Good News on the Economy

In spite of Obama’s best efforts to sink the economy…the economy is making a come back:

Jobs on the Rise

The salient points: manufacturing jobs are rebounding – especially in real estate and automobile sectors – and for the first time in years, a drop in the unemployment rate can be linked to solid gains in real jobs…not to workers leaving the potential workforce.

Go team!

What Mitt Romney Should’ve Said About the Very Poor

Yes, yes, I know — I’m backseat campaigning. But since the chances are pretty good that Mitt will be our nominee, it behooves us grassroots conservatives to give him some sound advice.

Bottom line? I think Mitt blundered in the following interview:

Mitt Romney: “They want someone who they have confidence in. I believe I will be able to instill that confidence in the American people. By the way, I’m in this race, because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor; we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling, and I’ll continue to take that message across the nation.

Soledad O’Brien: “I know I said last question. You said I’m not concerned about the very poor because they have a safety net. And I think there are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say that sounds odd. Can you explain that?”

Mitt Romney: “Well, you had to finish the sentence, Soledad. I said I’m not concerned about the very poor that have the safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them. The challenge right now — we will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor. And there’s no question, it’s not good being poor, and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle income Americans. My campaign — you can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich, that’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor. That’s not my focus. My focus is on middle income Americans, retirees living on Social Security, people who can’t find work, folks that have kids getting ready to go to college. These are the people who have been most badly hurt during the Obama years. We have a very ample safety net, and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor.” (Emphasis added.)

I don’t think he blundered because I’m scared of what the left will do. Screw the left. No matter what our candidate does, Obama’s supporters – who’ve turned arguing in bad faith into a bloody art form – will find something to bludgeon us with. I also don’t think Mitt blundered because I support expanding the Johnsonian “War on Poverty.” Quite the opposite is the case, in fact. I believe Mitt blundered in the above exchange because he evinces a trust in state-based solutions that is simply not warranted and fails to defend the conservative approach to poverty.

We are Catholic (or we wish to be Catholic) here at Right Fans, and we take the Church’s teachings on “social justice” just as seriously as we take the Church’s teachings on, say, abortion and contraception. We believe, therefore, that society’s first duty is to protect the vulnerable and needy. But how do we discharge this task? What public policies should we adopt? These questions are open to prudential decision-making except on one crucial particular: The Church stresses the principle of subsidiarity – i.e., that any challenge should be tackled by the smallest entity that is competent to do so – and opposes collectivism and radical centralization. Therefore, we as Catholics have not fulfilled our religious duties to the poor if we remain content with funneling our tax dollars to federal “anti-poverty” bureaucracies.

The truth is this: Like everything else the federal government touches, our so-called “poverty programs” are rife with inefficiency and abuse. Federal money for “affordable housing,” for example, is being wasted — and as a consequence, such housing is not being built on many vacant lots that were set aside for that purpose. But even when the so-called “benefits” of these programs actually make it to the intended recipients, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are doing the best we can to help the poor. Yes — for the most part, we are still an economically mobile society; if you are currently in the bottom tax bracket, the probability remains extraordinarily high that you will not be there a few years from now. But there is such a thing as “inter-generational poverty” — and it is being fed by the government. Unfortunately for us, our “safety net” is morphing into a permanent way of life for many who are able-bodied and should be gainfully employed. Those housing vouchers Mitt mentions, for instance? Those should be temporary stopgaps for all but the elderly poor and the disabled, yet many healthy adults are depending on them over the long term.

Our ultimate goal should be to enable people to lift themselves out of poverty — not render them clients of the state in perpetuity. Yet the “safety net” in which Mitt apparently puts his faith is accomplishing the latter – not the former – because it has established a cloud-cuckoo-land of perverse incentives that discourage both marriage and work. Should we be satisfied with this? No — and Mitt shouldn’t be either. Instead, he should emphasize that pro-growth policies that reduce the tax and regulatory burden on employers – combined with a policy that champions genuine, comprehensive energy independence – will do more to help the poor than any government program Obama could devise because such policies will put people back to work. As the Catholic Church teaches, it is work – not dependency – that enhances our human dignity.

Why Do Hard Lefties Hate Ethical Oil?

Because they’re credentialed idiots, says Michael Graham:

This isn’t about partisan debate. There are legitimate points to debate on the economy and energy policy. But just shouting “No war for oil!” isn’t a debate. It’s adamant stupidity.

By the way, why aren’t we shouting “No war for oil!” anymore? If you really believed that, you’d support domestic drilling and the Canadian pipeline, right?

