.

I understand that Klein would say that he’s not describing the “broken window” fallacy because there’s no preliminary destruction involved here.  There’s just the transfer of wealth from the undeserving rich to the somewhat deserving, albeit criminal, poor, with a substantial decrease in value along the way.  But what Klein does is to assume that the rich contribute nothing to the economy, while the poor — even the poor burglars – do.

Klein’s error lies in his belief that only feelings matter:  the rich don’t feel the pain of deprivation, while the poor do.  That’s true, but it has nothing to do with economics.  Lost in that emotionalism is Klein’s fallacious economic point:  redistribution (from rich to poor at the point of a gun) will spur the economy.  It’s more likely that the diminution in value of the goods as they travel (forcibly) from rich to poor will hamper the economy.  The rich man who spends $1 million on a diamond is certainly conspicuous in his consumption, but he’s undoubtedly sending more money into the economy than the poor man who reduces that diamond to $1,000 in cash, much of which we can assume will be spent on drugs and prostitutes.  (And even there, assuming the target is decadent, the poor man pours less in the economy buying pot and a $50 a night girl, than would the target who spends on designer drugs and high-end call girls.)

The above ruminations, of course, involve private wealth.  Government expenditures (such as Obama’s lavish vacations, all of which require millions in travel and security expenses that the taxpayers bear) simply rob Peter the taxpayer, while paying only a small cut back to Paul the taxpayer.

Hat tip:  Best of the Web

The Obama generation is beginning to understand that it’s being cheated out of the American dream

We have Sirius satellite radio in our cars.  I often have mine tuned to current hits channels, both because I ferry kids and because I too like a lot of the music.  This morning, my daughter was running late, so I gave her a quick ride to the bus stop, so I wouldn’t have to give her a long ride to school.

On the way back, I flipped on the radio — and heard the three early morning talk show hosts on the “Hits 1″ channel saying that they and their listeners were the first American generation since the Depression that had it harder than their parents.  The three lightweight talking heads said that their parents got out of college, got jobs, and could have a life where dad worked and mom stayed home with the children, and that this was impossible to imagine for the current crop of young people leaving high school and college.

The bit about stay-at-homes isn’t exactly true, because even in my generation, a stay-at-home mom was a luxury.  Nevertheless, their perception — and the one that they wanted their radio audience to have — is that this young generation is well and truly shafted.  And even if the bit about stay-at-home moms is wrong, everything else is correct.  These young people don’t leave college for a job, especially a job reflecting their degrees.  If they get a job at all, it has nothing to do with their studies, and that’s true even if their major wasn’t Womyn’s Studies or Puppetry.

Sirius 1 never gets into political attacks, so I didn’t hear any “and it’s all Obama’s fault” during the two or three minutes I listened to the talking heads exclaim over the fact that they and their generation face a dismal economy with equally dismal prospects.  One does wonder, though, if they or anyone in their audience is thinking “Obama promised us the moon and the stars, and all I get when I sent him to the White House was this lousy unemployment check.”

This generation will be the next Yorkshiremen: