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

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What to Do About ISIS

Column for week of September 1, 2014                            

     This Country's war hawks would have us believe that the
survival of the US depends on immediately destroying ISIS. 
They want US troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria
immediately, or sooner.  We must destroy ISIS, ISIL or
whatever it calls itself tomorrow.

     Before rushing into another war, or rekindling an old war,
it might be well to take a closer look at the enemy and consider
what war might accomplish.  ISIS is powered by militant
Muslims who are eager to kill anyone who refuses to become a
Muslim.  They are also quite willing to kill Muslims who aren't
militant and murderous enough.

     ISIS draws its strength from the same pool of militants as
does Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Boko Haram.  ISIS isn't a new
adversary.  It is merely another arm of the most militant segment
of Islam.  These militant thugs have been waging civil war
against the rest of Islam for ages.  They speak of ruling the
world.  Before seriously taking on the world they must first
conquer Islam.

     The militants hurl threats at the US while having a full
time job carving out a base in the world of Islam.  They might
back up those threats with some sort of murderous attack.  Such
an attack would be mainly motivated by the desire to strengthen
their hand in the Muslim world.

     The US and its allies have been at war for nearly a
decade and a half trying to destroy Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. 
The victory parade is still a few blocks away.  What reason do
we have to believe destruction of ISIS will be quicker or easier?

     I don't doubt that the US military could quickly end
ISIS's control of its foothold in Iraq and Syria.  It quickly ended
Saddam Hussein's control of Iraq.  What did that accomplish?  It
made many Iraqis more militant.  The militants blended with the
general population popping out to attack when they saw fit.

     For so long as there is a sizable pool of murderous
militants in the Islamic world, they will continue to be a threat
to moderate Muslims and the rest of the world.  No matter how
successful an attack by the US military might be in the short
term, it won't eradicate militant Muslims or end their murderous
ways.

     Dispersing the militants and giving them more material
for their recruiting posters doesn't seem much like victory. 
Wanting to eradicate militant Islam and doing it are two very
different things.

     The only solution is for Islam to purge itself of the
militants.  Outside intervention only encourages other Muslims
to rally around or at least tolerate the militants.

     The US may be able to help by providing support to
moderates in the Muslim world.  Even in this the US should
keep a low profile and be very choosy about who it supports. 
ISIS is now using weapons and equipment supplied by the US
and captured by ISIS.

     A few decades ago the US armed the Taliban in its fight
against the Soviet backed government of Afghanistan.  Much to
our regret the Taliban prevailed.

     About a year ago the president of the US and a flock of
war hawks wanted to aid Syrian rebels in overthrowing the
government of Syria.  Those rebels included what is now called
ISIS.  Many in the US now want to intervene on the side of the
Syrian government.  What if the US still hasn't got it right?

     Moderate Islamic powers are coming to fear the militants. 
Let them spend some of their oil money defending themselves
from the militants.  We don't have a dog in that fight.  If one of
their dogs snaps at us, deal with it.  Otherwise stay out and don't
make matters worse.

     Militant Islam will never rise close to the level of a
world power.  Its tactics are to destroy rather than produce. 
Power is based on production.  Without the backing of oil
money, militant Muslims would be little more than camel
jockeys with spears.

aldmccallum@gmail.com
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Albert D. McCallum

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Heat of the Moment

Column for week of August 25, 2014

     Periodically obsessions sweep through the population. 
Hula hoops and cabbage patch dolls were fairly harmless.  Some
obsessions are less benign.  History reminds us of Salem's
obsession with killing witches.  A mere couple of decades ago
an obsession with imaginary sex offenses at day care centers
swept the nation.  Many lives were ruined before this craze was
exposed as a fraud perpetrated by zealots.

     Most people are now familiar with the zero tolerance
craze sweeping through schools.  Zero tolerance for guns means
zero tolerance for gun like trinkets on key chains, pictures of
guns, drawings of guns, pointed fingers, sandwiches chewed into
a gun shape, and even talking about toy guns at a bus stop.

     For sometime now summer usually brings a report or two
of someone leaving an infant in a hot car to roast while the adult
gets drunk or pursues some other vitally important matter.   This
is tragic.  Perhaps the most amazing thing is that in a nation of
more than 300 million people it usually happens only a couple
of times a year.

     Far more people deliberately kill their children. 
Thousands more die from adult conduct that is irresponsible
beyond belief.  Be that as it may, kids alone in cars is the latest
obsession.  The children baked in cars are usually infants
incapable of helping themselves.  The current craze extends to
older children.  There is a difference.

     My mother left me alone in the car from time to time
while going into a store or someone's house.   It was boring but
still probably preferable to being dragged into a store, unless it
was a candy store.

     I still vividly remember one adventure alone in the car at
a neighbor's house.  My mother was in the house.  I was bored
and looking for something to do.  Part of that something turned
out to be pushing the big shiny button on the steering column.

     No, the car didn't explode or lunge into the house.  I
wasn't part of a James Bond movie.  Nothing happened.  And,
nothing continued to happen when my mother returned to the
car.  The car wouldn't start.  The ignition switch was stuck in
off.  I didn't know what I did.  Neither did mother.  Mother
called dad who came and instantly undid what I had done.

     Now I know what happened.  Unusual for its day the car
had a steering column lock.  The key cylinder had been
removed.  The button I pushed locked the steering column and
ignition switch.  All it took to unlock the switch was to put a
finger in the key cylinder hole and push.  Mother didn't know
that.  So, even long ago there were hazards in leaving kids alone
in cars.

     The hazards have grown exponentially with the latest
craze.  A mother accidentally locked her children in her car with
the keys also in the car.  While she was frantically trying to
figure out how to get the car open some helpful soul called the
cops.  The cops arrested the mother.

     Another mother got out of her car to smoke in a parking
lot.  While she was smoking the cops arrested her for leaving the
kids in the car.  I guess leaving doesn't require going very far
away.

     Sometimes tragedy strikes  A mother left her daughter in
the car while the mother went to the bank.  She is dead now, the
mother not the daughter.  The daughter is fine.  The mother was
killed in a bank robbery.  Cars aren't always the most dangerous
place for children.

     The lesson should be to use common sense. 
Unfortunately common sense isn't common enough that everyone
is able to find it.   There is reason to be concerned about
children alone in cars.  A knee jerk reaction that a child alone in
a car equals disaster is just plain wrong.  And, it can lead to
more harm than good.

aldmccallum@gmail.com
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Albert D. McCallum