Thursday, October 30, 2014

Who Is Greedy?

Column for week of October 20, 2014

     Many people claim rampant greed causes all our
problems.  Greedy people ruthlessly exploit everyone in sight. 
Before dissecting this theory we should consider, Who is
greedy?

     Consider a multiple choice question.  Several
individuals each have a candy bar.  Abner gives the candy bar
to a poor person.   Beth puts her candy bar away to eat it
another day.  Chuck destroys his candy bar.  Debbie trades her
candy bar for an apple.  Erwin eats his candy bar while beating
off hungry people.  Now, rank the five based on who was the
greediest.

     Why did each choose to act in a different way?  Abner
believed he would gain more satisfaction from giving the candy
bar away than from putting it to any other use.  Beth believed
that she could gain the most satisfaction by putting the candy
bar to some use later.  Chuck hated candy bars and believed
they were bad for people.  He gained the most satisfaction
from destroying the candy.  Debbie believed the apple would
bring more satisfaction than the candy bar.  Erwin believed that
protecting and eating the candy would bring him the most
satisfaction.

     Each individual acted in the way expected to maximize
his personal satisfaction.  Each had a different opinion about
what was satisfying.  Some, or all, may not have gained the
satisfaction they expected.  That was irrelevant when choosing. 
We always act based on what we expect rather than what we
eventually get.  That is the only way we can choose.  We have
no way of knowing how the future will play out.

     Some choices were most likely more beneficial to third
parties than were others.  Still, the chooser made his choice
based on what was best for the satisfaction of the chooser. 
Part of the motivation for the choices we make is the
satisfaction we gain from the satisfaction of others.

     All of the choosers were equally greedy.  Each sought
to maximize his own self interest.  Those who gain satisfaction
from the satisfaction of others are more likely to make choices
that increase the satisfaction of others.  Their real motivation is
maximizing self satisfaction.  When it comes to our most basic
pursuit, satisfaction, we are all 100 percent greedy.  No one
ever considers his choices and then deliberately picks one that
he believes won't be the most satisfying.

     Blaming problems on greed is a dead end street.  If
greed is the basic problem there aren't any solutions.  We can't
eliminate or reduce human greed.  We are hard wired to pursue
our own self interest.  The Declaration of Independence
recognized this when it identified "life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness" as our core rights.  Without life there is no
satisfaction.  Each individual knows best what makes him
happy or satisfied.  For individuals to pursue happiness, each
must have the liberty to choose.

     Tangible things and activities aren't anyone's ultimate
goals.  We don't seek automobiles and ski weekends for the
sake of the thing or the action.  Individuals seek them for the
satisfaction they expect to gain.

     There are only two ways to influence the choices of
others.  One is to physically interfere with some of the choices
so as to make them difficult or impossible.  The government
tried to do this when it banned the manufacture of incandescent
light bulbs.  The goal was to make it impossible for individuals
to choose incandescent bulbs.  Government's ban on marijuana
is another attempt to prevent individuals from choosing what
they believe will be the most satisfying.

 Bans and mandates are achievable only by totally
destroying the option, or by commanding "Do it my way, or I
will hurt you."  (Please note that  attempted bans usually fail
miserably while yielding all sorts of unintended
consequences.)

     Short of resorts to force and violence there is only one
way to influence the choices of others.  We must influence the
individual's views about what is satisfying.

     The next 12 columns will consider the journey to
satisfaction.

aldmccallum@gmail.com
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Copyright 2014
Albert D. McCallum

When a Religion Dies

Column for week of October 13, 2014

     I have read in history about the death of religions. 
Perhaps the best known passing of a system of belief is that of
the gods of the Romans.  Even after those gods were fully
discredited, some still clung to and defended them.  Beliefs die
hard, especially beliefs based on emotions rather than facts.

     I never witnessed a religion going through its death
throws, until now.  Believers in man-made global warming
exhibit the characteristics of religious fanatics.  They claim to be
100 percent right while claiming that anyone who even slightly
disagrees with them is not only totally wrong, but also evil.  The
stronger the challenge to their cherished beliefs, the more
hysterical their defense becomes.

     The global warmists and their beliefs are in a bit of a
bind.  They face the inconvenient truth that satellite data show
the atmosphere hasn't warmed for over 18 years.  For them that
is a bitter pill to swallow.

     First they dropped "global warming" from their
vocabulary.  Now they call the great threat to human survival
"climate change."  Predicting climate change is safe.  It is as
safe as predicting that the sun shall rise.  Climate has been
changing for so long as we have any evidence of climate.  It is a
safe bet climate will continue to change for as long as there is
climate.

