David M. Brown's Permanent Record


Tuesday, January 14, 2003


posted by David M. 8:13 PM

If I Make More Money Than You, That Doesn't Mean I'm Stealing From You

There are two classes in America. The pay-my-own-way, work-for-a-living, you-leave-me-alone-and-I'll-leave-you-alone class...and the somebody-better-subsidize-me, whine-for-a-living, do-what-I-tell-you-or-I'll-sic-the-government-on-you class.

Yes, yes, I know that some people have a foot in both camps and may not be actually vicious, just obtuse or cramped by circumstance. Other people live off government welfare through no great fault of their own and may be entirely blameless-worthy. I don't expect an enfeebled old person to suddenly jump into a Superman costume and shuck all the tendrils of State.

A true denizen of the leech camp, the class of louts and looters, is self-righteous and sanctimonious about it. He is someone who would not stop being a leech even if he had the chance. Someone who sincerely resents any persons more productive than he is, and who believes (or anyway tells himself) that no rich persons could possibly be entitled to their own money, however earned; rather, that he is entitled to their own money. Someone whose bedside reading consists of Matt Lesko's encyclopedia of government freebies.

We cannot understand our epic political clashes unless we first understand that there are, at bottom, just two socio-economic classes worth talking about when it comes to political control and politically-imposed wealth transfer: a leave-me-alone class and a busybody-leech class. Membership in these classes is determined not by income level or historical circumstances, but by personal attitudes. Doesn't matter whether the Heritage Foundation or whoever publishes a study showing that millions of Americans would benefit from eliminating, say, dividend taxes. Doesn't matter whether federal deficits would increase as a result of the tax cuts--that is, if no countervailing action were taken simultaneously, like that now forgotten policy option of spending cuts. See, members of the leech class don't care about the economic arguments. Somebody forgot to tell them that being a self-righteous leech is wrong. And many politicians cater to such morally mal-informed persons.

The economic effects of any really mammoth, permanent tax cut would be fast and glorious. Oodles of money that had hitherto gone down the bureaucratic drain would be used instead to buy pianos and washing machines, or else to fund the production of these and other goods people want to buy. The world would grow richer. The obstacles to big tax cuts are political only, not economic. Almost any tax cut short of a one-hundred-percent tax cut could be offset by equal or greater spending cuts. (Even an out-and-out anarchist must concede the necessity of a transition period during which we'd have to figure out how to privatize bulky legitimate functions like national defense; and if you won't concede it, screw ya, I'm postulating it anyway.)

Morally, there is no way to get around the fact that--beyond whatever minimal levy is needed to fund defense, cops, and courts--taxation systematically punishes those who make money by earning a living, and systematically rewards those who make money by leeching off others. This reward-and-punishment scheme is morally bad.

Economically, there is no way to get around the fact that the effects of stealing from productive people and subsidizing leeches must be net-net bad as well. One can see this by assuming, for the sake of argument, that actually there are no bad economic effects of stealing from the productive and giving the loot to the unproductive. We then imagine a world that consists of nothing but loot recipients, a world in which everybody is "living off the State." In this world, nobody is making anything (except for the bureaucrats, who are making taxes and regulations). What kind of world would it be? Obviously, the assumption cannot hold. Leeches require hosts.

Now, compare such a Planet of the Leeches to a world in which everybody works for a living except the incapacitated. On the Planet of the Selfish Producers, the only way to get help is to get it from those who give it to you voluntarily, out of benevolence and good will. In the "compassionate" leech world, everybody starves to death. In the "cruel" producer one, everybody eats.

Ergo, we depend for our very lives on letting the fat cats get away with it.

Regardless of the exact formulation of any proposed across-the-board tax cut, the socially-engineering champions of the leech class will always, always, always insist that the cut is inequitably favorable to the rich, i.e., the productive. (The leaders of the leech class like tax cuts only when the cuts are trivial, and/or ultra-targeted to encourage a particular mode of approved conduct.) Suppose Bush proposes a 50 percent tax cut on all taxes of every kind. Would the leech class salute this reduction as eminently fair-minded and uniform? Nawp. They'd yelp about how, since the rich make so much more than the poor to begin with, the tax cut benefits the rich more than the poor, hence is inequitable per se. If you point out that even a tax cut of this size could be readily offset by proportionate cuts in spending, they'd bitch that the country would then have less money to "invest" with, "investment" being the standard Clinton-speak for subsidizing the leech class.

