The Federal Shutdown, the Debt Ceiling and an Extremist’s Morning After

The fake government “shutdown” is already over. I hardly had time to enjoy it. I was just beginning to make a list of federal services that are “non-essential” according to the federal government itself. I was kind of hoping that the EPA, for example, would bite the dust. I does not seem fair.

The debt ceiling problem is also dealt with for the time being. It’s another expression of the same underlying problem that led to the “shutdown.” (See below.)

OK, after the crisis that just ended temporarily, it feels to conservatives like Great Britain in August 1944. The Luftwaffe rules the skies. Our few remaining pilots keep getting shot down. Our central city is bombed nightly. Everyone else who is civilized has already folded. Nightly, they are opening the Champagne in Berlin. We stand alone. It does not mean that we are wrong to stand.

Still, it also feels like the morning after. Time to look into it.

The so-called crisis is suspended for about four months. Nothing is solved. The Republicans collectively took a public opinion drubbing, it’s true. Speaking for myself, I will repeat what I said earlier: I am not attached to the Republican Party. I care only about limited government conservatism. Until now, the Republican Party was a not-so-bad vehicle for that view of the world. If it does not have the backbone to carry it further, so be it. Yes, I think that even if there is no other likely large vehicle in sight. I want to avoid pointless imaginings about my meaning by saying it clearly: What I fear most is not just another electoral defeat but a meaningless and useless electoral defeat such as the Republican Party suffered in the last presidentials. What hurts the most is the large number of nominal Republicans who just stayed home. Gov. Romney’s program was not the hill you want to die for. Gov. Romney was not the kind of commander who could induce you to die for that hill.

Here is the central conservative issue in a capsule. The phony government shutdown and the reappearing debt ceiling issue are parts of the same dark cloud:

A federal government that is deeply and routinely corrupt as well as shockingly incompetent keeps borrowing mindlessly to sustain the ordinary business of government.

It’s despotic; its’ a waste of resources; most of all, it’s immoral.

The mindless, nearly automatic borrowing is the worst part.

Myself, I think that I, my children and the federal government should only borrow under two circumstances:

  1. When the loan is to be applied directly to the acquisition of a tool that will contribute to greater earnings in the proximate future. I use the word “tool” liberally. Better freeways, for example, could easily qualify.
  2. When there is a strong presumption that we will earn more tomorrow . That’s with or without the condition in 1 above. This is separate. In the case of a country, for example demographic growth may by itself create such a presumption.

The present federal government’s borrowing fulfills neither condition. It’s borrowing to meet everyday expense. It’s as if I borrowed to buy bread for my lunch sandwich. There is also no reason so far to believe that the United States economy will grow a great deal tomorrow. (This could change the day after tomorrow if we had, for example, sudden access to new cheap energy. The Obama administration is doing its best to prevent precisely this from happening – Makes you think along dark lines, doesn ‘t it?)

Routine even legal, systemic federal government corruption: The widow of (wealthy) Senator Lautenberg received $174,000 from Congress because her husband took the trouble to die while in office. (WSJ 10/18/13, p. A12)

Federal Government incompetence: See the health insurance exchanges, in preparation for four years! Enough said! Note: I am not sure whether I am more afraid that its implementation will succeed or that it will continue to fail in exemplary fashion.

Mindless federal borrowing: It has become an integral part of the culture that the government must borrow to live. I said “integral part of the culture.” Below, an illustration I could not invent if I wanted to.

Larry Fink is the CEO of BlackRock, by some defensible measure, the largest investment firm in the world. Mr Fink said 10/16/13 or 10/17/13 (WSJ):

I have been in this business for 37 years. For 34 years I did not know there was such a thing as a debt ceiling.

Our point exactly! One of the highest placed business executives in the land takes government borrowing so much for granted that he does not know it’s subject to Congress-imposed limitations. He even sounds incensed when he learns the truth.

That’s what makes us conservatives, “extremists.”

Why do I care? I care because, unless there is another wave of fast economic growth lasting for several years, we are guaranteeing that our children and grand children will live in poverty. It’s wrong; it’s immoral.

And then, there is the growing phoniness of the public discourse including discourse by the mainstream privately owned press.

During the two days following the cessation of the pretend-government “shutdown,” the main media are eager to pretend that the multitudes feel great relief. They talk as if the average folks out there had experienced tremendous suffering because federal non-essentials were furloughed. I, for one, feel no relief at all. I don’t know anyone who does. (Agree, it’s an unsystematic sample but it’s a sample.) This is all the media’s deliberate exaggeration or a misplaced identification with federal public servants. It’s becoming more and more obvious that such public servants are overpaid and that they enjoy too many unearned privileges. (State public servants also, in some states, such as mine, California.) I don’t identify. It pisses me off. The more I know, the more pissed off I am.