Instead, the Liz Warren left starts with “No war for oil,” then “No oil from Canada,” “No nukes,” “No coal” and then the inevitable, “Hey — wait! My iPad just died and there’s no electricity to charge it. Where’s my oil?!”

Remember: They’re the smart ones.

Heh. Quite true.

The problem with modern-day public “intellectuals” like the above-mentioned Liz Warren is that they’re never forced to prove that their ideas work. Instead, they are showered with plaudits merely for their verbal virtuosity. As Frank J. Fleming recently observed:

Why shouldn’t you touch a hot stove? There’s no complex, smart answer to that. You’ll get roughly the same answer from Stephen Hawking that you’d get from Forrest Gump: It’s hot, and it will hurt.

But say you were going to argue that you should touch a hot stove. That would have to be a very complex answer, since it defies basic logic. And some people could run with that, talking in detail about pain receptors and the brain’s reaction to stimulus, and come up with a very smart-sounding argument on why touching a hot stove is a great idea.

Others will go further and mock all those ignorant people in the flyover states for their irrational fear of hot stoves and announce, “The most enlightened thing to do is to press one’s face against a hot stove.” Those people are what we call intellectuals.

Similarly, when someone comes up with a well-reasoned argument backed by top economists that two plus two equals five, there’s no brilliant way to refute it. The only response is: “No, you’re an idiot; it’s four.” But if you say that, you’ll be called anti-smart people.

Indeed. And I find that tactic despicable.

Scratch a Walmart Basher, Find a Snotty Elitist

(With thanks to Glenn Reynolds for calling this to my attention.)

Why I love Walmart despite never shopping there

In a discussion thread that wandered to the subject of Walmart and its enemies, I said “Scratch a Walmart-basher and you’ll find a snotty elitist, a person who hates capitalism and consumption and deep down thinks the Wrong People have Too Much Stuff.”

The commenter replied: “You know, I don’t think you need to be an anti-capitalist in order to disdain over-consumption and its enablers.”

No, certainly not. My own preference is to live simply, getting and spending little and putting my energy into creative work. Much of what we think of as “normal” behavior in a consumer society strikes me as wasteful and vulgar. But it’s a disdain I tend to keep quiet about, for at least two reasons:

I find that, as little as I like excess and overconsumption, voicing that dislike gives power to people and political tendencies that I consider far more dangerous than overconsumption. I’d rather be surrounded by fat people who buy too much stuff than concede any ground at all to busybodies and would-be social engineers.

But there’s more than that going on here…

Rich people going on about the crassness of materialism, or spouting ecological pieties, often seem to me to me to be retailing a subtle form of competitive sabotage. “There, there, little peasant…” runs the not-so-hidden message “…it is more virtuous to have little than much, so be content with the scraps you have.”

Exactly!

Like the above writer, I don’t particularly care for Walmart’s ambiance, but that’s because I’m privileged: I live in a heavily populated suburban neighborhood with my relatively affluent parents, so I have access to plenty of other alternatives. I can buy my clothes at Kohl’s, my groceries at the Safeway, the Wegmans, or the Bloom, and my electronics at Best Buy. If Dad weren’t backing me up on my health care expenses? I’d be a typical Walmart denizen. One of my acquaintances, meanwhile, lives in the Appalachian foothills near the border of North and South Carolina. The Walmart Super Center located just across the NC/SC line is his only option unless he wants to buy things on the net.

In my estimation, Walmart has done more to bring material comforts to the rural and impoverished than any group of left-wing moral busybodies has ever dreamed of accomplishing through charity work or changes to public policy. For that reason, you will never find me publicly attacking the chain no matter how unpleasant or “crass” it might be.

"We have declared war on work."

Here’s some more awesome commentary from Mike Rowe. This time, he uses his experiences shooting a rather infamous episode of Dirty Jobs (involving lamb castration) to segue into a discussion of how our popular culture is systematically denigrating vocational work:

Rowe’s message really resonates with me because I know my family heritage. Dad does “brain work,” but his dad before him rose from poverty into the middle class through hard, dirty, physical labor. Indeed, it was Pop-pop (with a little help from his children) who built Dad’s family homestead in Blue Bell, PA. Did Pop-pop ever try to “follow his passion”? Somehow, I doubt it. I think he just had the character necessary to recognize what needed doing in his local community. And while his son is now a “white collar” professional and relatively affluent, Dad has still absorbed the lesson that is his father’s life. That’s why he’s always emphasized to us the importance of having a job – any job – no matter how much it supposedly sucks.

(And you know what? Sometimes those “sucky” jobs aren’t so sucky after all. Years back, I worked a near-minimum-wage job at Kohl’s, and I’d probably go back there again if my arthritis weren’t so advanced. I found the task of cleaning up the racks and hanging up the returns oddly relaxing.)