     The fanatics are so certain people are warming the world
that they refuse to even consider the possibility they aren't. 
Among other things they claim the deep oceans are sucking the
heat out of the atmosphere and hiding it.  In 20 or 30 years this
heat is supposed to pour up from the depths and boil us all.

     A recent report from the NASA poured cold water on
that one.  The NASA conducted the only serious study of heat in
the ocean depths.  It reluctantly reported that it didn't find the
missing heat.

     The man-made global warming cult will likely either
claim the NASA didn't look hard enough, or that the missing
heat is hiding somewhere else.  Perhaps they will offer a reward
to whoever finds the heat.

     Recent rants by Robert Kennedy, Jr. are a good example
of how fanatics respond when their insupportable beliefs are
challenged.  His first utterance was that questioning man-made
global warming should be a crime.  Those who express such
ideas should be punished.  So much for free speech.

     Feeling a bit of heat generated by those remarks, he tried
to do some damage control.  He conceded that even ignorant,
stupid people should be allowed to speak.  He followed that up
by demanding the death penalty for any foundation, or
corporation that denied the existence of man-made global
warming.  He wanted Attorney Generals to have the offenders'
charters revoked.

     Corporations don't speak.   The only voices corporations
have are the voices of real live people who speak on the
corporation's behalf.  Kennedy is still demanding that
government silence the voices he doesn't want to hear.  This
brings to mind how the British used heresy laws to silence Joan
of Arc.  Perhaps we should have at least a touch of sympathy for
those whose ideas are so weak they can defend them only by
silencing their critics.

     The global warmists may not have a god, unless she is
mother earth.  They do have their devil, carbon dioxide, that is
supposed frighten all into submission.

     It is pointless to try to reason with members of the global
warming (excuse me, climate change) cult.  It is impossible to
reason with anyone whose beliefs are founded on emotion rather
than reason.

     There is little to do other than watch, and enjoy if you
like, the cult go through its death throws.  It may be difficult to
enjoy their ordeal.  Some of the emotional fanatics will likely
turn violent as more and more people reject their beliefs.  There
are bound to be some unpleasantries over the next few decades
before real science reclaims the realm of climate change.

aldmccallum@gmail.com
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Copyright 2014
Albert D. McCallum

Thursday, October 16, 2014

If the Whole World Were a School

Column for week of October 6, 2014

     I endlessly hear the complaint that profit making
businesses shouldn't be allowed to run our schools.  This
complaint seems to spring from several reasons.  Schools are too
important to be left to greedy, profit seeking businesses. 
Education money shouldn't be wasted on profits.  Only
government can be held accountable for what it does. 
Businesses would provide low quality education for high prices.

     If all this is true, Why should we tolerate greedy, profit
seeking businesses providing our food, clothing and shelter?  A
person could live for at least a year without a school.  How long
could anyone live without food?  In Michigan, How many would
survive a year without any clothing or shelter?

     How will we continue to survive if we remain dependent
on greedy, untrustworthy businesses to provide the vital
necessities of life?  Why shouldn't we turn to government for all
of our necessities?  For that matter, if government is such a
great, efficient and trustworthy provider of necessities, Why
shouldn't we turn to it for the provision of everything?

     Following the fine example of the great government
schools we can start by establishing food districts.  Everyone
will live in a food district that will provide commissaries and
mess halls to feed everyone for free.  Of course, the districts will
provide only healthy nutritious food, as defined by the
government.

     Food will be provided only in the quantity and at the
times deemed best by the providers.  People have learned to
adjust their schedules and educational tastes to one size fits all
schools.  They should easily adjust to one size fits all food
service.  If you don't like the menu, bring it up at the next
election of the food board.  This may not be the  perfect
solution.  The food board will only be able to beg its superiors
in the state capital and  D.C. for permission to change.  After
all, people in Michigan can't be allowed to have different food
than those who live in California.

     Someone has to pay for all that free food.  Even
government can't repeal the laws of economics.  It can make
some big messes while trying.  Of course, the taxpayers will
gladly pay for their free food.  Supposedly on average we spend
15 to 20 percent of our income on food.  We can start by
levying an additional 15 percent income tax on everyone to pay
for food.  Considering the importance of food, that tax will have
to be increased if it is inadequate to cover the cost.  For
necessities no tax is too high.

     A few malcontents will complain about eating
government gruel.  They will be free to buy food from greedy
businesses, if they have any money left after paying their food
tax.  Of course, even ungrateful malcontents deserve the
protection of government.  The private businesses will be
regulated to where food they can sell won't be much different
from government gruel. 