They, the mainstream media, echo dumbly the noises coming from the administration about the alleged “costs” of the “shutdown” to the national economy. No one takes the trouble to do a net calculus, even to raise the issue of a net calculus. Isn’t it true that for each day certain federal bureaucracies are unable to do their job, some of the main producers in the nation are better able to produce? Again, the EPA comes to mind. And the IRS, of course. And a number of federal agencies whose names I don’t even know.

Besides, it’s an empty formula, a truism that (theoretical) wealth that fails to be produced usually is not regained, as the administration says gravely.

N. S. ! That’s what happens with Columbus Day and with Presidents’ Day, for example. (When only public servants and bank employees don’t work. When nearly the whole private sector keeps on producing wealth.) Why not cancel both holidays if non-production is a cause for worry? Why not make federal public servants come to work on both days if the president is worried? He only need issue an executive order. Bet you, he won’t even mention the possibility. And why do I have to state the obvious? Why aren’t the media doing their job? Have they been hypnotized? And, I almost forgot: if the president loses sleep over the missed production of federal employees, he could imitate the French in reverse and institute the federal forty-four hours work week. Would anyone notice?

Something else does not add up in the media’s discourse. For days, during the so-called “shutdown,” both administration officials and supposedly independent pundits threatened us with a world economic abyss because of number of non-essential federal employees were prevented from going to work. (I am not making this up; I am not exaggerating that we were told this ad nauseum; go back to those recent days, you will be amazed.) Yet, the day he current agreement is announced, the day we jumped form the edge of the supposed abyss, the markets reacted limply. The Dow Jones Industrial gained a lackluster 175 points that day. Now, that’s nice; it’s a gain for sure. However it’s no more of a gain than happens, for example, when the international price of the oil barrel comes down by ten dollars. The next day, the Dow Jones was flat. Trouble over; no big deal after all. Forget what we said yesterday. Forget the alarm. We were just kidding!

The Republican cave-in saves us from falling into the Grand Canyon and the market gives us a small hot dogs party by way of celebration! Does it make sense?

President Obama’s deftness never ceases to amaze me. No mistake seems to stick to him. On the day of the agreement, he declared that the new debt ceiling is not really debt. No one in the mainstream press questioned this absurd statement. Let me repeat, by the way, that I don’t think he is lying. He really does not know better. Academia is overflowing with his type of intelligent ignorance.

Perhaps, I am not grasping what’s going on, culturally. Perhaps, the reservoir of white American guilt concerning the long atrocity that was slavery, concerning racial segregation and discrimination also, is far from exhausted. Perhaps, the president can write checks on this for a long time to come. Or maybe, as Rush Limbaugh suggested, he struck a giant chord with the millions by giving them a chance to see themselves as victims. If you are a victim, almost any grotesque behavior is permissible. Soon only my wife, our grown children and I will be the only non-victims left in America. It will be a lonely existence. And, I wonder how long we will be able to support the victims because two of us are long retired (thus mirroring American demographics to come).

At one point one of Mr Obama’s servants referred gravely to the global reputational damage the shutdown has caused to the United States. (I don’t remember exactly who or when but I heard it with my own ears.) The “red line” in Syria about using chemical weapons does not in any way affect the credibility of the US, I suppose. The hundreds of civilians who died from chemical weapons died and all is forgiven. In the words of Pres. Obama’s former Secretary of State, “What difference does it make now?” (Or rather: “What difference, at this point, does it make?” I thank  my critic professor Terry for this utterly unessential correction 10/18/13.)

The day after the agreement the president gave another speech in which he advised those who don’t like something to just win elections in order to be able to change the something. I don’t think it was a simple mistake. Rather, it was Freudian slip. President Obama does not believe that tea party Senators and Representatives who oppose him so tenaciously were just as elected as he was. It sounds familiar to me because I know history rather well and French history very well. The weakling tyrant, Louis-Napoleon, the Emperor Napoleon the Third (there was no Second) was initially elected. His supporters really thought that if you were elected by a sizable majority, you were morally allowed to do anything. They thought that was democracy. (There is a very nice readable piece by my old buddy Karl Marx on this topic for your reading pleasure where and when it rains: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Abstract of Chapter I.)

