Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Redistribution


In the conservative world, we’re fairly used to looking at wealth redistribution, and refuting any arguments for it. Because we believe in the basic economic/freedom principle that the person who earns the money should be the person who decides how to spend that money. (Milton Friedman argued the point decades ago.)
We’re a little less practiced at talking about, or even looking at, other forms of redistribution.
A few years ago there was a story going around about an economics teacher who arranged to “redistribute” grades in the class. The A students would “share” with the lower-grade students, to even things out—to be fair. Everyone would receive the class average. On the first test, everyone got a B. On the second test, everyone got a D. On the final, everyone failed. Why should anyone work, if the result was going to be squandered on those who didn’t put in the work? It was, of course, a comparison to socialism. And the final summary was this:
When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.
I’m not sure of the origin, whether there actually was such an economics teacher. But the story caught on, and various college students took on the challenge of making videos of people being asked to sign a petition about GPA redistribution. (George Mason and Carthage, for example.)
So that was about equal opportunity for success based on grades. For some reason, hard-working students, even liberal ones, are reluctant to assume it’s unfair to lazy people for them to work hard and thus have greater opportunity to graduate/get good jobs.

Similar assertions about opportunity redistribution are used in affirmative action. The argument is, if there is racism, then there is an unfair advantage to favored races (Asians and whites, typically) and unfair disadvantage to non-favored races (namely African-Americans and Hispanics). If so, the argument goes, then there should be some “redistribution” of opportunity based on race—take from the advantaged races and give to the disadvantaged races, as if people are less individuals and more representatives of groups that share their skin color.
There was an satirical illustration of this concept, in the form of an affirmative action bake sale, done on some college campuses (Bucknell and Berkeley), and followed up in a mall by John Stossel. It got the conversation going, and even those getting the advantage saw the system as demeaning. However, it’s hard to tell whether the point got across, or whether the very subject of race was so taboo that discussion was shut down. But that’s a subject for another day.
I saw a somewhat unbelievable poster online, advertising a panel that would be discussing getting rid of all advantageous opportunities—evening things out. The panel theme is “No More Success Stories.” Why? Because for every 1 in a million success story, there are 999,999 left behind. Not kidding. Pretty sure this is not satire.
So, the question is, should differences in opportunity be evened out? Should opportunities be redistributed?
The concept behind Obamacare answers those questions with a loud yes. It is a simple fact that some people are healthier than others, and true that these healthier people can get by with paying less for health care, sometimes even opting to go without health insurance, or getting only a catastrophic protection policy. Others—the no-longer-young, the elderly, the already ill or injured—don’t have the luxury of going without health insurance coverage, or may have to pay more to get it. They are disadvantaged by less than peak health.
So Obamacare attempts to “redistribute” through financial measures the financial health advantages particularly of the young and healthy demographic, and make them pay more so that the older and less healthy demographics can supposedly pay less than they would. In reality, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in any demographic paying less for whatever coverage they had before the law, but that’s a discussion for another day. The point today is that the law was designed to “redistribute” good health advantages. And it is true that pretty much every single young healthy person will be required to cough up significant income that they wouldn’t otherwise have spent.
This isn’t a surprise. It was part of the discussion before the Supreme Court; it’s in the transcripts. (I wrote about the ruling before and after.) The law is a tax on healthy people intended to subsidize the less healthy.
One major problem with “redistribution” of any opportunity is that it uses some distant, powerful overseer (tyrant) to make decisions best made by individuals. Most young people are not as financially well off as most older people, nor as well off as they will be later in their lives. They are paying student loan debts, getting started in their careers. If there is a time to risk doing without comprehensive health insurance, they’re at the best time of their lives to do it. Maybe a catastrophic policy would be wise, if they can afford one. But chances are in their favor that their money is better spent on something else—and that’s why so many of this demographic have chosen to spend less on medical coverage.
Obamacare, in essence, forces young healthy people to impoverish themselves for a product they don’t need in order to help pay a subsidy for that product to people at the culmination of their career and lifetime of wealth building who can better afford to pay the higher costs. In the first year or two, paying the penalty/tax is a lower burden than paying for the actual product. It’s just money into a black hole, though—no actual benefit to the young healthy person being extorted.
On top of it all, the failure of the Obamacare website is just a little too much to believe. Here’s the summary: young people are forced to buy a product they don’t want, don’t need, and can't afford to help buy that product for those who are already affording it—and this tech savvy demographic is supposed to voluntarily sign up for this servitude on a website that doesn’t work.
Yes, that is centrally planned “redistribution” at its finest. Welcome to tyranny.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Beanie Baby Economics


I have long maintained that Economics is the fun science (for example, 8-29-2011, 8-30-2011, 11-4-2011, 3-21-2012, 3-21-2013).  And I thought we needed a little fun on a Monday. We'll be reviewing how Beanie Babies fit in to the economic picture.
This was part of the lecture for last Monday’s Hillsdale College Economics 101 online course. The title for lecture 5 is “The Role of Profit.” [These courses are free, but you may need to sign up for a course to get access.]
Before we get to the economics of Beanie Babies, we need to cover a few preliminary concepts.
·         Profit is revenue minus costs.
·         Economic profit includes opportunity costs when subtracting costs from profit.
Our teacher, Gary Wolfram, describes economic profits this way:

