Stupidity Is a Bigger Threat Than Socialism

And it’s not even close.

Conservative Republican opinion leaders, winners in life’s lottery, worship at the altar of free markets. In their minds, merit explains their relative success, not privilege. Acknowledging privilege would require them to admit markets are fallible, a thought that would consider a total reconsideration of themselves.

American exceptionalism is largely explained by blind devotion to free markets as if they are ordained by God. Literally. We are better than other countries because our markets are freer. Never mind our prison numbers, our opioid epidemic, our gun violence, our homeless crisis.

To conservative Republicans, taxes are always too high. The government uses its tax system to unfairly take what is rightly ours. Government, as if it consists of some insidious “others” instead of our neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens; is incompetent and wasteful. We know much better than the diabolical government what to do with our own damn money. Left to our own devices we would naturally fund private equivalents to Head Start, public libraries, Social Security, Medicare, and federal highways because they so obviously improve our quality of life.

Given that context, I probably shouldn’t be as exasperated as I am by the depressing quality of the initial 2020 campaign conversation about competing economic systems. Yes, through flawed messaging, some on the Left have contributed to the problem; but that’s no excuse for the Right’s complete unwillingness to talk about the crippling consequences of widening inequality on everyone and how it’s in our enlightened self interest to make greater (and proven) public investments in the common good.

Instead, deathly afraid their taxes will go up, those on the Right scream VENEZUELA and CUBA and demean Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “just a 29 year old bartender”. As if the Left wants to replicate life in Venezuela. How is it that many of the most virulent anti-socialists are formally educated and yet seem completely unable to think about subtleties, nuances, and complexity?

To those virulent anti-socialists, there’s a huge middle ground between Milton Friedman and Maduro.

To the army of Presidential contenders, I don’t want to waste time talking about Venezuelan socialism. I want a critical conversation about how best to improve our economics and politics so that many more people experience the promise of our ideals. More specifically, I believe it’s in my enlightened self interest to make more investments in public schooling, in public libraries, in single payer health care, and in infrastructure. And by “more investments” I mean moderately higher taxes. Millions of others think similarly, enough to get elected.

And once gain, this is where the national conversation devolves to the point of embarrassment because my Conservative Republican friends predictably say, “Okay, go ahead and write a larger check to the Internal Revenue Service than you owe” as if the penalty for critical thinking about the status quo is having to compensate for the mindless purveyors of it.

An extra serving of ignorance in a conversation marked by mind boggling stupidity.

 italics=sarcasm

When to Retire?

Most people retire as soon as they think they can afford to. Every week personal finance periodicals run stories about people delaying retirement due to the housing correction, health insurance inflation, and in the end, insufficient savings.

Look around and you can’t help but see older workers. Prepare to see more and more. A boatload of sixty, lots of seventy, and even some eighty something half or full-time employees.

While tossing the majority of my mom’s office files last week, I came across a remarkable memo my dad wrote on December 3rd, 1990 to the two owners of the major corporation he was running at the time. Here it is:

The three of us should sit down and have a talk. I’m 65 in 1991, and as we have discussed pensions around the office we’ve used 12/31/91 as my retirement date. We should discuss the future leadership of S&E. I find myself ambivalent about retiring or staying on.

He then listed the “PRO’s for staying” including “we are an organization that works and we have good sales and profit growth.” Then he shifted gears:

The CON’s are: I will have been at the helm for 7 years, and a change in leadership could bring fresh ideas, a different approach and faster sales and profit growth.

Age slows one. It’s something none of us avoid. I find myself like the aging ballplayer—I don’t want to stay on when new leadership could take S&E forward more effectively. Others see the slow down before you do.

I feel too strongly about the company and its future to become an impediment. What are your feelings?

The more I reflect on this memo, the more unique I find it that he’s putting the company’s interests before his own. No one enjoyed his work more than my dad and no one out worked him. Yet, he acknowledges “new leadership could take S&E forward more effectively.” That’s like President Obama saying someone else might have a better working relationship with Congress and accomplish more on behalf of the American people. Or an aging college professor saying students might benefit more from an energetic, 30-something academic.

I don’t begrudge any older, moderate income person their decision to work past their prime, but for older, financially secure people, my dad provides a selfless example worth emulating. The question isn’t just what’s best for me, but what’s best for the company or even the community.

Footnote to the story. The owners did sit down with my dad. Shortly afterwards they extended his contract and also named him Chief Executive Officer of a second corporation they owned.

Where Your Federal Tax Dollars Go

This table shows where US citizens federal tax dollars go. The largest single expense? Entitlements. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid make up 38.5% of the first sample family’s federal taxes. The second largest? Nine military subcategories that total 22.5% of the sample family’s federal taxes.

Over one half of the sample family’s federal taxes fund entitlements and military expenses. That can’t be sustainable.

It’s only a matter of time until both the social security retirement age and means testing increases. As a result, well-to-do people will receive reduced benefits later in life. And we’ll be forced to reduce the size of our military and our commitments abroad. We can’t afford the status quo any more.

Politics Stream of Consciousness

• Just like her opponent, Senator Murkowski from Alaska says she wants to reduce spending and reduce the national debt. And then in the same breath she says she will work hard to maintain all of Alaska’s federal funding because one-third of Alaskans’ jobs depend upon it. And she might win as a write-in candidate. So what she meant is she wants to reduce federal spending in the other forty nine states.

• Newsflash, President Obama is ordinary. The problem of course is that he was an extraordinary campaigner. ARod isn’t supposed to hit .255, Tiger isn’t supposed to be a Ryder Cup captain’s pick, and Meryl Streep isn’t supposed to make bad movies. He’s a victim of unrealistic expectations. I’m cautiously optimistic that he makes the necessary adjustments and steadily improves throughout years three and four.

• In a recent Washington State Senate debate Dino Rossi and Patty Murray were both asked two times if they would raise the minimum age for full social security benefits. Neither answered. Four non-responses. Are any politicians willing to tell constituents what they need to hear and not just what they want to? Why couldn’t Rossi or Murray say what’s so painfully obvious, “Yes, for the well-to-do at least, we’re probably going to have to raise the minimum age for full social security benefits again. More generally, we have to make serious changes to our entitlement programs to have any hope of balancing the budget and reducing the national debt.” I’m sure their non-responses are based upon political science research. By desiring honest, straightforward, specific, succinct answers, guess I’m in the minority.

• Juan Williams has been fired by NPR for comments made on Bill O’Reilly’s show. I met him once in Kyoto, Japan. I agree 100% with this commentary on his firing. As the Quakers say, “That Friend speaks my mind.”

• Get a load of French high schoolers. When I taught high school I struggled to get my students to think beyond Friday night’s game and dance. In contrast, these adolescents are protesting something over forty years down the road, having to work to 62 instead of 60. Talk about long-term thinking. Guess they anticipate hating whatever they’ll end up doing for a living and maybe they already have detailed plans for when they’re 60 and 61.

• Favorite campaign development. . . multimillionaire candidates spending tens or hundreds (in the case of Meg Whitman) of their own millions and still looking like they’ll lose.