My family is traveling, with our home base in Cincinnati, Ohio this week. Yesterday, we got the opportunity to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, located on the riverfront here in Cincinnati. It was sobering, uncomfortable, and inspiring - all at the same time.
Our 20/20 hindsight makes it difficult to understand how slavery was defended. Politicians defended it as right and necessary (and we think that awful politicians are a new invention…). Businessmen claimed it fueled the economy; and, in large part, they were correct. Scientists claimed that people of African descent were inferior; while they were often stronger and more resilient, they drew the short straw when it came to intelligence. That’s why owning them is OK. (Beware of “settled science”…) Even Africans themselves would raid other villages and tribes, capture people to sell to the white man, for their own financial gain.
That being said - the most uncomfortable part of this was how the preachers provided supposedly biblically-based cover for all this. Sermons were preached about the inferiority of those with darker skin, and how they are ordained by God to be subservient to the white man. (This was throughout North, Central, and South America - this isn’t just a U-S-of-A sin.)
Why was that uncomfortable? It’s no secret that I’m a Christian, recently coming on staff with my church. We, as Christians, must be sure that we faithfully divide the Word of Truth so that our ancestors do not look back on us with the same shame I felt when I heard my ancestors. They got it wrong - from the bottom to the top, point-blank, wrong. We are all made in the image of God, not a one of us more or less valuable or worthwhile than another. This does not mean that we completely capitulate to the current cultural zeitgiest, deciding that abortion is A-OK or that the clear prohibition of homosexual behaviors were somehow misconstrued. It means that we, as people of the Word, must make sure that when we stand up and say “thus saith the Lord,” that we’re correct.
The most sobering part of the museum had to be the “modern day slavery” section. I knew that slavery still existed under different names, but the prevalence statistics were quite sobering. (I didn’t memorize them, so I can’t quote them; suffice it to say, unless you’ve looked into it, it’s higher than you think.) We must ensure that, while we’re looking for the best deal, or the least expensive way to get something, that we’re not enabling modern-day slavery. From unfair labor practices (a big reason I’m against illegal immigration, BTW), to excessively cheap textiles, to service staff, to prostitution and pornography - the market for these things are the current demands that run the engine of modern-day slavery.
Now, apart from the statistics I mentioned in the last paragraph (and some of the details of the “regulated” slave trade), none of what I’ve mentioned above was new to me; it was just sobering (and good) to be reminded of it. I was also impressed with the even-handed display explaining the 3/5 compromise. (For those unaware, it was Southerners who wanted slaves counted as whole people; Northerners didn’t want them counted at all, but agreed to 3/5 to placate the South. It was about apportionment of seats as it related to proportional representation, not an indication of one’s humanity.) As with anything, there were a few places where this language was inappropriately applied, but all in all, I was greatly enriched from our visit there.
Let freedom ring; let us Christians amplify the sound, whether others use that freedom to choose the way we hope they would - or not.
I enjoy economics. I’ve enjoyed studying theory, debating with others, and when I had to choose an elective for my degree a few years ago, my economics class was among my favorites. I also enjoy how sound economic policy squares with my world and political views; it’s quite the harmonious union. The run-up to the presidential election every four years, though, is a painful time for those of us who have looked at the numbers and believe that the free market gives the best possible outcome. There are always the fringe or down-ballot candidates, like Fauxcahontas of the North, who are way out in left field. Over this past weekend, though, this lunacy came out right at the top of the ticket.
The transcript for the video clip is below; if you want to watch it for yourself, you can see it in this article. (I tried to embed it, but I couldn’t make it look right.)
We created a lot of millionaires; and, you know, there a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me - "cause they want to give something back. They know they didn’t… If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, “Wow, it must be because I was just so smart.” There are a lot of smart people out there. “It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.” Let me tell you something - there are a whole bunch of hard-workin’ people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested roads and bridges - if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own; government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
Let’s get the “you didn’t build that” thing out of the way up front. There is a case to be made that the “that” refers to the roads and bridges, not to the business that was build. Neither reading of it changes what I believe is the real issue with these words, though if “that” is the business, it only confirms my analysis. And, although it is tempting to go to snark with this (“We created a lot of millionaires.” Yeah, but you started with billionaires!), that won’t be productive; I’ll try to keep that to a minimum.