We want to include all the opportunity costs of all the resources that are being used up. Now, generally the opportunity cost of a resource is its price, but for some things it might not be included. So, for example, suppose you’re running a t-shirt shop in Hillsdale, and at the end of the year your accountant says, wow, you made $20,000. You might think that you earned economic profits of $20,000, but an economist would say, “Wait a minute. You might’ve earned $30,000 being the manager of the local Burger King.” So you have to include your opportunity cost of $30,000 when looking at total cost. So, to an economist your economic profit would actually be negative because, although you earned $20,000 in your revenue minus your cost in your t-shirt business, you could have made $30,000 being the manager at the Burger King.
So we often hear that firms make zero economic profit in a competitive market, at least whenever we take a Principles of Economics class, and you might say, well, gee, why is it that the firms are still making things if they’re making no profit? It’s because when we say they’re making zero economic profit, it means that they’re making exactly what those resources could have made in their next best alternative. You couldn’t have been doing better somewhere else. And so, economic profit just includes in the total cost all the cost including the opportunity cost of the people that are running the firm and all the labor and other inputs that are being used up.
Professor Wolfram explains that economic profit affects attraction to the market. When economic profits are positive, more firms are willing to enter that industry in hopes of making good use of their resources. He uses the e-reader market as an example.  First there was an innovator. Then others see high prices and growing demand, so they enter the industry. Soon you have Kindle, iPad, Nook, and others, providing choice as well as lower prices for consumers.
What’ll eventually happen is the price will fall and more will be produced. So, economic profit attracts new firms into that industry. Shifting the supply curve to the right, driving prices down, increasing the quantity, and we generally observe that. If we observe a firm that’s making economic profit because it introduced a new product, the price is generally high, not too many are sold, other firms enter, compete against them, driving that supply curve out, driving down prices, increasing quantity.
The opposite can also happen. Once demand is low enough that economic profits become negative, firms leave the industry. This is where the Beanie Babies example comes in, when there’s a loss of consumer demand at any price. Here’s the slightly technical part that makes sense with the chalkboard chart:
Gary Wolfram teaching Hillsdale's Econ 101 class, lecture 5
If firms are making economic losses, they’ll exit the industry. As they exit the industry, because an economic loss says they’re making less with those resources than they could be making somewhere else. As those firms exit, we get a shift in the supply curve now to the left: price will rise to P2, and quantity will fall to Q2.
He makes several other good points in this half hour lecture. Here are some samples (some are paraphrased rather than exact quotes):
·        Now, there are a number of things to observe about economic profit. First is that economic profit is a celebration. Firms must be doing what? They must be producing something of greater value than what the opportunity costs of those resources were.

·        So, the net of this is that we don’t have a minister of culture, or we don’t have a production czar that says, “Producers, you need to do something because consumers’ demand has changed, increasing or decreasing.” The price system and the attraction of profits moves the resources from those industries where consumer demand is declining to those industries where consumer demand is increasing. That’s why markets are so dynamic. That’s why it instantly responds to changes in what your preferences might be.

·        Economic profit is a celebration. Firms must be producing something of greater value than what the opportunity costs of those resources were. Rather than thinking of profit as a sign of exploitation, we should think of profit as a celebration, as saying that this firm made more with those resources than any other way of using those resources.

·        Monopoly is only a problem when it’s something you are forced to buy (very few things—electricity, phone, for example) and there’s a barrier to entry into the industry. Usually a barrier to entry is caused by government regulation, or government choosing how many (often one) entities may be in the market. “Normally when we look at a barrier to entry, it’s because government created that barrier to entry.”

·        Innovation is someone is thinking about what we are going to want three years from now—when we don’t even know yet that we’re going to want that—but when the time comes and we want it, the product will be there. Not good enough to do unto others what you want others to do unto you. You have to do unto others what they have no idea yet they will want done for them.

·        Innovation requires risk; profit is incentive to take the risk.

So, what happened with Beanie Babies? Demand at any price decreased, such that it was no longer a profitable industry, and the product stopped being made. In some cases, such as vinyl records, demand increases to a point that the product gets made. But in some cases, demand never resurfaces (8-track tape players, for example), and we don’t get the product anymore.
This is an ongoing problem for me, because I tend to like specific products and lack enough fellow consumers to keep companies making them. Mr. Spherical Model requests that I stop insisting that this is the entire consumer industry pinpointing what I like so they can purposely stop production of those things just to spite me.
But I do not feel that way about Beanie Babies. We had a few, back in the day. Mostly the tiny ones given away with kids’ meals, plus a few received as gifts. I didn’t understand how a toy could be valuable only if you left the tag on it and didn’t play with it. Eventually the rest of the world caught on.
Now that you understand the economic profit concepts behind Beanie Baby, you’re ready to more fully enjoy this “real life” Beanie Baby scene. Studio C started as a college campus improv group that developed into a TV comedy sketch show—in its third season on BYUtv (available on various television services) and also online, a sketch at a time. Enjoy.