Rowe’s right to assert that our larger culture has lost the ethic that once built a house from scratch in Blue Bell. As I noted in the comment I appended to the Jay Leno video, we’re all about pushing our kids into college so they can avoid “back-breaking labor.” And ultimately, I think that attitude is profoundly wrong-headed. We still need people who can make things — who can work with their hands.

(Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds, by the way.)

On the Woes of the Middle Class

As Rep. Paul Ryan noted in his recent speech at the Heritage Foundation, it is extremely misleading to speak of the “rich” and the “poor” as if they are fixed classes. In reality, most people move up and down the income scale throughout their lifespan. Kids in their teens and twenties are at the bottom because they’re just starting out in entry-level positions. People in their forties and fifties, meanwhile, have generally hit their peak earning years, so they are more likely to occupy the top brackets. Then people retire in their sixties and seventies and their income drops again. People in the fabled “1%” one year may not be there a few years later. And if you’re on the bottom? The chances are still very good that you will not be there forever.

But it is also true that we are not quite as economically mobile as we used to be. The unfocused expression of anger that is the Occupy [Your City] movement is based on something valid. We need to be very careful, though, when it comes to identifying the sources of our distress — and their potential solutions.

Today’s Ragged Dicks (that’s a Horatio Alger reference, not an insult) run up against several roadblocks on the path to success. They include:

  • Family breakdown. Success in school requires parental involvement — but due to the rising rates of divorce and illegitimacy, many well-meaning parents simply don’t have the time to look over little Johnny’s homework. And by the way, said parents also don’t have the time to ensure that Johnny gets healthy things to eat, and bad nutrition can lead to childhood obesity and inhibit cognitive development.
  • A severely dysfunctional lower education system. Our public education establishment has prioritized fads over effective instruction and union demands over our students’ well-being. Consequently, when Johnny graduates from high school (assuming he does graduate, which is not a certainty), he may still be functionally illiterate and innumerate.
  • An increasingly dysfunctional higher education system. Let’s say that Johnny manages to graduate from high school with a B average and a 1500+ on his SAT (out of 2400). At this point, he will probably apply for a student loan and go to college. But will Johnny actually learn anything while he’s there? Is a college education really worth racking up thousands of dollars of debt? That really depends on the major Johnny selects. If he earns a BS in, say, chemical engineering, it’s likely he’ll be able to find a good job when he graduates and start moving up the income ladder. But our colleges also offer an array of fruity “do you want fries with that?” majors like women’s studies and sociology — majors that don’t reflect what the outside economy actually needs. And because all student loans are guaranteed by the federal government, our institutions of higher learning feel no compunction in jacking up their tuitions to astronomical levels so they can support their own top-heavy bureaucracies. Is the Assistant Dean of Student Diversity and his staff of 37 really going to add anything to Johnny’s college experience? No, but Johnny is going to pay for them anyway.
  • The pervasive – and wrong – belief that a college degree entitles you to a comfortable middle class lifestyle. If Johnny decides to major in something useless (like sociology), he’s in for a rude shock when he graduates, as there will be no jobs available for him in his field. Now, if Johnny is suitably humble, he will take his lumps and accept any employment he can find without complaint. Unfortunately, if the Occupy [Your City] protests are any indication, humility is not something we teach in school these days. Instead, we lie to our kids and tell them that all degrees are created equal — that it’s okay to “follow your bliss.” We are breeding a generation of spoiled brats who believe a credential – any credential – erases the need for personal industry. Is it any wonder that employers are reluctant to hire young people?
  • A culture that devalues the trades. We still need plumbers and mechanics and carpenters – indeed, some employers are crying out desperately for people with that kind of experience – but these days, we’re not really encouraging kids to go to trade school. Plumbers and mechanics and carpenters can definitely earn good money and establish themselves as members of the middle class, but right now, kids hear “college, college, college!” and aren’t presented with any alternatives.
  • A regulatory structure that pushes manufacturing jobs offshore. The dose makes the poison — yet we continue to heap costly burdens on our businesses in a ridiculous quest to ensure 100% safety and environmental purity. Yell at the eeeeevil corporations all you want, but they’re building their factories in other countries because their consumer goods would be too expensive for their customers if they were manufactured here.
  • Public policies which favor big, established businesses over small and newer ones. While I understand the economic reason why our bigger corporations have moved some of their operations out of the country, I don’t think those corporations are entirely blameless here. After all, over the years, they’ve collected billions of tax-payer dollars in corporate welfare to fund politically-favored boondoggles like “green” energy. Moreover, because they have the resources to move if they need to, larger corporations tend to like regulation because it handicaps their smaller competitors. If Johnny happens to have an entrepreneurial spirit, he may have a tough time getting his new business going.
  • Burdensome property taxes. If Johnny is successful enough to buy a house and a car or two, he may find himself paying quite a sum to fund local government services. Why? Because during the housing boom, the public sector unions managed to snag some sweet deals for themselves. There are retired public sector workers in California who receive six figure pensions, for example. And are these unions willing to give up some of their benefits now that we’ve hit hard times? Forget about it. They want the private sector to continue forking over the cash, and they’re willing to throw temper tantrums at their state capitals to make that happen. The upshot? Unless Johnny has a public sector job, he’s hosed.