We will start with the millionaire line, though. Who is the royal “we” he is talking about? His administration? America? From his other speeches, and the context later in this one, he is likely referring to the government. So, the government created millionaires? If we take that at face value, and your net worth is less than a million dollars, why didn’t the government pick you to be a millionaire? This illustrates the lack of substance in that statement. America, as a nation, has seen many people attain a net worth of one million dollars or more; but, to say she created it is a different thing altogether. It was definitely not the government who created them!
But, this flows into the point of the speech. American government, by creating roads and bridges, maintaining an educational system, and developing technology, created the environment in which such success could occur. On this point, I agree. Building out infrastructure led to expansion of our nation, and as families are spread across the nation, and commerce is transacted around the globe, infrastructure needs to be maintained and upgraded. Where the government has a vested interest in that infrastructure, they should be involved at the appropriate level.
Where this goes astray is the next logical step people like our 44th President want to take from that. The next step - well, it’s right there in his speech, that horrid phrase “give back.” (I’ve written about that before, though I don’t think I’ve dedicated an entire post to it. Great, another post for the draft pile.) Implicit in that phrase is that the entity that should “give back” did not earn or deserve what they have acquired, or that they got it for free. That’s not the way businesses work (which he would know had he ever… aw, darn, that snark is hard to hold back). Business owners:
Have an idea for a product or service for which they believe they can convince people to trade some of their money
Put in the work to develop the product or train people to provide the service
Develop a plan to provide that product or service
Secure the necessary infrastructure to run the business (physical, accounting, legal, etc.)
Risk a great deal of their or their investor’s money or, in some cases, their homes and cars, in the process
Now, if we look at that list, it backs up the “you didn’t get there by yourself” line. Who all do we see in that list above? Employees, designers, architects, lawyers, accountants, human resources, communications, logistics, and investors would be a quick list. These are the people who “gave you some help.” But, did they give you the help? Very few people involved gave their help. The materials were not given, they were purchased; employees did not volunteer, they were paid; communications and logistics didn’t “spot” the business free service, they charged this business their going rate for those services.
No, I am not picking at words - this phrase was chosen precisely because of its meaning. If a business owner does all of the above, and ends up with less than $250,000, they won’t raise the liberal’s ire. However, if they end up with $10M, they must have ripped off someone to get that, so we get this “give back” nonsense. Never mind that they contracted with each employee or service provider for a price agreeable to them, and they contracted with their customer to provide the good or service at a price that was agreeable to them. Never mind, too, that they were the last to get paid; before they saw any money, they took care of the government (taxes), then employees (payroll), then contracted costs (business-to-business, professional support, etc.), and then maintaining inventory/training (keeping the business sustainable).
“But what about teachers? Don’t they count?” Well, what about them? They contracted with the government or a private institution to teach for a given amount of money. Teachers don’t work for free either; just because their paycheck comes from the government doesn’t make their efforts any more or less valuable.
At various points in my educational career, I had to study different companies. I also worked to type others’ research papers at one point, and got to see a lot more interesting things about many different companies. Nearly all large companies have benefits like continuing education or charitable contributions (including skimming off the top for United Way). They offer matching retirement account contributions. They sponsor volunteer events in the community. When you look at the owners of these companies, you find contributions to charities, churches, and foundations. If that isn’t “giving back,” what is it? (As an aside, I much prefer the phrase “pass it on;” it’s a conduit, not the Dead Sea.)
It is class warfare. By definition, the middle class is in the middle. They are employees, not owners. They get a paycheck. They volunteer at their school, their church, or other civic organizations. They go on vacations every so often, and they have fun playing with their kids. They are not being ripped off; they are living a comfortable life (particularly when contrasted with the rest of the world) because of the fruits of their labor. But, to hear this speech, you’d think our country was filled with a bunch of greedy, evil business owners, ripping off the public to accumulate great wealth to their own exclusive use. (Yes, there have been those, and they have rightly come to legal, and sometimes even physical, consequences. The presence of abusers does not nullify the principle.)
Sure, there are a lot of hard-working people; not nearly as many as there used to be, but they are there. However, if you work really hard at an unsuccessful venture, you are not going to be more successful; you may delay the failure of the effort, but it will come around. No one on the right is saying that people aren’t working hard; it is the left who are saying that those who are successful did not.