Thus do we drift fast toward a one-party state. I warned about this a long time ago, before Mr Obama was even elected. (See also on this blog: “Fascism Explained“)

The unspeakable Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said after the agreement was reached: “This is a time for reconciliation.” I don’t think so. I hope not.

Note: See also postings on the same general topic in Notes on Liberty

About Jacques Delacroix

I write short stories, current events comments, and sociopolitical essays, mostly in English, some in French. There are other people with the same first name and same last name on the Internet. I am the one who put up on Amazon in 2014: "I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography" and also: "Les pumas de grande-banlieue." To my knowledge, I am the only Jacques Delacroix with American and English scholarly publications. In a previous life, I was a teacher and a scholar in Organizational Theory and in the Sociology of Economic Development. (Go ahead, Google me!) I live in the People’s Green Socialist Republic of Santa Cruz, California.
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38 Responses to The Federal Shutdown, the Debt Ceiling and an Extremist’s Morning After

  1. kamprint says:

    The outcome this political theater was foreordained. Central casting could not have produced more compliant opponents than the Republican straw-men attempting to impersonate leaders. Fortune has favored O throughout his career with extraordinarily inept opponents. First there was Ryan who spun-out of the Senate contest with his highly visible kinky-sex-riddled divorce (from Jeri Ryan the voluptuous bodysuited Borg). Then there was sad-sack McCain whose signature virtue, courage, failed him when it came to O’s 2012 trillion-dollar campaign fund, sold to the public as a stimulus. He was followed by that poster-boy for financial plutocracy, the politically tone-deaf Romney who thought he didn’t need the 47 percent. Next up was the teary-eyed country-club Republican House speaker and his Senate sidekick. With enemies like these, who needs friends?

  2. --Rick says:

    Great article. Thanks for the summation Cosmo I think we’ve already arrived at a one party state in that as much as the Republicans pay lip service to small government, when in power, they too grow the government as rapidly as the Democrats…see George W. Bush’s spending record.

    If we want a nation where grownup thinking is the dominant path to exchange ideas, then, we need the government to help grow adults. The less people are given, the more they have to think and act like grownups to get them. We need leaders who set the stage for shrinking government and growing educated voters and participants in developing and maintaining a vibrant economy that focuses on expanding the synergy of individual minds to do extraordinary things.

    The more we leave people the incentive to keep what they earn, the more willing they will become to work and produce. The more the government tries to redistribute their earned wealth to those who are morally underserving by codifying government theft, the more likely the individual is to do less, think less, contribute less and they more likely it is that liberty, justice and creative productivity will be lost with future generations.

    • I thank you all for your comments but they include too much talk about “leaders,”I think.

      • --Rick says:

        You are correct, of course. We are much better off with followers holding a myriad of views ranging from mystical solutions and calls for less government, but more religious intrusions into governmental decision making to those more practical minded zealots who feel that shutting down government and defaulting on the debt should be the conservative’s first choice.

        It is obviously my mistake in thinking that a few well focused voices would carry much further than manifold whispers in the wind whistling out manifold, and more often than not, contradictory paths to victory. Thank you for the well targeted and articulated insight.

      • Rick: There was never going to be any defaulting on the debt. It’s either a lie for the administration to say so or abysmal ignorance.
        The whole debt does not come due on the same day anymore than my mortgage does. There was always going to be plenty of money to pay what was coming due, for years. But, it would have forced a re-consideration of what needs to be cut in the federal budget.

        If your indignation is based in any way on this misapprehension, it too might be reconsidered.

      • --Rick says:

        You are correct, of course, that initially there would be no defaulting on the debt – that is, so long as reasonable people are making reasonable choices in prioritizing which bills to pay or not [there would not have been funding sufficient to pay all of the bills]. But, what is even worse was the prospect of another downgrade in U.S. credit worthiness.

        This last places the U.S. dollar in jeopardy as the international trading currency and places U.S. economic power equally at risk. Other nations have been considering shifting to another currency as the international standard and many investors are looking a China as the new economic superpower. Attention is slowly being turned from the U.S. and toward Asia

        Without a strong currency, it is nearly impossible to remain an economic superpower and without remaining an economic superpower, it is improbable that our nation could remain a military superpower without having to strip resources from the people and infrastructure of the nation to maintain a credible, albeit, less effective military in the same manner that North Korea supports her military.

        My indignation derives from you comment that there may be too much emphasis on leadership in seeking to resolve the nation’s problem of being too bloated, overreaching and harmful to private property rights and the individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Think not?

