Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Low Hanging Fruit and Politicians

What a couple of weeks! If only there were three rings at once we could call it a circus. This has been more exciting than a fireworks display at a Zippo convention.

Obamacare, Gay Marriage, Iran, Race, Greece, Presidential jockeying, the Pope, Ted 2, and Bruce Jenner. You can’t fault Washington if you are bored. Stuff is happening. Of course, depending on which issue it is, you are either happy as a clam or ready to move to Canada.

I am trying to filter it all down. JD helps but there is a lot to get my hairy arms around. So it hit me. There are basically two themes to follow. The first one is that society has gotten to a new place. It is a place where nothing is easy. All the political fruit within arm’s reach is gone. All that is left requires a ladder. And ladders are notoriously dangerous.  In short, there are no easy answers. 

The second theme is that politicians are, well, politicians. I found this on Wikipedia: There have been some publishers who criticized politicians for being out of touch with the public. Areas of friction include the manner in which politicians speak, which have been described as too formal with too many euphemistic and metaphorical expressions, and is commonly perceived as an attempt to "obscure, mislead, and confuse"

So if you are pissed and possibly confused then there it is – we live in a world where it takes real and tough analysis and negotiation to solve our problems. And the people who should lead the process are simply not up to the task -- caring more about wooing voters with simplistic slogans that actually solving problems. 

Think about some of the problems that got a lot of of time in the last weeks…
            Guns – if there was a simple solution President Obama would have already found it and proposed it.
            Iran, Russia, Syria – being friendly with these people does not seem to be working.
            Healthcare – solving the healthcare needs of more than 300 million people in a country whose national debt is approaching 100% of GDP is not a trivial undertaking
            Racial Discrimination – Stamping out the last vestiges of hateful, persistent discrimination is challenging to say the least
            LGBTs – marrying religious freedoms with economic and social opportunity in a secular society is no easy union
            Income Inequality – despite decades of trying to reduce poverty in this country it hangs on like a drunk at closing time

If you are on the fringe of the debate on any of these issues you will hate what I am about to say. To some of you fringers it is either your way or the highway. What I am about to say is that both sides have at least a smidgen of merit. And both sides hold to their beliefs tenaciously. Iran, Russia, and Syria have some legitimate views. Russia might feel threatened by a growing Europeanization of their adjacent neighbors. Maybe there are racists and homophobes whose lives were somehow diminished by gays or blacks. Having better opportunities for healthcare makes sense for a country. The Constitution seems to allow people to have guns. Poverty makes no one proud.

I am not arguing that any of the above statements in any way proves the point of one side or the other. The above paragraph is meant to say that there are two sides to every debate and we have reached a point in history when resolving these issues is not the real goal.  The real goal is for my side to win. The real goal is to support ideology or to pad the pocketbooks and power of those who represent those ideologies. In the meantime some of us would prefer solutions and we know this will take patience and VERY hard work. Yet the charade goes on. 

We hope our elected officials will assemble all the data and do the analysis and then duke-it-out in government institutions. But so far that is not what we see. What I see are politicians on both sides of the spectrum hurling na├»ve and damaging statements, cleverly disguised insults, and silly statements. Basically they are saying things like “trust me and I will solve all these problems. Do not trust my adversary as he/she wants to hurt you.” Really!

Since the ice melting is diluting my fine JD I really should finish this. So let me end with one example: income inequality. It seems to be the strongest candidate for my points today. Political candidates make it sound so easy to transfer a dollar from some rich guy to a homeless person on the street. Perhaps we spent too much time reading fairy tales. Ahh Robin Hood. Such a nice boy with tight pants. But please. Spend a little time at a soup kitchen or a park bench and get to know the clients. You could sprinkle hundred dollar bills on many of these people and it wouldn’t do a thing for the poverty rate.

My liberal friends are ready to BBQ my testicles on the nearest Big Green Egg. But wait. I am not saying that poverty programs are useless. I am not saying that government does not have some role to play in reducing poverty. I am not saying that high income people should not share their wealth. What I am saying is that whatever we have been doing for 50 years does not seem to be working well enough. Lyndon Johnson said these programs were going to eliminate poverty! Yet there it is worse than ever.  

To make any real headway today is going to take harder work. It will take real leaders who understand that the easy choices are gone. It will take people who can objectively evaluate, explain, listen, and then implement policies that matter. 

Honestly, can you name a living leader ready for this job? 


  1. But, but it ain't up to them, the politicians. It is up to us. We need to be informed, honest and careful. The framers of the US constitution thought that democracy was critically dependent on "virtue" by which they meant civic virtue. They had all the same biases as us, maybe more, but they were adamant that citizens be given freedom to meet, speak and vote. We all need to do this and engage each other on the issues. The Supremes last week were just following American opinion that gay marriage be allowed. I wish they had not decided for those states that are still undecided, but there is no question that citizens led this charge. This should happen on most issues. There is no majic in leaders, there are no political saviors, there is just us and we will lead.

    1. Thanks Professor Yachts, you raise a Catch 22. Most folks are too busy taking care of business -- let's face it many are not even able to get away from Facebook for a few minutes. Relying on the public to forcefully resolve issues might be tough. That's why I focus on leaders. Good leaders would somehow read the murky beliefs and preferences of folks and then find a way to move them forward. Think of the differences between a good and bad bandleader of a middle school band. Those kids want to play beautiful music but it takes a great leader to get it done. Without the leader and without a bunch of typical kids -- Catch 22.