Now, let’s take a look at that famous line - “you didn’t build that.” If the “that” is the business - well, I think the above pretty much covers that. If the “that” is the roads and bridges, though, then yes, he’s probably right. However, did the bridge cause the business owner to succeed? If so, then what about the guy living under the bridge - did the bridge cause him to fail? If the bridge has some magical economic power, we must recognize that its power affects different people in different ways. Government is no less infallible than business (in fact, it’s usually more fallibl… sit down, snark boy); if government is to be credited with all these “millionaires we created,” it must be blamed for those below the poverty line. The only time it’s blamed for that is when there’s a Republican in the White House, though.
The Internet - ah yes, that powerful conduit that enables greater middle-class rip-offs than ever before. The Internet was developed by DARPA. Care to venture a guess as to what the D in that acronym stands for? Defense. Yes, the Internet grew out of a defense research project. Just as NASA isn’t all about space, defense isn’t just about guns and bombs. The very department that Obama wants to gut is the one that gave us the Internet. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
So - if you built a business, you didn’t build it on your own; but, that doesn’t mean you ripped off those who helped you build it. Rather, your building of a business created a better life for those helped you build it. Maybe our next president will understand that; hopefully it won’t take him 4 years to get here.
Credit is a big part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. They want debt forgiven, some even calling for an across-the-board forgiveness of all debt. By having this demand, they reveal another area where their college education has failed them. Let’s do a quick version of what they should have learned.
To illustrate, let’s create a hypothetical scenario. Person 1 (let’s call him “Bill”) has a business idea, but lacks the funds to make it a reality. Bill is sure that his idea will make lots of money, but he is frustrated because he cannot implement his idea. Person 2 (let’s call him “Tom”) has money that he has accumulated that he is not actively using. Bill comes to Tom and asks if he can borrow some of Tom’s extra money, so that he can implement his awesome idea. Tom is not sure about the purported awesomeness of Bill’s idea, and is reluctant to lend Bill the money. Bill is so confident in his idea that he offers to repay Tom 110% of the money that he wants to borrow. This provides Tim an opportunity for financial gain, and he decides to lend Bill the money he needs.
This story illustrates some of the basic concepts of credit.
Loan - money belonging to someone else, that is temporarily made available to another person.
Interest - money, in addition to the loan amount, that is paid to the lender.
Risk - the likelihood that the loan and interest will not be repaid.
In our story, a 10% interest rate was enough to make Tom assume the risk that Bill’s idea would generate the money Bill thought that it would.
Banks and other lending institutions have simply taken the above scenario and enlarged its scale. They take depositors’ money, and lend it to those who need it. They also provide services, such as securing the money they’ve received, providing convenient ways for people to get to their money. For some services, banks charge fees; for some services, banks pay interest. Because banks must be able to return depositor’s money on demand, they must assess risk before giving a loan. Some risk they simply will not accept; some risk they will accept, but charge the borrower a higher rate on the money to make up for it; and low risk is generally acceptable.
Student loans, a particular interest item to the #OWS set, are no exception. It is understood that obtaining an education may require money that a fresh-out-of-high-school person probably does not have. (Whether it should is a different topic altogether.) However, lending institutions see the value in having an educated populace, and are willing to extend loans to students to allow them to obtain productive skills. They realize that college-educated people are more likely to have good jobs, buy cars and homes, take vacations, and do lots of other things that inject money into an economy.
So, what’s the problem with them forgiving loans? It’s theft, plain and simple. Whoever was extended credit would be stealing the money not from the bank, but from the depositors of that bank. The bank is simply an intermediary set up to provide a mutually-beneficial service to both saver and borrower. (I’ll tackle the class warfare aspect in the next post, but it’s stilltheir money no matter how much they have left.)
Another assumption regarding student loans is that the degree obtained will help this happen; with many degrees these days, a person may be no more qualified to hold employment than they were before they went to college. When I went through college right out of high school, my adviser recommended certain degrees as being more employable than others. I don’t know if colleges don’t have that, or if advisers these days think that we really need a ton of Fill-in-the-Blank Studies degrees; either way, that sort of degree has limited employment opportunity. If you obtained that sort of degree, and now can’t get a job, you rolled the dice and lost. Now, it’;s time to act like a grown up and get whatever work you can to provide for you (and your family, if you have one), and start repaying that loan you took out.
Lemme get this straight. A bank lent you $100k that you handed to a college for a worthless degree, and now you’re mad at… the bank?
Banks provide an important service by offering credit. If that credit is not repaid, the system collapses. If you think it’s hard getting a job now, try bankrupting all the employers, and see how much more plentiful (or scarce) the jobs become.