        Look at the damage “we the people” have done by not only standing idly by as Amendment after Amendment has been made to the U.S. Constitution, most serving to weaken the power of the individual and expand the power of government. For example, one can look back at the 16th Amendment as the source that has led the United States to get to our current state of financial affairs.

        Prior to the passage of the 16th Amendment, the nation had was somewhat protected from personal income taxes and others in that the U.S. Congress could impose a duty or tax upon personal property, or upon income arising either from rents of real estate or from personal property, including invested personal property, bonds, stocks, and investments of all kinds, except by apportioning the sum to be so raised among the States according to population. This view was upheld in Pollock v Farmers Loan and Trust.

        Because such property and incomes could never be made to contribute to the support of the national government, it preserved the rights of people to keep what they earned and to dispense with their private property, including their estates, as they wished without the burden of paying off the government and further diminishing private sector wealth by shifting it into non-productive causes through which the wealth of the entire nation is diminished.

        This harkens back to the adage that, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Or it’s variant, “”Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power.” With the passage and ratification of the 16th Amendment, both our leadership and the citizens of America failed in their duty to keep government at bay in all but its essential duties. With the passage and ratification of the 16th Amendment the states agreed to diminish their individual power and wealth in order to grow the Federal government and allow it to usurp powers granted to them by the Constitution.

        Where were the voices of opposition to these Amendments and where are they now? Are we to rely upon a disparate and often contradicting number of voices chatting over the proverbial neighbor’s fence to alert people to the dangers and derive solutions or cures? Or are we not better served by leaders who are knowledgeable, articulate, and accountable to the people to be persuasive in leading the charge in each battle to hold firm and not further diminish the private property and individual liberty rights of all?

        Again, my sarcasm was directly solely at your suggestion that “we the people” were sufficient to safeguard the nation from serious economic injury and that leadership plays no greater than a minor role in changing course. This last is the source of my “indignation”., or as I tend to view it, concern that the suggestion that it doesn’t matter who is put into the seat of governance or that the people consider holding failed leadership accountable.

        I hope this follow up to your question clarifies my concerns and better explains by derisive use of sarcasm to what I see as a nonsensical comment.

      • Rick:Three points (I cannot presently deal with more):

        1 Does the Second Amendment, for example, weaken the power of the individual as you seem to assert? (I think not, of course.)

        2 You keep using the concept of the economic power of the US, the nation-state. I think it’s a dubious concept. It may have no meaning at all. The US is a nation-state. Is the “economic power” of that nation-sate the aggregate power of its economic actors or is it something else? If something else, what? “Power” usually means the ability to make others do what they would not otherwise do. Supposing there were such thing as a US economic power, what others would it cause to do what things they would not do absent his power? Continuing: The American economy has been the largest in the world since at least 1945. The gap between it and the second and third largest etc has been shrinking steadily. Have actual Americans suffered economically as a result of this shrinkage? Or have Americans’ standard of living only improved as the gap closed?

        3 My objection to the reliance on the concept of “leadership” is that, on closer examination, usually (not always) you find that it ‘s a catchall for what you don’t understand. Often, it’s even a blanket explanation for what we don’t want to understand. It’s mostly an empty word.

        PS If the credit rating of the US federal government goes down – as it might – it will make it more difficult for the government to borrow. That’s one of the objectives of extremists like me.

      • --Rick says:

        First of all, no, I do not think the 2nd Amendment weakens individual rights. In fact, it was agreed upon along with the other 9 Bill of Rights Amendments to ensure individual rights could not be stripped from the people.

        The answer to your second question, I believe is self-evident in the fact that 60% of nations rely upon the U.S. dollar as it measure of economic currency.

        The standard of living for Americans has fallen sharply in recent years But, that is mostly due to poor domestic spending policies that have weakened the U.S. dollar and enhanced the strength of other currencies.

        More importantly, though, as the average standard of living has decreased, so has the standard of individual liberty shrunk with it.

        I agree, for most people, leadership can be an “empty word”, but I don’t think your blog was written for most people or the average uninformed voters. Perhaps, I’m mistaken as your last statement identifies your positions as extreme, which never works to any advantage short of thuggery and violence.

        I agree that the spending is out of control, as is the constant and irrational pursuit of new revenue to keep feeding an insatiable beast, but I’ve never seen an instance where political evolution has occurred as a result of extremism without someone looking down the barrel of a gun.