     Once everyone learns to love government food we can
move on to creating housing districts to efficiently provide high
quality safe housing for everyone.  This will be easy.  We
already have government housing project and Indian reservations
to use as models.

     Once the program is fully implemented, government will
provide everything for everyone.  We can forget about taxes and
pay checks.  Everyone will work for the government that will
dole out whatever is left after the politicians, bureaucrats and
their cronies get their cut off the top.

     In this utopia everyone can sleep peacefully every night
knowing that no one is earning a profit by providing necessities
to others.  Who knows, someday someone may even find a way
to eliminate the graft and corruption that replaced profits.

aldmccallum@gmail.com
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Copyright 2014
Albert D. McCallum

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What Are Public Servants?

Column for week of September 29, 2014

     Politicians and bureaucrats commonly call themselves
public servants.  Are they?  To answer that question we must
answer two other questions.  What is service?  Who is the
public?

     Is a grocer serving his customer by threatening her with a
knife to get her to pay $4.00 for a loaf of bread?  He is
providing her with bread.  The customer is the only one who can
decide if she is being served.

     The customer is served only if she wants the service and
is willing to pay the price.  The customer hasn't been served if
the "service" costs more than she believes it is worth.  An
exchange is exploitation if the one "served" is forced to give up
more than she received.  Only the one being "served" can make
that value judgment.  No one can decide what something is
worth to another.

     If the customer valued the bread more than $4.00, the
grocer wouldn't need to threaten her with a knife to get her to
buy the bread.  Voluntary exchanges between customers and
grocers are possible only when both believe the exchanges serve
their interests.

     Everyone is part of the public.  If "public servants" are to
serve the public they must serve everyone.  Everyone must
believe they receive more value than they give up.  Name one
thing "public servants" do that is considered to be a service by
everyone in the country, state or city.

     If "public servants" were actually serving everyone, they
wouldn't need to threaten anyone to accomplish their tasks.  The
fact that "public servants" endlessly threaten almost everyone
with fines, imprisonment and even death puts the lie to their
being "public servants."  They are exploiting millions of the
public they claim to serve.

     No other result is possible.  Hiring "better people" as
"public servants" won't help.  It is impossible to force service
onto anyone.  If force is necessary, the "recipient" is being
victimized, not served.

     If the service costs the recipient nothing, it doesn't have
to be worth much to benefit the recipient.  Those who pay for
the service and get nothing may not feel quite so well served. 
The one who received the service might have turned it down if
he had to pay its full cost.

     Some will claim the total value provided by "public
servants" exceeds the cost imposed.  The value provided by
"pubic servants" can't be measured.  It is impossible to make
that calculation.  The only way to measure the value of anything
is to see how much someone will pay for it.  Even if the efforts
of "public servants" produce some value, we have no way of
knowing how much when the service isn't being paid for
voluntarily by the person receiving it.

     Even if the "public servants" are providing a net increase
in value, How can we justify exploiting others to provide
services to some?  The most "public servants" can do is exploit
some for the benefit of others.  Considering the inefficiency and
waste in all government operations, only in fantasy land will
"public servants" consume less value than they produce.

     Contrast this with the private sector.  Businesses buy
resources and produce products.  A business earns a profit only
if the customers pay more for the product than they would have
for the resources consumed making the product.  The profit
earned is part of the value added by the business.  Profits don't
rob consumers.  Profits benefit consumers.  If "public servants"
had to live on the value they create, most of them would starve
to death.

     It is perverted to demean profit making free market
businesses that can gain only by serving the desires of their
customers, while praising "public servants" who sell their
products only by saying "Pay me or I will hurt you."  Businesses
subsidized and protected from competition by "public servants"
can and do rip off customers.  They are a part of the public that
"public servants" do serve.  "Public servants" are well paid for
that service.

aldmccallum@gmail.com
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Copyright 2014
Albert D. McCallum

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tolerance and Respect

Column for week of September 22, 2014

     Many things may be seen as evidence of civilization. 
Some point to art and literature.  Others focus on advanced
technology.  Still others may see peace as the hallmark of
civilization.  None of these are the foundation of civilization. 
They may be the fruits of civilization.  Or, they may not even be
reliable evidence that civilization exists.

     When a substantial part of the population lives in fear
and terror of other people, the society isn't civilized.  It may,
however, appear peaceful.  The population may submit to
exploitation and abuse out of fear.  This is not civilized.  It is
also unstable and can't last.

     A society seeped in exploitation and abuse may produce
art and literature, as well as some technological achievements. 
Still, it is not civilized.  In a civilized society people treat each
other in a civil and respectful manner.  Individuals don't quickly
turn to violence when interacting with others.