This is the first in a series doing the education that the colleges which the Occupy Wall Street gang (#OWS hereafter, taken from the shortened version of their #OccupyWallStreet Twitter hash tag) failed to impart. I have two in the queue behind this one, but there may be more.
For those living under a rock, a group has been camped out in New York, protesting Wall Street. There was a list of demand published, but many protesters were quick to point out that there was no official list. However, there have been recurring themes. Corporations are greedy. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Debt is bad. People aren’t hiring them even though they have a college degree. A job is a right.
Dear #OWS, your parents and your colleges have failed you. Before we dig into details of why your demands are unworkable, there are a few big-picture things we need to discuss.
Welcome to the Real World
This is where your parents have failed you. You are the generation who grew up “safer” than ever, protected from terrible things like concrete under your playground equipment, lack of head protection when you rode your bike, having to suffer the indignation of losing your soccer match because they didn’t keep score, etc. You are the result of a social experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong, where a bunch of too-smart people decided that the way children were reared for generations had to change. They were going to do it better. They were going to do it more safely. They remembered how bad they felt as children, when they were picked last for sports, or struck out and helped their team lose a game; or how they were made fun of during the awkward stages as they grew from children to adults; or how they never fit in with the “in” clique at school. So, they tried to eliminate all these things. No scorekeeping, and everyone gets a trophy. “Don’t say that word!” “Bullying is wrong!”
Where they went wrong is that by their attempts to eliminate bad things, they did not teach you how to deal with these bad things. I’m all for the elimination of bullying, but you can’t wish that and make it go away; you should be trained on how to deal with it. In real life, there are winners and losers; there is no “no scorekeeping” option. Everyone does not get a trophy. There are attempts, and there are failures. You have tragically had your opportunities to learn how to deal with this as a child snatched from you. Now, you’re behaving as children would normally behave; you’re just a lot bigger. You’re adults, so you think that your demands aren’t childish. Sadly, I’m here to inform you that they are. Railing against the real world is futile; you are not going to change it, at least not much. You would be much better served applying yourself and learning how things work.
A College Degree Is a Tool, Not a Guarantee
Here is one area where your college has failed you. No matter what the admissions adviser told you, a college degree is not a guarantee of a good job. Even in good economic times, a college degree is likely to get you in the door, at an entry-level position. (You understand where the term “entry-level” comes from right? The level you start, when you enter a company?) The people that have been there for 10 years beg to differ with your assertion that you should start out at the level to which they have worked themselves up. And, if your degree ends with “Studies,” you’re probably 1/4 as employable as someone with a degree oriented toward something a business would actually need.
The Corporations You Decry Have Made Your Protest Possible
You have utilized the services of several public and private companies. Let’s take a look at the evil that’s made this protest possible, shall we?
Twitter - Still a private company, Twitter was valued at $10B earlier this year.
Google (GOOG) - You know, the owners of YouTube, the developers of the Android mobile operating system, and the target of your “Google It!” chants? They are a publicly-traded company valued at $57.85B (plus assets, minus liabilities)
Did you drive, or take public transportation, to get to the site of your occupation? Those evil oil companies made that possible.
Now, what you’re not going to read in future installments are claims that the “real world” is perfect. There is room for change, and there are people running companies who have no business running them. However, if you want to maintain the lifestyle in America to which you’ve become accustomed, or improve it, you really don’t want to be throwing the baby out with the bath water.
I’m sorry your parents and colleges have failed you. If you stay tuned to this spot, I’ll help educate you on why the things you’re so worked up about, contrary to what your “I wish communism worked because it’s just such a good idea” professors taught you, are actually good for you.
This past weekend during Sunday School, we briefly discussed the raid of the polygamist compound in Texas. During this discussion, one very good point was raised - those handling this situation need wisdom. Previously decided cases hold a lot of weight in the judicial realm, and while, by all accounts, what was going on at that ranch was illegal and immoral, they are claiming it is part of their religion. It is good that those people have been stopped - however, what is to stop the government from deciding that something most mainstream churches do is illegal?
That led the discussion to this story about a photographer in Albuquerque, New Mexico who refused to photograph a “commitment ceremony” between two people of the same gender. There are lots of ironies in this story, and I would expect that this decision would be quickly vacated / overturned / made null. Can you really legally force someone to photograph an event that’s illegal by nature? However, if it stands, there are much more troubling questions, some of which we have already seen. In California, a Catholic-run hospital was sued for refusing to perform gender reassignment surgery, and the state has sued the US government over a provision that strips Federal funds from states that force medical practitioners to perform or refer abortions.