Socialism may be dead, but its animating notions are still very much alive, including the notion that my doing better than you means I'm stealing something from you, so that you have every right to steal it back.

Well, I'm not and you don't. --David M. Brown [crunchreport.com]

posted by David M. 5:02 PM

Monday, January 13, 2003

A Suggestion for People on Bikes from a Person Walking

How do you make a quick suggestion to a bicyclist coming up from behind and zooming past you and whom you will never see again, probably, ever?

Well, it's not easy for a humble beleaguered pedestrian, but sometimes I try. Like today, when I asked the biker something to the effect of whether he could please "slow down, go around." (You've got to reduce the message to a formula, otherwise there would be no time to deliver it.)

Today's guy-on-the-bike-coming-up-from-behind-me wanted to stop and argue, pointing out, for example, that he had not actually run me over. I'm grateful. I'm also grateful that he didn't pull out a gun and whack me, has not kidnapped any of my family, etc. Thank you. Thank you so much.

This gentleman was somewhat older than the usual biker who bears down on me from behind as I'm walking peacefully along the sidewalk. Still, it's the same Power-Ranger entitlement mentality. "Me on bike. You just walking. You get out of my way. You accommodate me."

Sometimes it's a whistle, sometimes it's a yell--"Coming through!" or "Out of the way!"

The time allotted for action is never very liberal. As a pedestrian, you get anywhere from one second to three seconds of warning before the bike is on top of you. I'm sure that's eight to ten months in dog years, but I'm just a humble human perambulator here.

The sidewalk is primarily for pedestrians. A peaceful pedestrian bothering no one should in the normal course of events simply be left alone. Because, you know, a biker coming up from behind and bearing down on you and yelling at you or whistling at you to get out of the way can be very disconcerting. Even if he doesn't actually run you over. It's also rude.

I don't resent the fact that bicyclists often prefer to use the sidewalk instead of the road. In the road there are these big giant metal things called cars and trucks that might hurt you. And Orlando is no New York City, where bicyclists swerve in and out of traffic at breakneck speed just to get a bagel.

However, the same aversion to gratuitous hassle and concern for safety that motivates central Florida bicyclists to prefer the sidewalk to the street should also arouse in them a bit of fellow feeling and sympathy for the innocent lone pedestrian just walking along minding his own business.

That means slowing down, going around. Go onto the street for a few seconds if there are no impending vehicles. Or else just stop--yes, stop, actually stop!--get off the bike, say "excuse me," and quick-walk around the pedestrian, bike in tow.

In other words, don't make the startled pedestrian accommodate you in those one and half seconds worth of warning you're willing to give him. Instead, you be the one to accommodate the pedestrian peacefully walking.

That's what sidewalks are for. People walking. --David M. Brown [crunchreport.com]

posted by David M. 10:53 PM

Friday, January 10, 2003

Is Public Television Doomed By Its Own Relentless Stupidity?

Never a big fan of "Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser," I learned only today that the show no longer exists. Apparently it has been off the air for months, since May of 2002. Some bland thing called "Wall Street Week with Fortune" is its successor. Maryland Public Television wanted a younger look for a "Wall Street Week" program, and had planned to ease Rukeyser out. So there's this 26-minute ad for Fortune magazine on now.

Rukeyser did not go quietly into that good night. Claiming, understandably, that he had been blindsided by the move to shelve him, he announced on one of the final episodes of "Wall Street Week" itself that he would hatch a competing financial program.

The Maryland public television moguls had probably thought they were making a smart move. This just might be the same marketing team that brought us "new Coke." But MPS soon lost all four of the big underwriters that had paid so much of the bill for Rukeyser's "Wall Street Week," and in August had to let go 32 of its staffers and trim the pay of all those who remained. Bill Baker, president of PBS's Channel 13 in New York, once told me that PBS programming just could not survive in a market. But Rukeyser's market-summarizing persona survives quite nicely on CNBC in "Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street." (Let's concede that irremediably dumb, obnoxious and dull public television probably would not beat out the competition in a market.)