 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Concerns, Part II


We started this two-part post about concerns, in Part I, with a look at The Book Thief, a novel about a young girl in Nazi Germany in the early 1940s. The main questions we’re looking at are:
How does a free, civilized people become subject, in a rather short time-frame, to undeniable tyranny? And how many in the population are willing to submit before even the unwilling are also subjected?
Today we’re looking at America, present day, concerned about what's happening, because we ought to know better.
* The other day I referred to a Bill Whittle Afterburner video. About halfway through, Whittle says this:
Now, some people have said that Obama is being petty and adolescent by deploying the new gestapo, that Smoky the Bear hat wearing National Park Service, as his primary weapon in making things hurt for the American people. It’s not just barricades erected by supposedly furloughed rangers in order to keep the American patriots that kept this country free from freely walking through the monuments erected to their dead friends and to they themselves. It’s things like keeping people on buses to keep them from even taking photographs of the national parks that we the people, not King Obama, actually own. It’s things like removing the handles from taps on hiking trails so that people can’t get a drink, and a list of shameful, shocking, eye-opening jackboot tactics to make sure his pain is felt—not allow it to be felt, but to make it be felt—goes on and on and on. And of all the things I’ve seen that have worried, depressed, and angered me since this hope and change huckster came to the Oval Office, nothing has disgusted and worried me so much as the willingness, the ease—in fact, in many cases the relish and the joy—at which formerly innocuous seeming people like park rangers have taken to kicking the American people in the groin. I will never forget this—not ever. And while I used to wonder where a dictator’s private army would come from among formerly free people—well, I wonder no more.
That use of regular, friendly neighborhood park rangers—who are willing to do as they’re told when they’re asked to do something obviously wrong—is disturbing. It’s a concern. No panic yet. We’re not expecting park rangers to beat any of us for sharing bread with a hungry stranger. But how far would they go, just doing what they’re told, before saying, “No, I won’t do that?” We don’t know.
photo from here
* Here’s another story that is cause for concern. Police took a flag from a veteran during a visit to the WWII Memorial. It looks like the veteran carrying the flag was in a wheelchair. But was he waving it, possibly risking hitting those around him? According to this report, no: he wasn’t doing anything but holding it. So police, who in pretty much my whole lifetime, have been considered the friend of law-abiding citizens, look here like recruits of an anti-freedom tyrannical overlord. At this point just the DC park police, and maybe only some specific bad apple. Still, cause for concern, though not yet panic.
* Here’s yet another puzzling piece: Veterans are being told that someone who doesn’t know them, some unknown Veterans Administration government bureaucrat, will determine their mental/emotional/physical competence. If this stranger determines you are not competent, you may be deprived of your ability to make your own financial decisions, and/or you may no longer have your second amendment right to own/purchase/use guns and ammo. The link will lead you do an actual letter sample. There have been thousands sent out. Some of the recipients can guess that it is because they sought help for PTSD, or temporary depression, or something else they sought help coping with. But these aren’t individuals who consider their problem disabling—or even still currently relevant. And many recipients can’t identify any conceivable reason for the notice. Their being a veteran seems to be the only contributing factor.
I know you can’t always believe everything you find on the internet (even here, despite my efforts at finding and revealing truth). But when I look at this story, it appears credible. The piece is written by Michael Connelly, Executive Director of the United States Justice Foundation, who writes a blog and teaches on constitutional issues. At this point I haven’t evaluated the reliability of the story. But if it is true, and it’s kept quiet so we aren't told elsewhere, this is more than just a minor concern. It’s the kind of thing a conspiracy theorist would come up with: government is determined to disarm the very citizens best trained and experienced in defense against enemies foreign and domestic.
* Another story this week was about a woman working for the government, taking calls to help people navigate the impossibly flawed (“glitchy”) Obamacare website. She had the misfortune of taking a friendly call from Sean Hannity from his radio show. He was kind to her and thanked her for how nice she was. But she apparently made a fatal error by admitting (in a job where she takes complaints) that a lot of calls she takes are from people who don’t like Obamacare. She was fired. As Bryan Preston of PJ Media put it,

This firing makes Erling Davis, not Kathleen Sebelius or any of the contractors who messed up the website, the first person held accountable for any problems with Healthcare.gov. The first person held accountable by the Obama administration is a person at the very bottom of the regime, who makes no decisions that impact the implementation of the law at all.
Just let that sink in.
Who fired her? How far up the chain was the decision to fire her made? What reasons were given for her firing?
Those are among the questions that the most secretive administration we’ve ever had will never answer.
Saying something the government doesn’t approve of is enough to get you fired; messing up the finances and health care of millions of Americans is just doing the job. Sean Hannity stepped in, by the way, to offer the woman a year’s salary to get her by until she gets a job, because he felt bad for getting her in trouble.
* The president gave a speech shortly after the government reopened in which he gave this warning:
And now that the government is reopened, and this threat to our economy is removed, all of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists, and the bloggers, and the talking heads on radio, and the professional activists who profit from conflict, and focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do.
Who are the villains? Well, of course lobbyists—people who sway government; the very cronies this president gives favors to but doesn’t want you to believe he’s in bed with. Then there are bloggers. He has just warned you about me; I’m not to be heeded. Neither are radio hosts, flippantly referred to as talking heads, even though on radio you don’t see their heads, while on TV news, which is much more aligned with his propaganda, you do see talking heads. Then he mentions “professional activists,” as if that isn’t the only kind of job he himself ever had. So, translate that to “evil conservative patriot activists,” like the ones the IRS targeted—not the actual paid professional ones like ACORN and subsidiaries that this president got paid to train in their tactics.
This is a little like the Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Translation: “Don’t notice evidence of truth; only notice and believe what I tell you to notice and believe.” As a blogger, my role in the story is Toto, the little dog pulling back the curtain on truth. That’s not an ignoble character to play. Even though we might not be “in Kansas anymore”—in the American freedom world we grew up assuming was our home—Toto is still perfectly capable of sniffing around and pulling back the curtain.
At this point, the president’s call for avoiding unsanctioned information sources doesn’t actually stop someone like me from posting. So his anti-conservative-voices rhetoric is a concern, but not yet a reason to panic. So far this still sounds like paranoia, but if voices like mine ever get shut down—then we’re beyond concern and into reason for panic. Just saying, while I can.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Concerns, Part I