        Sound economics enables peace through strength and is best achieved through established and reliable economic principles and political consensus. In this instance, I believe what is needed is a wall between the economy and government that is as impenetrable as the wall between church and state should be. In my view, this is sensible extremism and is best achieved through laissez faire capitalism and a price directed economy rather than a corrupt mix of socialism and crony economics ( I leave out the word Capitalism because the mix has given it the bad name which only serves to more favorably color the socialistic aspects of the mix.

        But, that’s my opinion – and now that I understand that you prefer life on the periphery, I can also see where leadership is a nebulous concept to you.

        Cheers, my good Doctor.

      • Rick: You did write this :

        “Look at the damage “we the people” have done by not only standing idly by as Amendment after Amendment has been made to the U.S. Constitution, most serving to weaken the power of the individual and expand the power of government.”

        “My good doctor” is supercilious. What in the hell gives you the idea you may do this?

        The idea that the standard of living of the American people has gone down at any time in the past, since WWII, except perhaps 2008 to 2011, is simply absurd. You don’t seem to care about your credibility. Please, look back.

        I don’t know why the fact of a dollar standard means anything about anything we are talking about. It’s based on two things, I believe: The US past absolute economic dominance (about 50% of joint world GDPs in 1955) and the widespread belief that our institutions are more virtuous than those of other large countries.

      • --Rick says:

        “My good doctor” is supercilious. What in the hell gives you the idea you may do this?

        The evidence that I may “do this” lies in the fact that it was done. And supercilious is a good summation of how you come across to others with your arrogant and haughty attitude of always being correct and picking fights over trivia.

        This entire discussion began over your absurd dismissal of the notion that leadership is a necessary ingredient in rallying people around solutions to existing problems in sufficient numbers and with sufficient resolve to fix them. Your explanation of being an extremist as a justification for such a view is absurd. Extremism solves nothing and serves only to contradict everything.

        Equally absurd is your view that the American standard of living has not fallen. Do you shop? Have you priced real property for either personal or business use? Have you looked at a 401K or other such investment vehicle to evaluate its performance in terms of it providing an adequate retirement fund? Have you noticed how much income has shrunk in relation to cost of living realities and the shifting away from full-time to part-time employment. Have you noticed prices over the past decade or two? Have you noticed wages and employment numbers? Have you noticed the steady decay of the nation’s infrastructure? How about local infrastructure? Have you noticed that leisure travel is down and that people are opting for vacations that are more local in nature than in years past? Have you noticed the blood and treasure spilled in war? How’s the health care thing working out for the American people? Is America less free or more free than a decade or two ago? What aspect of America life has gotten better? You need to make a reality check.

        Past economic dominance is the precise key in describing our economic state of affairs. The prevailing view is that the future center of the global economy may lie in Asia and our foolhardy politicians are doing nothing to dissuade that view by their less than virtuous and utterly irresponsible, extremist behavior and childish temper tantrums during periods where serious minds should be seeking serious solutions.

        I suppose we will never come to common agreement, and with that in mind as well as how tedious this “discussion” has grown, I suppose there is little left to discuss.

        Cheers.

      • --Rick says:

        Correction:

        Prior to the passage of the 16th Amendment, the nation was somewhat protected from personal income taxes and others in that the U.S. Congress could NOT impose a duty…

  3. Terry Amburgey says:

    I was tempted to point out that Jacques has again misquoted the former secretary of state [an identical misquote] but I don’t want to interrupt my schadenfreude.

  4. Terry: Tell us whats the former secretary really said. It shouldn’t interrupt for long. It must feel good to have this inexhaustible cache of real information.

  5. Terry Amburgey says:

    “What difference, at this point, does it make?” Is the true quote. When you use ” before and after words it tells the reader that this is exactly what was said or written. Not a close-enough-for-Jacques paraphrase. Since this is the second go-around for the same misquote I’m beginning to wonder if you’re really who I thought you were.

    Now that I’ve told you [again] what she actually said, perhaps you and your minions can tell us again how sad you are that the government is not shutdown and that the government will not default on its obligations. Please.

  6. Terry Amburgey says:

    @Rick
    An excellent post. I would urge you to look further back in time though; why were the Articles of Confederation replaced by the Constitution?

    • --Rick says:

      From a financial perspective, most states printed their own scripts (money) and this made a stable, national economy virtually impossible

      There were many reasons as to why the AOC failed, not least among them was that with each state operating essentially as an island, Congress lacked the power to tax to raise money to defend attacks or to fight wars. There was no executive to direct the enforcement of laws or to speak with a voice that represents all American interests in foreign affairs. There was no national court system; so, states were free to adjudicate and punish as they saw fit without regard to individual liberties or private property rights. No amendments could be made to the AOC without a unanimous vote and a 9/13ths majority was needed to pass laws in Congress and considering the land mass and potential for growth, such a system was deemed unworkable.