  2. Guns? It seems the cities and states with the most strict gun laws have the greatest gun-crime problem so maybe guns aren’t the problem. Maybe the problem is that we allow too many mentally-deficient people to have ready access to them. Even pilots in the armed Federal Flight Deck Officer program had to pass a psych eval. Guns don’t kill people…mentally unstable people with guns kill people. Funny how the cities with the most strict gun laws seem to have the most gun-related crimes.

    Syria, Iran, and Russia? Well, that topic is out of my league, and it appears to be the same for the Prez.

    Let me toss in my two-cents worth on the other topics:

    Healthcare - Perhaps the more rational approach would have been to insure only those people who needed/wanted health insurance. I believe that number was purported to be around 30 million, roughly 10% of the US population. Instead, the government in its infinite idiocy forced the entire 300+ million into a program which rolled out in complete FUBAR mode, and it doesn’t seem to be improving. Typical federal government overreach in an attempt to redistribute income and wealth. We have to pass it before we can know what’s in it? How stupid is that? How stupid does it have to get before we say enough is enough?

    Racial discrimination - It would be nice if we could snap our fingers and discrimination would disappear. Chances of that happening are slim and none, and slim left town last night. As long as we have the Al Sharptons, Lou Farrakhans, and the Charleston bird brain, we will have racial discrimination in one form or other. As Mr. O’Reilly says, race has become an industry, and without the conflict, Al and his crowd lose their livelihoods. “You’re going after the Confederate flag because it represents hate and violence. So tell me when you plan on going after rap music lyrics.” There will always be a modicum of racism because the world is full of idiots…from all races.

    LGBT - I will refrain from a religious argument in this forum. Instead, I will invoke the US Constitution. Nowhere in the document is the SCOTUS charged with legislating. Nowhere is it given the authority to argue a law that has not been enacted. Nowhere does the document allow the Court to create a class of people. The Court and its justices have far exceeded their constitutional authority, but that has been the problem since the Court’s inception. At some point, its decisions will be so ludicrous that we will just ignore them. To paraphrase Andy Jackson, “The Court has made its decision, now let it enforce it.” The framers put Amendment X in the Bill of Rights for a purpose - to limit federal power. The Nine Dictators seem to have forgotten that concept. Marriage is a problem for the individual states. The federal government has no business getting involved. However, the damage is done, and we will see much more damage from their decision in areas we can’t even imagine, yet.

    Income inequality - Here I will use the religious aspect. To quote a great individual, “The poor you have with you always.” He said that over 2,000 years ago, and we still haven’t figured out how to prove Him wrong. “Income equality” is a term right out of the progressive/socialist playbook. Its definition depends on who is defining it, and since the social justice crowd seems to be the group slinging it around, they choose the definition which nobody seems to like….mainly because the definers tend to omit themselves from the actual practice. Income equality will come at the point of a sword because guns will have been outlawed, and people seem to forget the food lines in the old Soviet Union where only the elite were equal.

    BTW, I will say that poverty programs as we know them are useless. The poverty rate at the beginning of the Great Society…14%. Today, virtually the same. What have we accomplished except to make several generations dependent on government? Oh wait! That was the original intent, wasn’t it?

    Why is this a macroeconomics blog?

    1. Fuzz, I hope you feel better now. That was quite a dump. Anyway, the name of this blog is larry davidson spouts off. So I guess I can go beyond macro sometimes. Speaking of such -- while you did say a lot today I don't think you ever answered the question I posed at the end. You gave your personal assessments and solutions -- but I don't see much there about how to actually accomplish them or any other solutions.

    2. I offer no solutions because mine would start WW 3.

    3. I couldn't hurt to offer them now Fuzz. I think we are already on the path to WW3. It is just a question of when!

  3. Dear LSD. I hope you finished your JD before the ICE melted . . . what a waste of good water to dilute it with good spirits. I can’t name a person today that projects the kind of leadership needed to get Congress rowing in the same direction—that would be the right direction, of course.

    But, me thinks two situations could allow the right direction to occur, albeit not with complete consensus in D.C. First, one which you have boohoo’ d—that the trifecta of R in the WH and continued control of Congress would not necessarily get done the stuff needed to get done on Capitol Hill. Nevertheless, I’d like to try it—we might like it. Secondly, since the leader we need might not exist I’d like to try a benign dictator in the WH—ostensibly a R since none of the D candidates—except now with Jim Webb, possibly—could be trusted to do the right things.

    What I would want a benign dictator to do is with the stroke of pen and phone (sound familiar? . . . there is now a precedent!) cancel all under/low performing taxpayer-funded programs—without sanctioning groups/panels/etc. to “evaluate” said programs. No research, analysis, debate, etc.—just take OK Senator Tom Osborne’s list of such programs and red line them out. Cancel all of Obummer’s ex orders. Sign legislation that cancels Obummercare. Direct Congress to pass tax reform that eliminates the IRS.

    Yeah, yeah . . . I know what you’ll say, “Well, Tuna, that’s not what the Constitution says and it wouldn’t be nice not to compromise with the other side.” Well, I don’t see anything that’s unconstitutional here. And compromise with the other side got us into the mess we’re in.

    So let’s try the trifecta.

    1. Well said Oh Great Tuna of the Sea. Starkist would be proud of you. For such a practical guy, I see your approach as highly idealistic and lacking in historical support. Even with the trifecta, Republicans would rip each other apart since we all know there are large differences among Rs -- especially social Rs and fiscal Rs. The other weakness in your approach is that it is almost guaranteed to energize the left or at least the non-Rs. I would predict that within two years of the trifecta we would have a left-wing Congress that would undo everything done in the first two. While the compromise approach seems too compromising...it might be slow but it might also prevent extreme swings between frying pans and fires....