It has been a while since I shared a discussion from book club. We met two whole weeks ago, but there are pieces of that book that keep coming to mind. And I think some specific things fit in with other concerns I’ve been collecting.
So, first, the book from this month’s discussion was yet another youth novel, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak (soon to be a movie, I believe). It’s about a young girl in Nazi Germany—mostly from 1941 to 1943. This place and period can be hard to read about, because there’s so much inhumanity. One thing I liked about this book was that most of the characters were both believable and not evil, even though their surroundings were pretty tyrannical.
The girl, Liesel, is brought into a home as a foster child, shortly after the death of her little brother (and the probable imminent death of her mother, although we never learn that detail for certain). While the people she comes to call Mama and Papa are in ways difficult, they are loving and well-meaning throughout, and sometimes downright heroic. So glad I didn’t come across another story of parental failure.
The story is told from the observant point of view of personified Death. Death, in this story, is kind of tired and overworked—particularly during the war years—and sympathetic. Also poetic at times. The parts that I am now finding most memorable relate to the taking of fathers from the homes.
Liesel’s Papa is standing with her as a group of Dachau prisoners are marched through town. One is fainting, nearly dead.  Papa fails to resist the urge to reach out with a hunk of bread for the man. Both the prisoner and Papa are whipped, immediately, for the crime. And then Papa realizes his stupidity, realizing he has put the entire household in danger. The young Jewish man living in their shallow basement has to leave. And there is the sense that at any moment the gestapo could show up and punish Papa further. A few weeks later, the Nazi Party arrives. They “honor” him by accepting his request to be a party member and then drafting the 50-something man into service—clean-up work following bombings, including a lot of clearing out dead bodies, in addition to building repair. There is always the risk that bombers will return and wipe out those cleaning up; it’s a high-risk dirty job.
Parallel to this is the story of Liesel’s best friend Rudy’s family. Rudy is smart in school and gets the attention of the party by performing extremely well at a local track meet. He also happens to look blond and physically perfect. So the party comes to the parents and lets them know they have honored them by giving Rudy the opportunity to go to a special school where the party intends to raise the perfect race of Germans. But his parents look at these strangers (whose ideas don’t agree with the family, although they would never be so unsafe as to say so) taking away their 13-year-old son. And they say no thank you, as they are told they have a right to do. A short time later Rudy’s father is “honored” by being drafted into military service (he’s got nearly grown children as well as young ones, so I’m guessing 40-something).
So both families are punished for their disagreement with the tyranny by being “honored” to serve the tyranny.
Whenever you talk about Nazi Germany and then talk about conditions in our country today, you get the whole “You compared Obama to Hitler” thing, from people who forget that they actually called Bush Hitler just a few years ago. While I am comparing, literally, two situations, in order to measure and compare levels of tyranny, I do not equate the two leaders. (For one thing, Obama is ineffectual and can’t even find moving words to say to a crowd without a teleprompter, so I don’t see the ability to accomplish that much evil. See my post Long Game Players.)
I’m not concerned about the leaders so much as I’m concerned about the people. How does a free, civilized people become subject, in a rather short time-frame, to undeniable tyranny? And how many in the population are willing to submit before even the unwilling are also subjected?
In The Book Thief, the idea was that these were mostly simple working people trying to get on with their lives, with varying degrees of disinterest in the state, but a sharp awareness of the danger of lack of compliance. It’s fiction, so I don’t know if it accurately portrays the actual 1940s German people in the outskirts of Berlin. But it’s conceivable to me that they sort of got tyranny thrust upon them before they noticed. I don’t want that to happen here—or anywhere ever again.
So I’ve put together a little collection here is of things that are concerning—which we’ll cover in the next post.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Behind the Sphere


We’ve had a lot of posts recently related to current political events, and that could give a reader the wrong idea about the purpose of this blog. So today we’re stepping back and doing a little review—and maybe a bit of behind-the-scenes reveal.
 
What Is the Spherical Model
The Spherical Model concept is an alternative to the right/left way of defining things political, with the faulty assumption that middle is better than extreme at either end. At the Spherical Model we talk about a three-dimensional view, with freedom and tyranny being polar opposites. Above the equator (and preferably above the 45th parallel) is the freedom zone. It’s our goal to identify the principles that lead upward, toward freedom and away from tyranny. The best example we have of following the principles is the US Constitution, with very limited powers granted to government, strictly for the purposes of protecting life, liberty, and property.
Political Sphere
The left/right direction—the longitudinal lines—on the sphere aren’t part of the good/bad dichotomy; they simply identify the level (local-ness) of the interest, whether very local, starting with individuals and families, on up to community, city, state, nation, and, at the far extreme, global. However, it is a principle of freedom that the most local entity possible should handle any particular issue.
Down in the southern hemisphere, one quarter (the local southwestern quadrant) is the tyranny of chaos or anarchy; the southeaster quarter is statist tyranny. Both are tyranny. But most of the world’s history has involved the oscillation between these two quarters without much awareness that there’s a whole northern freedom hemisphere up above.
Using the spherical idea, we can add in economics, with the polar opposites of free enterprise and controlled economy. This overlays the political sphere, so it becomes obvious that principles that lead to freedom are likely to lead to the prosperity of free enterprise as well.
While we’re at it, we can add an overlay of social ideas on the sphere, using the polar opposites of civilization and savagery. I believe it is this sphere that lays the groundwork for the others. People who self-govern can enjoy freedom and prosperity. So living the principles of civilization are likely to lead to economic and political freedom.
These are the ideas we talk about on this blog. Almost anything fits somewhere in the ideas of freedom, economics, and civilization, so you’re somewhat subject to what interests me.
A few months ago, when we reached the 400th blog post, I put together a best-of series. If you want to better understand the Spherical Model idea, start first with the website, SphericalModel.com, about 50 pages worth on the model, and the principles related to each of the three overlying spheres. Then you can read the posts that give further evidence of the ideas, separated mainly into the three spheres:
·         Best of Spherical Model, Part I (Spherical Model basics plus Political Sphere)
·         Best of Spherical Model, Part II (Economic Sphere)
·         Best of Spherical Model, Part III (Civilization Sphere)
In addition, there are some collections you might find interesting. The collections mainly fit under the category of civilization, but can interrelate with politics and economics as well.
·         Defense of Marriage Collection (July 1, 2013)
·         Education Collection (July 24, 2013) 