      Additionally states argued over what was worth funding based upon local conditions and often refused to equitably fund the federal government, which, even if properly funded could not enforce laws within the boundaries of states as was evidenced by the failure of the federal government to gather a proper military force to put down rebellions or keep states from leaving the Confederation.

      The Constitution was derived under citizen pressure to stabilize economic conditions, to raise and keep a properly prepared and directed military under the control of the central government and to establish as federal system of justice that could guarantee the individual rights of all citizens no matter where they lived.

      However, many government leaders and citizens were skeptical of government gaining too much power and that skepticism is reflected in the first 10 Amendments known as the bill of rights. It is my view that between the Constitutional language and the Bill of Rights built upon the conditions specified in the Declaration of Independence, America had all of the law it needed. I find little, if any value in all the Amendments that followed in contrast with the greater potential for mischief.

      Some will point to slavery and the Amendments written to deal with abolishing it and ensuring the rights of slaves, but in reality, all one had to do was to look to the Declaration of Independence for that solution: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that…” However, when one considers the problems forming a stable central government as well as military, economic and judicial security, imagine the difficulty that would come with defining slaves as 100% human and entitled to immediate freedom and an equal share of the liberty most recently secured from King George. Talk about bringing a newly born nation to the brink of collapse!

      I think, when reading the Constitution in the strictest of terms, that the founders foresaw a point in which slavery and other evils of the time would have to come to an end and that they worded that document that complemented its foundational Declaration of Independence with the idea that future generations would do what they could not.under current circumstances. Of course, I am also certain that not all the signers of these documents had such a vision, but I do believe at the very least, Jefferson and his circle of influence did.

      Did I answer your question adequately?

  7. Terry Amburgey says:

    @Rick
    It’s always good to have something to point to when talking with Jacques; he generally won’t read it but it’s still handy
    http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2011/1019/A-long-steep-drop-for-Americans-standard-of-living

    You also might wonder why Jacques doesn’t see what’s happening around him. In this particular case I think it’s explained by a blurb on Wikipedia…

    “The US has… a per capita GDP [PPP] of $42,000… The [recent] onrush of technology largely explains the gradual development of a “two-tier labor market”… Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households… The rise in GDP in 2004 and 2005 was undergirded by substantial gains in labor productivity… Long-term problems include inadequate investment in economic infrastructure, rapidly rising medical and pension costs of an aging population, sizable trade and budget deficits, and stagnation of family income in the lower economic groups. -CIA factbook on the US economy, 2005…The United States has one of the widest rich-poor gaps of any high-income nation today, and that gap continues to grow… In recent times, some prominent economists including Alan Greenspan have warned that the widening rich-poor gap in the U.S. population is a problem that could undermine and destabilize the country’s economy and standard of living stating that “The income gap between the rich and the rest of the US population has become so wide, and is growing so fast, that it might eventually threaten the stability of democratic capitalism itself”.”

    Jacques did manage to grasp central tendency but variance has eluded his cognitive grasp. And even with central tendency he blows it, he looks at the mean not the median.

  8. --Rick says:

    Thanks Terry, for the information you regarded about Jacques. Perhaps my biggest mistake was taking the title of his blog, “Facts Matter” too literally as it is in direct conflict with the following:

    It’s always good to have something to point to when talking with Jacques; he generally won’t read it but it’s still handy The latter leaves the impression that facts only matter when others comment, but have no place of importance in commentary coming from him.

    I appreciate the point to the Christian Science Monitor’s business article, but the truth is, unless Jacques is in the uber 1% and has others shop for him and ignores pricing trends everywhere around him, just going through the motions of living in America would provide him with some instruction in reality to cause him to question his theories and the reporting of academics.

    Economics is only rocket science to those who seek to distort facts for their own agendas. In reality, the basics are quite simple to understand and even easier to see the frequent oscillations in markets and one’s personal economic liberty.

    My best to you and thank you, again, Terry.

    • Rick: Info about me is all over the web and also in my vita linked to this blog. You don’t have to rely on an indignant breathless old man with an ax to grind.

      Others might read this exchange so, I will make an effort.

      In the past fifty years:

      Life expectancy has gone up for all categories of the US population.

      Calorie intake has gone up so much (in the US and worldwide) that it’s a problem in its own right.