     People are peaceful because they recognize the folly of
turning to violence, not because they live in fear of being struck
down by their rulers.  They seek the voluntary cooperation of
their fellow citizens, rather than saying "Do it my way, or I will
hurt you."  Technical achievements, art, literature, and prosperity
are the fruits of such a peaceful, cooperative society, not the
cause of it.

     The key to living in peaceful cooperation is for
individuals to be tolerant and respectful of each other.  Lack of
tolerance and respect quickly leads to force and violence that
destroys civilization.

     Tolerance and respect doesn't require approval and
support.  It only requires that we respect the rights of peaceful
individuals to live as they choose without threats of force and
violence.  We also must tolerate what they do, even if we don't
like it.

     Tolerance and respect don't mean we must aid or support
conduct of which we disapprove.  If we don't approve of what
others do, we don't have to invite them to lunch or hire them. 
Everyone also has the right to speak out for or against the
conduct of others.  Forcing peaceful people to act against their
conscience is uncivilized.  We must refrain from resorting to
violence to change others.  The use of force and violence must
be limited to protecting ourselves from the force, violence and
fraud of others.

     Civilized people respect the rights of others to be free
from violence and threats against their person.  It is also
essential that we respect the right of individuals to work and
produce whatever they can to sustain their lives and provide
comfort and satisfaction.  Such work product flows from the
person and is an extension of the person.  It deserves the same
respect as the person.  The secure right to the fruits of one's
labor isn't  an unimportant, trivial right.  Secure property rights
is one of the foundation stones of civilization.

     Most people conduct themselves in such a civilized
manner.  Few directly attack their neighbors or take their
property.  Many are far less reluctant to urge someone else to
beat others into the so called acceptable life style.   They may
even be eager to have that someone else confiscate the fruits of
their neighbor's labor and give the fruits to someone else.

     The someone appointed to do the dirty work is usually
government.  Delegating the dirty work is no more civilized and
no less destructive of civilization than doing it personally.  The
main job of government today is to beat individuals into
submission to the desires of the various special interests, and to
take the fruits of the individual's labor for the benefit of
members of the special interest groups.

     Civilization and the prosperity that civilized behavior
allows us to produce can't survive this wholesale loss of respect
for each other.  The only possible outcome is a war of all
against all.  In the end everyone will lose everything.

aldmccallum@gmail.com
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Copyright 2014
Albert D. McCallum

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What Will Improve Schools?

Column for week of September 15, 2014

     The Michigan legislature has attempted to improve
Michigan schools.  One of these attempts involved merit pay. 
Beyond poor teachers and teachers' unions, few will argue that
paying teachers based on the value of their work is a bad idea.  
The legislators at last are pursuing a good idea.  Will they catch
it?

     The legislators mandated that teachers' pay be based on
merit.   Next, the legislators took merit pay off the collective
bargaining table.  School boards were to have complete
discretion in establishing merit pay.  If school boards are truly
committed to improving the quality of education they would
jump at this opportunity to motivate teachers.

     Instead some school boards ran in the opposite direction. 
Faced with mandatory merit pay one school board established
merit pay as one dollar per year extra for the best teachers.   The
Ann Arbor school board negotiated merit pay with the teachers'
union and came up with $150 per year.

     How could the board negotiate something that the
legislators mandated was within the sole discretion of the board? 
The board claimed its discretion included deciding to let the
union decide merit pay.  Should the legislature amend the law to
make it even clearer that the union has no voice in deciding
merit pay?

     Why bother?  This is just one more example of top down
control not working.  You can't drive a horse that doesn't want
to be driven.  First you must provide the incentives to make the
horse willing to be driven.  Until school boards and
administrators are motivated to seek to provide quality education,
no mandate will help.  The mandate will be ignored, evaded or
poorly implemented.

     Kicking the problems to the national government will be
an even bigger failure.  No Child Left Behind and Common
Core, etc. were guaranteed failures even before they were
launched.  It wasn't  necessary to read them to know they would
fail to improve schools.

     It is pointless to try micro managing school
administrators or any other managers.  The only answer is to
create incentives so that the managers are rewarded for good
performance and punished for bad performance.  In other words,
we need merit pay for administrators.  This doesn't mean the
legislature should pass a law requiring merit pay for
administrators.  It would suffer the same fate as has merit pay
for teachers.  Who would judge the merit of
administrators?     

     Schools are supposed to serve students and their parents,
not serve unions, politicians and bureaucrats.  The parents and
students should evaluate the administrators and give them
thumbs up or thumbs down.