Who Is Behind Spherical Model
I refer to the Spherical Model as the smallest think tank ever. It’s mainly just me, plus those I talk things over with—which happen to include my three adult children, whose interests align neatly with the three spheres, so I refer to my children in the blog as oldest son Political Sphere, second son Economic Sphere, and daughter Social Sphere. All three are married and pursuing lives we can be proud of.
Political Sphere is currently a second year law student here in Texas. He and Mrs. Political Sphere have two children—Little PS1 and Little PS2, my brilliant and adorable grandchildren. Political Sphere probably has the most influence on the blog, because he calls regularly to talk through ideas and current events with me. He has guest posted a few times, and when he’s not studying 24/7, I hope he’ll post more often.
Economic Sphere graduated with a degree in economics, and has since been in the US Army. He graduated earlier this month from the Defense Language Institute (which I wrote about), and has a few more months of specialized training before being stationed overseas for his assignment. He and Mrs. Economic Sphere lived with us during much of the first year of this blog, so I got a lot of direct economic lessons then. It helps to have him draw charts for me in person.
Social Sphere is working on a degree in a field that uses many of her talents, where she’s developing entrepreneurial ideas that are likely to benefit families in particular. She is both an idea generator and a person who makes others feel good—so she has influenced this blog more directly than can be evident to anyone but me.
I refer to myself as Spherical Model. (My actual name shows up on the website, where I own the copyright, if you’re interested enough to search that out.) Sometimes I say “we here at the Spherical Model,” but that’s mainly just me. There’s not much in the “about me” section of the blog. You can pick up details here and there by reading the blog. But today I’m finally offering a brief bio of me.
That's me, out on the Golden Gate Bridge
during our recent trip to CA
for Economic Sphere's DLI graduation
I graduated with a degree in English, specializing in writing and editing. I spent my early career years as a writer and editor, mainly in the field of education, but partly in computer documentation—way back when we used Wordperfect 2.0. (I go back far enough to have learned WordStar, in case you’re a word processor historian.) One of those jobs was at a language translation company, where I did Spanish and Portuguese quality assurance—and also Arabic, although all I needed to test there was whether the words showed up in Arabic script or got left in English. Among the education jobs were college level teacher development and support, and high-low curriculum writing (that means for higher grades, for middle school and high school, with low reading ability). I wrote textbooks and workbooks on government and biology.
I spent a lot of years, starting before the birth of Economic Sphere, as a stay-at-home mom. The most intense decade of that was 2000-2010, when we homeschooled, an adventure not to be missed. The Spherical Model idea came out of a homeschool effort to explain political ideas to my children—back in 2004. So my kids were the first to be taught the Spherical Model.
Mr. Spherical Model and I have been married for nearly 32 years. We both graduated from Brigham Young University. That does, in our case, mean that we are Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Both of us come from families that go back to early pioneer days. My mother used to tell me, “Don’t go off to BYU and marry some Californian who will take you away,” so I guess it was inevitable that I would do just that. After he graduated (which was well after my graduation, because he had served as a missionary, etc.), we left for graduate school in Indiana, then went to northern California for an internship and follow-up jobs, and then moved to Washington State for a decade before ending up in Texas.
San Jacinto Monument
where Texas won independence
He currently works in the oil industry, but his field is adult education and leadership training, so he has been in many industries, from telephony to nuclear power, and now oil-related energy. We came to Texas for his work about 15 years ago. While I don’t enjoy humid heat and bugs, there’s a lot about freedom in Texas that I love. If you homeschool, you can teach Texas history by going to Washington-on-the-Brazos, where the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico was signed; then going to the Alamo, where Travis, Crockett, and Bowie died along with everyone else, taking a stand for freedom; and then the San Jacinto Monument, where the Texians defeated Presidente Santa Ana and his armies. As people say here, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as quick as I could.”
I’ve pretty much always fit writing into my life (and often editing) in an un-famous sort of way. I have other interests as well: music, art, crafts, health, cooking, sports, and probably other things that would make for a pleasant grandma-blog, if I didn’t feel compelled to continue what I’m writing here. I’m active in a local tea party, which comes up occasionally in this blog. Recently I put my name on the ballot (for next spring’s primary) to be a local precinct chair. I’ve been a district and state delegate a few times. And I frequently write to my representatives. I’ve worked the polls and have served as a poll watcher several times. In other words, while I don’t consider myself a political activist (which holds a lot of negative connotations to me), I do try to get involved to do good where I can.
When I started writing on Defense of Marriage issues, back around 2003, I was talking with Richard Wilkins, who had come to speak to us. I’m a good note taker, and I believe I can take a number of ideas and arrange them in understandable language, so I asked him about writing, even though I had no credentials. He said it was valuable to have the viewpoint of a mother, and I should never be apologetic for that. So I’m acting on faith that what I have to say can be valuable to readers. I hope it is.
I love the Constitution. I love this country and pray for its preservation. And I love civilization. I wish the whole world would choose to live in the way that leads to freedom, prosperity, and thriving civilization.
This is probably all you really need to know about me, as the person behind the Spherical Model.