The cornball opening monologue with all the super-bad puns that is Rukeyser's stock in trade has survived--on cable. Meanwhile, hundreds of PBS stations re-broadcast Rukeyser's new show on Sundays after it has first appeared on CNBC.

By shooting itself in the foot PBS has proven once again, as if it needed proving, that markets do function to provide for people the things that people want. Who knows? Maybe we can use this new evidence to soon get rid of public television altogether, along with all the grotesque ritualistic begging and goopy pieties that come with it. Regardless, Rukeyser's punchline-challenged market overview will no doubt continue until he croaks. Yippee.--David M. Brown [crunchreport.com]

posted by David M. 7:34 PM

Thursday, January 09, 2003


A Public Accounting of Interests

Until now I have only sporadically kept a journal (only girls keep "diaries").

My college journal was dull and stupid. It talked about how I was now in the library writing in my journal. (Now I am at my computer, in my office, in my apartment.) Years later I tried again, producing several infrequent typed entries that are still floating around in a folder somewhere. In 1995 I recorded for posterity that I had just gotten broken-up-with by yet another turncoat significant other. I would burn all that junk now except that it has become historical. Gotta give the executors _something_ to rummage through.

There is no reason to talk about the porridge at the bottom of the bowl in a journal except as therapy, which should be private. "God I feel horrible--damn them! Damn them all! Fucking porridge...." But no writer keeps a journal unless he hopes that the journal will one day be read, either in its present form or in the forms it will attain later--the latter expectation motivating journal as idea-log or first-draft-bundler. Blogs allow you to keep a journal and not have to wait until you are dead before you get even a sparse readership.

The medium of a blog is still editorial and self-screening. It is not a private journal to which one may tell all. If there is any audience whatever, the deep dark secrets of self must still be kept. This is not, after all, "Oprah." My perverted sex fantasies aren't _your_ business. (But who knows? I might inadvertently reveal one or two in future entries--stay tuned!)

I have a confession, Dr. Phil. I had vowed never to "blog," as opposed to writing columns that would be called blogging only if one published them in a blog. But I decided that if I am going to have an excuse to write just a few lines about an item of interest, the only way to do it would be by blogging.

A column cannot babble, just report and analyze. Nor can a column mutter just a few lines about something. It is supposed to have a conclusion, and lead up to that conclusion. There must be a minning, begiddle, end. There must be a narrative, a story line, as it were. A blog, by contrast, can be just a note, an entry, a (burp) log. "Hmm. Oddest thing Bush said today. [What he had said would then be quoted.] What to make of it? Must ponder further in light of all else I know about Bush, history, cosmos." Of course one can always scribble such notes for oneself alone, but the problem is that one might not be disciplined enough to keep it up. I am not a Mencken or Kostelanetz here, nor Sam Pepys. Perhaps the public commitment will strengthen my will. (Ah me! It's all about me, isn't it?)

I am blogging now. There are blogs out there that profess to be not-a-blog, or instead-of-a-blog. I refuse to engage in such wretched and transparent subterfuge. I admit it. This is a blog. A web-log. A cyber-record personal and chronicling in nature.

But there are blogs and there are blogs. My new vow is never to blog blogs that are merely obsessive accounts of the recent trip I took, all the things wrong with my family ("Why am I the only perfect one?" he wondered), how my kitchen needs to be fumigated again, etc. A public journal should not report on the narrow trivia of a person's life but only on a person's interests, insofar as these may be profitably or semi-profitably communicated at least to persons sharing the same interests.

While I am very interested, occasionally, in the state of my kitchen, I doubt many other people are. So no musing about my own particular kitchen, or the thing that happened to my washing machine today (okay, my fault--over-loaded it) unless the plan is to segue into a discourse on kitchens qua kitchens, kitchens as such, the Platonic ideal of kitchen. Right now I am talking about blogging, a subject I am sure must interest you greatly. How else could you have made it this far?
posted by David M. 10:27 PM

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