      Car are better in every way (We used to have oil changes every 5 or even 3,000 miles.) Nevertheless, they broke up all the time.

      TV was black and white an offered little choice, even in the US.

      All coffee was bad to very bad in America except in two establishments in NYC and one in San Francisco. (Or, maybe it was four and two.)

      There was no internet, no Google (to find information), no email, etc.

      Nothing I can think of has declined, or worsened (except, sometimes I think the taste of tomatoes is worse, but, it turns out it’s not true if you spend the same % of mean income on them as we did then.)

      Two questions:

      1 How do the indices you mention contradict any of the above? I am waiting. Others may be waiting at all because facts matter.

      2 Can you imagine, make up, devise a measure that would convince you that the US standard of living has gone up? Could anything persuade you? Or is it the case that nothing would change your mind?

      If you are curious, you might look at my entry “Capitalism” in the 2006 Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. (It’s the hard copy, the paperback entry was given to a communist.)

      Just for my own education, if you don’t mind telling me: How old are you? What do you do for a living?

      • Terry Amburgey says:

        “You don’t have to rely on an indignant breathless old man with an ax to grind.” Why that’s downright supercilious.

      • --Rick says:

        Let me start off by saying that I didn’t come here to read your blog because of you. I come here as a side effect of reading Brandon’s blog and have found some of your postings interesting and informative. Others not so much. I hope that confession doesn’t hurt your ego or feelings.

        With respect to your opening remarks:

        “You don’t have to rely on an indignant breathless old man with an ax to grind.”

        I do I know that you are not of the same bent as you claim Terry to be? Terry was civil, informative and rational in his comments to me. So, I can hardly take you at your word in describing him to me in light of the evidence on this particular page.

        As to the more personal questions about me…

        I’m 64, retired from the military from 1969 through 1989 where I served as a field hospital corpsman, a submarine sole medical care provider and a hospital administrator. Following my military career, I ran MRI Centers and I am now fully retired, married and having the time of my life with 6 grandchildren.

        Speaking of medicine and health care in general, if you do a bit of searching, you will find that the federal government has caused more stand alone health care facilities such as MRI Centers and Laboratories to close than open; especially since the mid 1990s. Reimbursements via health care insurance, guided by Medicare and Medicaid payments have driven Primary Care Physician numbers down and a growing number of those who still desire a general practice are doing so in the form of concierge medicine without accepting any form of health insurance. The same is happening with specialist such as radiologist and orthopedists.

        Those physicians who still accept insurance are clearing out their government insured patients due to the immoral reimbursements the government pays. This includes Medicare, Medicaid, and Military Coverage under TRICARE.

        Additionally, hospitals and pharmacies are running out of life preserving drugs due to government interference in pricing and patent limitations. This interference is actually causing drugs to be even more expensive by creating a cost directed artificial scarcity of these drugs.

        Of course, I agree that not all indices regarding the U.S. Standard of living are bad, and there have been sectors where improvement can be demonstrated. However I would also caution that those indices should also be viewed with a jaundiced eye.

        The press likes to bandy about our 17 trillion dollar debt, but rarely do they mention the actual unfunded liability America is burdened with that comes in at approximately 90 trillion dollars, a sum that no rational thinker of any level of training in economics can claim we are capable of paying back with anything less than a 70% or higher tax rate. When one is facing a day when living on 30% of one’s income in a part-time work economy, which way would you suppose the standard of living will move?

        As to the topic of Capitalism, I am pretty well set in my views on the topic from the perspective of an Objectivist; not a Libertarian or Anarchist view. But, I will check out your article as time permits.

        As to the indices you list above, I would agree that technology has made some aspects of life interesting, but in the same way that learning to build shelters from trees improved life for cave dwellers.

        As to television and the rest of the advances you list, they probably have served more to dumb the population and help them grow the fat arses that are now causing many of them high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lost limbs and restricted physical abilities to participate in everyday life. I don’t consider any of that a win. Do you?

        O.K., I think I answered your questions; so, I’m going back to my normal life and do some thinking about the value of spending my time here as opposed to more thoughtful and productive alternatives.

      • Rick: Why the peevishness? I am glad you read Brandon. I do too.

        Are you going to direct us to the indices or to the index that show that some version of the standard of living has declined?

      • --Rick says:

        I have no intention to downgrade a university education. I have one myself. However, I do take umbrage with people who are too full of themselves and you certainly come across in that category.

        The rest of your response offers to little to occupy my time.