Friday, October 18, 2013

After the Can Kicking


I didn’t really plan on a third day related to the government shutdown. This one, however, is just commentary on the situation, rather than specifically related to contract keeping. So, while this isn’t exactly part III, you might want to first read Contract Keeping Part I and PartII.
One of my favorite responses to the WWII Memorial closure
photo from here
I don’t yet fully comprehend all the details of the bill that ended the shutdown. In short, it looks to me like, in the game of chicken, the GOP veered to the side—just as everyone expected. It was on day 16 of the shutdown. Seventeen years ago, the dreaded shutdown went to day 21, when the GOP caved (a day before President Clinton had planned to end things).
The continuing resolution issue comes up again mid-January. A week into February the debt ceiling issue resurfaces. At both of those moments, the government could shut down again, if there’s no agreement. In other words, the can has been kicked down the road.
But if anyone thinks the Republicans are going to grow a new spine in a quarter year, they’re likely to be disappointed. Our hope may have to be that we elect a few more Ted Cruzes and Mike Lees in every coming election. Meanwhile, it is hoped by the weaker-spined legislators that Obamacare might implode on its own, based on early signs of incompetence. Personally, I don’t trust dumb luck—even when that much “dumb” is involved. I want to see active efforts to remove the albatross from the neck of the free people.
A few people made good observations follow the end of this episode, that I’d like to share, concerning the propagandizing of the shutdown, and some of the things we’ve learned.
My friend Kim quoted something on Facebook, with a few details I hadn’t known (again, this is quoted, so I’m uncertain of origin):
Something I hadn’t thought about. How truckloads of those shutdown signs instantly materialized and were posted.
One of the pre-printed signs
photo from here
How did +21,000 signs (large, detailed, specific) just magically appear overnight at some 620 locations?
I have worked in the government on and off for 42 years. During that time I became completely familiar with requisitions, bidding, awarding contracts etc. It is a time-consuming process dealing with bean-counters and pencil-necked bureaucrats every step of the way. The simplest request takes months.
In less than 8 hours (probably within six hours) of the shutdown announcement professionally printed and painted 3X4 foot signs miraculously and simultaneously appeared all over the country, coast to coast and border to border, in the tens of thousands saying—"This (park, facility, etc. [with the appropriate custom logos for each of the hundreds of parks and monuments]) is closed due to the government shutdown.”
There has not been a government shutdown in 17 years, and it was for a matter of hours and no parks or monuments were closed. [Well, 3 weeks, and some park areas were closed; remember the guy with the sleigh ride concession in Yellowstone Park that was waylaid? But mostly accurate.]
Fact that can not be disputed: These signs were carefully designed, detailed specifications were determined, signs were then requisitioned, bids were posted and vetted, and government contracts were awarded. The materials were then ordered, and the signs were manufactured, then distributed nationwide from their manufacturing point by the U.S. Mail or freight companies.
This shutdown was orchestrated and planned well in advance, at least 6-8 month ago. Millions of tax dollars were appropriated and spent in this process. As usual there is a filthy paper trail a mile long leading directly to the Oval Office.
Americans do not realize just what cesspool-level of pathological lying, Chicago gutter trash, we are dealing with! What juvenile, 100% inept, phony, petty crooks and street hustlers are now running our nation! 

Another Facebook friend, Shawn Rogers, who frequently offers great political commentary, had this to say:
So, boys and girls, what did we learn?
·         We learned that during a "government shutdown" 83% of the government does not shut down.
·         We learned that during the "shutdown" most people are unaware that anything is shut down.
·         We learned that the Obama regime will punish the American people when he is displeased with them.
·         We learned that Obama had to spend money to shut down things which normally aren't shut down during a "shutdown" in order to make sure people are aware of a "shutdown." [I love this one.]
·         We learned that eventually the current Republican establishment will always cave. Well, some of us learned that. Many of us have known that for a long, long, sad time.
·         We learned that the Republican establishment would rather turn on its own than fight the liberal democrat agenda.
·         We learned that John McCain is a liberal sympathizer. We learned that Peter King is a vindictive, petty, and spiteful man. We learned that both of these men are beneath contempt because they put political party power ahead of the Constitution.
·         We learned that people like John Cornyn and Orrin Hatch think the citizenry is stupid and incapable of understanding the machinations and manipulations of the legislative process. [Cornyn did vote right in the end, and the airwaves are full of ads reminding us Texans of what he claims has been his fight against Obamacare; he is doing major damage control after his failure on the cloture vote.]
·         I learned that my ardent support for Senator Ted Cruz was the best political activity I've ever engaged in. I learned that Senator Lee is not one whit behind him in his defense of the Constitution.  [I strongly concur.]
·         We DIDN'T learn that Barack Obama is a tyrannical, spiteful, and evil leader of the country. We've known that for over five years.
That was the same evening the agreement was reached. Shawn had more the next morning: “That awkward (and pathetic) moment when 17% of the government starts back up and nobody notices a bit of difference.”
And he posted a link you might enjoy: “16 Things We Learned from the Government Shutdown.”
Thursday evening he added some hopeful words about Obamacare and the political future:
Prediction: Within 3 months the Regime will delay or otherwise stall the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, partially due to the horrifically incompetent roll-out, but also to the absolutely abysmal numbers of individuals signing up. You heard it here first.
Second Prediction: You will soon start to hear of democrats in the House and those up for re-election in the Senate pushing for some kind of delay or reduction in penalties under the ACA. They have to be getting extremely nervous right now.
Third Prediction: The 2014 mid-terms will be a repeat of 2010. It will be awful for the Democrats due to the failure of their policies.
Keep hope alive, people. We aren't always going to be in this adverse political climate. 

Thank you, Shawn. I appreciate encouragement to keep hope alive.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Contract Keeping, Part II


Part I of Contract Keeping covered some of the details of the current complicated situation surrounding debt ceiling, continuing resolutions, and implementation of Obamacare. There’s a contrast between what the president says about the high priority of keeping our contract to pay our debts and the way he disdains contracts and commitments at will.
So it is with thought of contract keeping that we take a look at presidential choices during the government partial (17%) shutdown.
·        He has shut down and refused access to a privately owned hotel and restaurant along the Blue Ridge Parkway—which wasn’t closed. He has used federal money to hire forces to barricade access, losing even the income the private entity would have paid if allowed to operate. I can’t tell from the story whether the inn is on private land or is private property on leased public land. I haven’t read the contract, but I believe this business owner and any others similarly affected have a right to sue over breach of contract, and certainly can sue for government’s seizure of private property.

·        He tried to shut down the parking lot to Mt. Vernon—a privately owned property on private land—because the parking lot is jointly owned between private entities and the federal government. Federal resources were used to blockade the parking lot, but no resources would have been spent to leave the space open. No word on what urgent treasury need was satisfied by this additional expense and intrusion on private property. Again, I haven’t read the contract about the jointly owned parking lot, but I bet there’s nothing in there warning that the government can arbitrarily cut off use without emergency safety cause.

·        He has evicted people from their privately owned homes located on park lands at Lake Mead. He used federal money to make the evictions happen. He didn’t simply say, “You won’t have federal services while in your home, so you’ll need to depend only on state and other jurisdictions.” No, he says you can’t live in your home that you own—on property for which you have a long-term lease contract. The president is saying that, if you have a lease contract with the federal government, it is null and void during a temporary partial shutdown, and you must therefore be prevented from using your personal property until the president gives his express permission. Any other landholder would be taken to court and would lose for this breach of contract. I would like to see a lawsuit against the president personally, since this is his doing.