I think you probably get the picture at this point. There is rampant social injustice in our system, but that is not entirely the fault of “the rich.” No — our problems are primarily government-related. It is the government that imposes regulations that prevent entrepreneurs from creating new jobs. It is the government that picks winners and losers in the business world and hands our taxes to big corporations to fund things we don’t want. It is the government that makes promises to the public sector unions that it ultimately cannot keep without going bankrupt or screwing the private sector. It is the government that grants our colleges the liberty to rip people off. It is the government that has enabled 40% of our kids to be born out of wedlock.

The aforementioned Occupiers are demanding the expansion of an already unsustainable public sector, but their proposals are akin to trying to cure someone’s chlamydia by giving them gonorrhea. We don’t need more government; we need less. Moreover, we need to restore the culture that allowed us to be prosperous to begin with. Kids need to be taught that there is no such thing as a free lunch and that they have to work – and work hard – to get the things they really want.

Mike Rowe Is Awesome

First of all, he’s awesome because he’s willing to make a fool of himself – repeatedly – in order to honor our blue collar work force. I’ve watched quite a few episodes of Dirty Jobs, and Rowe’s sincere respect for the people he interviews always comes through loud and clear. For Mike Rowe, “doing the jobs that make civilization possible for the rest of us” is not just a line. He means it.

Secondly, as it turns out, Rowe’s not all that impressed with Obama — or the public sector unions. Here he is on Obama:

He wants people to see “the rich” as the problem – not him, not spending, not debt, and not some other failed policy. He wants the Rich to be the scapegoat.

And here he is on the unions:

Personally, I find all of those vocations [teacher, bus driver, health care professional in a psychiatric hospital, sanitation worker, policeman, fireman] to be noble in the extreme. And I respect the people who do the work very much. But if you’re asking why public sentiment seemed to turn against them, I would suggest that it had to do with their respective Unions, and their absolute failure to persuade the masses. They took the same sort of aggressive posture that their private counterparts often do with management. In this sort of economy, that just isn’t persuasive to a lot of concerned voters. The entire country is struggling, and the issues facing public servants were old news for people in the private sector. They made a loud, strident, and unproductive case.

More of his commentary can be found here — and it’s all thoughtful and very classy. From all appearances, Rowe has allowed his extensive exposure to Middle America to influence his politics as well as his impression of the working man — and that’s a very good thing as far as I’m concerned.

(Hat tip to John Nolte @ Big Hollywood.)

One of the "99%"

I am one of the “99%”. Last year, I made a grand total of $27,000, which is not quite enough to live on when you reside in Northern VA and you have a $660/mo health insurance policy. However, I’m not out there protesting “corporate greed”. Why? Because my parents actually said “no” to me every once in a while, so I have no illusions that the world owes me anything. Moreover, I understand that it is out-of-control government which feeds the crony capitalist beast. Want to stop crony capitalism? Shrink the DC Leviathan!

It’s not a very good photo, but hey — it’s hard to take a picture of yourself in the middle of the night. Also, there wasn’t enough room on the page to mention it, but I do in fact have student loan payments that are not insignificant. Boo hoo! Woe is me! Somebody call the waaaaaambulance so that I can have my (freely accumulated) debt forgiven!

Obama Finally Admits It!

Obama: American People Not Better Off Than They Were Four Years Ago
@ Real Clear Politics

George Stephanopoulos, ABC News: “And a lot of anger out there. There’s so many people who simply don’t think they’re better off than they were four years ago. How do you convince them that they are?”

President Obama: “Well, I don’t think they’re better off than they were four years ago. They’re not better off than they were before Lehman’s collapse, before the financial crisis, before this extraordinary recession that we’re going through. I think that what we’ve seen is that we’ve been able to make steady progress to stabilize the economy, but the unemployment rate is still way too high…”

That’s right — and it’s all because of your policies, Mr. President.