        As to us being on the same page, as a 20 year veteran of the U.S. Military, I am acutely aware that radical or extremist behavior or thinking does little to establish and hold the peace. Peace is held by projecting strength and rational policy. No one wants to fight a war less than those in the Armed Forces, but it is they who have to clean up the mess created by politicians, generally, those from the left. But, as we’ve seen with Bush II, even Republican radicalism in the form of answering some idiotic religious calling with force as opposed to the pursuit of true justice.

        This last piece discusses the poverty rate and the efforts to eliminate poverty since 1969.

        http://poverty.ac.uk/editorial/absolute-poverty-america-higher-1969 since you concede that the American standard of living has fallen since 2008, I thought I’d go back a bit further for you.

  9. Terry Amburgey says:

    “While inflation-adjusted (“real”) household income had been increasing almost every year from 1945 to 1999, it has since been flat and even decreased recently.[2] U.S. median annual household income fell from $51,144 in 2010 to $50,502 in 2011.[3] Extreme poverty in the United States, meaning households living on less than $2 per day before government benefits, doubled from 1996 to 1.5 million households in 2011, including 2.8 million children.”

    “Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households…”

    “The so-called misery index, another measure of economic well-being of American households, echoes the finding on the slipping standard of living. The index, a combination of the unemployment rate and inflation, is now at its highest point since 1983, when the US economy was recovering from a short recession and from the energy price spikes after the Iranian revolution.”

    @Rick
    Nice to meet another 64 year old. However, unlike you and Jacques I have no plans to retire. Ontario did away with mandatory retirement so I’m going to stick with a full income well into my dotage.

    I would encourage you to stick around Facts Matter. It doesn’t have the same scale as Notes on Liberty but it does have it’s virtues.

    • Terry: I often don’t know what you really mean. Please confirm or disconfirm that you really think that what you sent adequately takes care of the issue of American impoverishment. (As I said in my note to Rick, I have no quarrel with post 2008 evidence.)

      I ask because I don’t
      want to be sent on another pro-forma wild goose chase by you. If you really believe the completely absurd notion that Americans have become poorer (any Americans post generous welfare benefits) since say, 1970 then, maybe, I have a good topic before me. It probably means that many others – your former students for example- share this false view of the world. In this case, it may be worth an essay.

      “households living on less than $2 per day before government benefits, doubled from 1996 to 1.5 million households in 2011, including 2.8 million children”

      Isn’t it true that the population increased by 20 or 25 % between the two dates? And isn’t it worth mentioning in conjunction with the absolute number of poor households? I wonder what your source might be on this doozie. And, is n’ it true that the average size of American households keeps decreasing. Is the number you brandish thus not exaggerating the real increase in poverty? And if does, why pay any attention?

      Please answer one or both questions.

      And, I wish you would completely stay away from insults on my blog. And, by the way, again, it’s “its.” (Not an insult a charitable act on my part.)

    • Terry: Please references of the so sources for this refutation so that I may be corrected.

      You are correct that real unemployment (part of the misery index) under Pres. Obama is huge. His first name means “Lucky” but, maybe not!

  10. @ Rick: Thank you for satisfying my curiosity about yourself.

    I don’t know why you snipe at me so much. We are on the same page about most of the national deficiencies your report, especially in the health care area.

    I have three main differences with you:

    Americans in general have not become poorer except perhaps since 2008 (“perhaps”); you have not done anything about my rebuttal. Terry tried, feebly.

    Hatred of television. This is a posture I meet often. In my experience, it’s deeply ingrained in people who have not watched television for years or for decades. I think it’s not worth fighting over because it will vanish with you and me.

    Your logic leaves me perplexed: You may use silly words with me (at me me) because you did it. The assassin “may” kill a victim because he did it?

    In my experience people who use that expression, “good doctor,” are always trying to downgrade a university education. Why in the world would anyone want to do this?

  11. Terry Amburgey says:

    Where ignorance is bliss ’tis folly to be wise. This is a good time to take a break, the semester is getting hectic.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/the-imf-economic-performance-index-2013-10

    • Terry: I could not open the link you sent me. Also, you keep sending me on wild goose chases. Please, try to tell me (tell us) why I (we) should follow through. A sentence or two will be enough.

  12. Pingback: Unequal Poverty: Tricks (Par Two of two) | FACTS MATTER

  13. Pingback: Unequal Poverty: Tricks (Part Two of two) | Notes On Liberty

  14. Pingback: Tricks of Unequal Poverty: A Repost (In Honor of Bernie Sanders) | Notes On Liberty

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