Mt. Rushmore backside view,
because the front view was closed
·        The president not only shut down national parks, he used taxpayer dollars to pay officials to block views from the road. On the paid-for road leading through Mt. Rushmore National Park, all the viewpoints were barricaded, and officers were stationed to keep cars and buses from stopping to take photos of the very visible mountain. Certainly the only reason the whole Mt. Rushmore wasn’t covered with a curtain was the logistics of hooking up a piece of fabric so large.

·        There were four soldiers recently killed in Afghanistan. What usually happens is that there is a grant of $100,000 within three days, to cover funeral expenses and other immediate needs of the family at the time of crisis, while waiting for other death benefits to be issued. But our president couldn’t keep that promise—because it would hurt the public more if the promises weren’t kept. There was enough outcry over this failure to our troops that Fisher House, a private charity for injured veterans and their families, offered to make the payments as needed during the shutdown. The president accepted the offer, insuring he would have the government repay the debt after the end of the shutdown. Several problems here: first, we have plenty of money in the treasury for the essential government role of the military—including keeping our promises to our soldiers. Choosing to break this contract is despicable. In addition, the president has no power to commit the federal government to additional debt—as he did with Fisher House; only Congress can do that. Meanwhile, the House had two months ago passed a bill to fund the military, and just to be certain, also passed a bill to guarantee these payments to families after military losses be paid. The bill sat on Harry Reid’s desk—with him saying it was moot now that the Fisher House arrangement had been settled. Then, because of bad optics, he had it quietly passed in the dead of night.
There are additional ridiculous measures the president has taken, beyond outright breach of contract, simply to cause pain to the American people.

barricades removed from WWII Memorial
·        The open air Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was closed, by barricade, to prevent aging veterans from visiting. Meanwhile a group of illegal aliens are granted access to the National Mall (where, if reports are true, the federal government built a platform stage for their use) to demonstrate for a path to citizenship. In response, this past weekend there was a peaceful, large gathering on the National Mall, where demonstrators cleaned up the space—including placing the unneeded barricades neatly in front of the White House.

·        In Utah, where 70% of land has been claimed by the federal government, local authorities decided to peacefully remove the barricades to allow people to drive through the people’s park land and look around; it was costing more to keep people out than to let them in. And it was harming the local economy, which is forced to depend on public lands. Eventually the state made a deal to pay for parks to be open during the shutdown, so the federal government couldn’t claim penury as the reason for forbidding access to most of the state.

·        There were public drinking fountains in the Alleghenies and C&O Canal area, where he had faucet handles removed so water could not be accessed. The plumbing was already paid for. The water came from wells. It certainly cost more to remove water access than it could have cost to monitor water contamination for what is expected to be no more than days or weeks. Petty and mean-spirited? Yes.
There are a few clever phrases and appropriate epithets for the president that have come up during this shutdown:
·         The Spite House
·         Campaign of Pain
·         “Make It Hurt”
·         Barrycades
·         Intransigent
 
A couple of good pieces about the “make it hurt” policy are Bill Whittle’s Afterburner video and a piece by John Stossel called “Shutdown Theater.”
It may be that the ridiculousness of the “Spite House’s” “Campaign of Pain” is getting through to the lesser informed. The president’s approval rating is now historically low—lower than George Bush’s ever was, even with a continuous media screed against him. And this president still enjoys a fawning media (with just occasional chinks). An informal poll on a liberal college campus in Colorado showed overwhelming blame for the shutdown going to the president and democrats. I’m sure the president would see that as unexpected.
I am always in favor of clarity and truth. It may be that truth about the president is escaping into the general consciousness. It is possible that standing up to this bully at this moment in history could turn out to be a very worthwhile opportunity for truth to be better understood.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Contract Keeping, Part I


One of the key requirements for a successful economy is honoring contracts.[i]  The uncertainty inherent in a society that is careless about contracts leads directly to refusal to risk wealth. So I’m concerned when I see the president’s cavalier treatment of contracts.
Contract, Word clipart
The president postures on a pro-contract argument when he insists we must raise the debt ceiling so that we don’t default on our debts. And he insists we must not allow Congress to control the funding of Obamacare—it’s a matter of principle. Yet he, himself, is arbitrary and capricious about any sort of contract keeping.
We’ll get to the fun part eventually—the long list of government shutdown consequences. But first let’s take a look at debt repayment integrity.
If you have a list of bills you pay, because of contracts you’ve made (home mortgage, car payment, electric bill, etc.), and you find yourself suddenly with a reduction in income, does that mean you will default? Only if you don’t pay the bills.
Normally, during your search for additional income (better job, second job, etc.), you’re prioritizing. If you’re living in your dream home, you might put it on the market and downsize. If you’re driving a luxury car, you might sell it or trade it in for something that fits in the budget. If you’ve already economized to the limit in those areas, you’ll do whatever you can to meet those debt deadlines and economize on something more elastic (entertainment, clothing, travel, even food).
Lower income means less spending. But except in sudden dire circumstances, it doesn’t automatically mean you default on your contracts.
A debt ceiling rise is not even a lower income; it’s more like reaching your limit on a credit card. You don’t threaten to default on your mortgage if your credit card company says you’ve spent enough without repayment so they’re not going to grant you additional credit. What happens in real life is you cut back your spending and begin paying off the credit card bill. That’s how you keep your credit rating good and make it possible to get a comparable or higher credit limit later. You prove yourself to be a good risk.
But the president is equating a refusal to raise the debt ceiling limit with a failure to pay our debts and the resultant downgrading of the nation’s credit rating. He’s used this tactic the last several times the debt ceiling has been raised—and twice during this presidency the credit rating was downgraded even though the debt ceiling was raised (August 2011 by S&P and April 2012 by Egan-Jones—both agencies suffered government investigations in retaliation). The reason for the downgrades? There’s no effort to cut spending; the increasing debt can’t go on endlessly, so there’s a risk of creditors not getting repaid.
The point here is, the president is willing to threaten default on contracts if he doesn’t get his way.
That is exactly what we’re seeing in response to the continuing resolution battle as well—the situation that has led to the current partial federal government shutdown.
Quick definition: a continuing resolution is a temporary short-term response to the lack of a budget. The resolution is to continue government services at the most recent base budget plus annual increase. We have not had a budget since Harry Reid took over in the Senate (January 2007); continuing resolutions have been misused in lieu of actual efforts to pass a budget.
Budget bills, however, always start in the House, so we can't completely blame the Senate. However, we didn’t get a budget in the years Nancy Pelosi ruled the House (also from January 2007). We started getting budgets from the House after the 2010 midterms gave the majority back to Republicans—but the Senate has never put to a vote any House budget bill. (Note: while the president doesn’t get to create a budget, he can submit suggested budgets, which he has sometimes done. However, his budgets have been rejected unanimously in the Senate, including every member of his own party. Maybe because they’re ridiculously unworkable.)
This month the continuing resolution battle coincided with the implementation of Obamacare.
What has Obama done relative to the Obamacare “law”? He has, without any adjustment to the bill from Congress, extra-legally exempted or postponed implementation for big businesses, favored unions and any crony that has lobbied for exemption (his own family is, of course, exempt, while Congress is not). He has failed to get equipment in place to allow the remaining small businesses and individuals to comply. In other words, keeping the contract is much less important to him than wielding the power.
It is becoming ever clearer that the president is free and easy about contract keeping, whenever he sees an opportunity to exert power instead. The pain he is inflicting on the US people during the shutdown has a couple of purposes. Ostensibly, it is to point out how much we all need the federal government. In reality, it is to exert unchecked power. And he’s very willing to break contracts while exerting power.
When we look at the shutdown infliction of pain in the next post, I’d like to do that with the view of contracts vs. arbitrary power wielding.