     This doesn't mean let the community vote on the
administrators' merit.  Such a vote would be an exercise in
futility.  No matter what a school does it won't please everyone. 
Not everyone wants the same things from a school.  One size
fits all ends up fitting no one.

     We should determine the merit of school administrators
the same way we determine the merit of managers of grocery
stores, clothing stores, restaurants, repair shops, and movie
makers.  Usually we don't even know who these managers are or
what they do.

     We judge their products.  Then we buy the products that
we believe serve us best.  When others prefer different products,
we don't interfere with their buying them.  This eliminates one
size fits all.

     The manager's survival as a manager depends on how
well his enterprise serves its customers.  The customers' choices
fire the failing managers and reward those who do good jobs. 
This is merit pay that really works to motivate good service.  It
doesn't force managers to do good jobs, or any kind of jobs.  It
makes them want to do a good job for their own benefit. 

     Competition and survival of the best providers is the only
road to quality for any product, including education.  Our current
government school system is pure socialism.  It can only fail
miserably as socialism always has and always will.

aldmccallum@gmail.com
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Copyright 2014
Albert D. McCallum

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hate Capitalism?

Column for week of September 8, 2014

     Many attack and vilify capitalism.  Others praise and
defend capitalism,  Why?

     Imagine two people battling over the virtues of Pat
Smith.  One despises and hates Pat.  The other sees virtue
worthy of sainthood.  Which one is right?  Could they both be
right?  Yes, they could.  There are two Pat Smiths.  One is a
51-years old male pedophile and mass murder.  The other is a
23-years old female who devotes her life to rescuing orphans.

     Until the disputants recognize that there are two very
different people called Pat Smith, they are unlikely to resolve
their differences.  Add a half dozen more Pat Smiths and we will
have something similar to the endless battles over capitalism. 
Most of the people battling over capitalism never bother to
compare their definitions of capitalism.  Many don't even have a
definition in mind.

     What, then, is capitalism?  Even more basic, what is
capital?  Our ultimate goal of production is consumer goods,
things that people can use.  Capital is the resources, both natural
and man made, that are useful in the production of consumer
goods.  Capital includes iron ore, mines, steel mills and auto
factories.  It also includes tractors, fertilizer and herbicides.  Add
to those schools, roads, offices, stores and a million other things.

     Without capital we can't produce anything.  All we would
have is whatever consumer goods nature provided.  In other
words, everyone alive would be a hunter gatherer living hand to
mouth.

     It is hard to believe that those demeaning capitalism want
to put an end to capital.  It must be the "ism" that they hate. 
Every economic system on earth is founded on capital. 
Socialists, fascists, communists, mercantilists, crony capitalists,
free market capitalists, and all combinations of the forgoing can
fairly be called capitalists.  All of these systems attempt to
accumulate capital to use in the production of consumer goods. 
They strongly disagree on how to accumulate capital.

     One writer defined capitalism as "a system of voluntary
economic exchanges between parties without government interest
or intervention."  That is a nice definition.  It doesn't describe
capital or even mention it.  What he has described is free
markets.  Why on earth call it capitalism?  "Free markets" is a
much more descriptive name, and far less confusing.  The term
"free markets" also distinguishes this system from all of the
other economic systems, all of which are far from free.

     Some people who defend capitalism do define what they
defend as free markets.  That definition is lost when they refer
only to capitalism.   The main thing called capitalism today is
the economies similar to the US economy.

     The US economy is predominately crony capitalism
where government uses force to reward the rich and powerful
special interests at the expense of the general interests of just
about everyone else.  If you believe we have freedom in the
marketplace,  try starting a business while ignoring government. 
See how far you get before a special interest sends government
to shut you down.

     In New England a woman started a food boat selling food
to boaters.  The customers thought it was great.  A newspaper
ran an article about the food boat.  The next day government
shut the food boat down.

     Our economy is immersed in crony capitalism.  The
average person can be forgiven for believing that capitalism
means crony capitalism rather than free markets.  I hate the term
capitalism.  It is misleading and confusing.  Defend freedom in
the marketplace under its own name, free markets.

     Those who can't tear themselves free from the word
capitalism should at least include a first name.  Defend free
market capitalism.  Condemn crony capitalism.

     The Occupy Wall Street crowd was almost right.  Wall
Street is mostly crony capitalism.  The core problem isn't Wall
Street.  The core of the problem is the government that
empowers Wall Street.  Those who  believe that government will
save us from Wall Street probably hire foxes to guard their
chickens.

aldmccallum@gmail.com
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Copyright 2014
Albert D. McCallum