During the course of the discussion, I took the (somewhat unpopular) opinion that a business should have the right to refuse service to whomever the business owner wanted. (I also did that a bit strongly at one point - if you’re reading this, sorry about that.) Someone asked “What if they say they’re not going to serve Jews?” My reply was that, if that was their stance, the word would get out, and those who found that abhorrent would also not patronize them, and they would go out of business. (And yes, I think I did actually use the word “abhorrent” in class… heh…) In further discussions with other people, including my wife, my position continued to be unpopular. I heard things like “What about people in the South not serving blacks?” and “I just think discrimination is wrong.”
I still cannot see the government requiring a private business to serve, sell, or perform any good, service, or person that the owner does not want. Why should I invest my money and time in an enterprise if the government is going to come and mandate to me how I do it? However, by the same token, I also feel that racial discrimination is bad. However, for anyone to say, unqualified, that “discrimination” is wrong simply doesn’t realize how much discrimination occurs on a day-to-day basis.
Let’s imagine I’m a photographer. I don’t like trying to get kids posed for a picture, so I create a policy of no more than one child per pose. That’s discrimination - I am discriminating against large families (though not completely - they’re just not going to get an entire family portrait from me). Maybe I don’t want to photograph some people because I feel they’re unattractive - do “Uglo-Americans” have a right to have me photograph them? Maybe I’m a really popular photographer, and I can’t be in two places at once. I’ll have to be discriminating in how I set up my schedule. There simply isn’t a scenario that convinces me that the government has an overriding interest in forcing me to photograph someone I don’t want to. The “right to photography” is nowhere in the Constitution.
Now - let’s put the brakes on that and look at the government. While I believe that a business owner has the right to discriminate pretty much however he or she feels like, I also just as strongly believe that the government should not be in the discrimination business. Equal protection under the law should be just that - equal. Firefighters should (and do) respond just as quickly to fires in desirable neighborhoods as they do to fires in undesirable neighborhoods. Everyone should (and does) have access to their legislators, and the right to vote for the ones they think will best represent them. Everyone should have access to government-run educational facilities, with the same requirements for everyone. (OK, we need to work on that last one…) The bottom line is, government should not discriminate on anything other than merit and scarcity (i.e., we can’t give everyone $1k if we don’t have it).
But, in reality, this isn’t the way it is; I alluded to it above regarding education. When the government starts trying to play identity games, “level the playing field,” or any other sort of tinkering, they invariably get it wrong. According to the NM government, this photographer “violated human rights” by refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Would the pastors of my church be guilty of the same if they refused to officiate one? In finding this photographer guilty of discrimination, the state is, in effect, discriminating against her free exercise of religion. (See? Every choice is discrimination!) This is the danger of giving the government the power to decide what’s “good” discrimination versus what’s “bad” discrimination.
The solution? From my view, I believe that there are very powerful forces at work in the economic marketplace. Eliminating “Jim Crow” laws was a good thing - they were a violation of the equal protection clause. Forcing state-run universities to integrate was a good thing - again, equal access to government resources. Forcing businesses to cater to those to whom they do not wish to cater? That’s bad. Sure, I believe that businesses shouldn’t discriminate based on race - but is it the government’s place to tell them they can’t? Some people think that discrimination based on gender is wrong; in fact, a few years back, there was a big kerfuffle over Augusta National not allowing women to become members. How many of those people would advocate my joining Curves? It’s all perspective, and because one person’s perspective may be different than another’s, the government should stay out of it.
To me, this is a heart thing. Sure, you can pass a law and make people comply, but all you’ve done is made people upset by forcing them to do something that they didn’t want to do. I believe in giving people enough rope so that they can hang themselves (figuratively speaking, of course) - if someone wants to open a racially-discriminatory business, that’s their own stupidity in eliminating a big chunk of their potential customer base. If someone wants to open the “No Purple Pants Club” and refuse to admit anyone wearing purple pants - well, it’s their money and time they’re pouring into the business. And, if someone wants to refuse to provide their goods and services to those they find morally reprehensible, more power to 'em.
In each of these cases, one of two things will happen. One, they may flourish as a business, which will prove there was a market for their goods and services, even without the people they excluded. Two, they will fail, and learn via the “school of hard knocks” that they shouldn’t restrict their pool of potential customers. Either way, the business owner gets out of his business exactly what he put into it, and I really don’t have a problem with that.