[i] This is one of the principles covered at length in Poverty of Nations, by Grudem and Asmus, a book I wrote about in three posts, September 2, 4, and 6.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Higher Education, Part IV


This is the fourth (final) part of a series related to higher education costs. (See Part I, Part II, Part III, and also check out the president’s speech offering to help that led to this long and emphatic “no thank you.”)
The original government interference in higher education is the refusal to allow businesses to use their own hiring policies. While I think IQ tests are limited in many ways—they fail to measure life experience combined with drive—they are significantly useful in predicting job performance in many fields. This is from 2002:
Cognitive ability tests represent the best single predictor of job performance, but also represent the predictor most likely to have substantial adverse impact on employment opportunities for members of several racial and ethnic minority groups.[1]
What happened was, it became “unconstitutional” for businesses to use an extremely useful colorblind tool in hiring decisions, because the results might end up appearing to be racist. So businesses found another way—they let higher education institutions do the IQ testing, and subsequent weeding out, for them.
As a result, getting an education at a premier university that would provide the same cachet as a high IQ score became the path to career success. And students were willing to pay a premium for that credential.
Costs for the coveted scarce commodity rose. Fewer students could work their way through college. So government stepped in to “help” with guaranteed student loans (which may not be low interest, and cannot be dismissed even in cases of bankruptcy or disability). More students with apparent financial ability to go to college meant greater demand for limited college admittance, which meant ever higher education costs. Current costs for a degree in many mid-range skills far outpace wages. The result is essentially indentured servitude.
Incidentally, schools are rated by the percentage of students they accept compared to how many apply—so they recruit so that they have more to turn away—which makes them more exclusive, literally, so they can then charge higher tuition. [I’ll refer you again to the Uncommon Knowledge discussion I mentioned in Part II.] Some of the ultimate schools, such as Harvard, take in so much money, they have literally billions of dollars in their permanent endowment fund. They could expand easily and offer the education to greater and greater numbers. Or they could provide full-ride scholarships to all their students for the next century—just off interest, without touching principal. But they don’t do that, because being exclusive, more than offering an excellent education for the next generation, is their business.
So now the president, who can do nothing about the third or half of high school students who fail to graduate, offers to step in to make sure everyone (sweepingly including the dropouts) gets a higher education. The premise is that a college education is the passport to a comfortable middle class lifestyle, and that should be available to everyone. It’s hard to argue with the “everybody should have the same opportunity” concept. But logic holds that there will always be a lower 50%; speaking it out of existence isn’t going to work. (I’m thinking of Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average,” even though that’s not mathematically possible.)
If you know how to translate the president, you know he doesn’t really care about basic fairness—or else he’d be in favor of the free market. Power mongers grasp opportunities to be the deciders of who gets access to a certain level of lifestyle.
If the government is “helping” to make higher education opportunities, then of course it will have an interest in what is taught and how. So that means greater control over accreditation. Accreditation now is done by private entities, but does indeed have a certain point of view. For example, an accredited law school is required to teach not only that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land but that it was a correct Supreme Court decision—even though hardly anyone believes that, including the liberal members of the current SCOTUS. Accreditation is not a guarantee of education quality; it is a controller of documentation used for granting or denying access to opportunities.
Having more government influence on accreditation and other markers of success can only lead to weeding out dissenting opinions. And that is likely the intent.
Government could also affect choices by limiting use of student loans to those institutions it approves, thus limiting choice.
I am not in favor of encouraging diploma mills. I am in favor of my own children, at this point, getting their degrees from good universities—because right now that is still the gate to certain career advantages.
But, unlike our president, I trust the free market. If businesses were allowed to make hiring decisions their way, and students were free to get their education any way they chose (probably a combination of guided university education and much free online study), then costs would dramatically drop. Then hard work, effort combined with good character would be the gateway to success—rather than agreement with a tyrannical, interfering government.


[1] Murphy, K.M., “Can Conflicting Perspectives on the Role of g in Personnel Selection Be Resolved?” Human Performance, 15(1&2):173-186 (2002).