Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Obama's most frustrating economic statement of 2015 (so far)

A good friend of mine who studies political science has been trying to convince me that President Barack Obama is a moderate. My friend knows more than I do on this topic so I take him seriously, but I just can't get the idea to gel, mostly because the president makes statements like the one he just did about Staples Inc. and the Affordable Care Act.

Clickbait website Buzzfeed recently sat down with the president about a number of topics, one of them was about how the office supply store Staples Inc. limits its part-time employees to 25 hours a week to avoid working a long week and passing the threshold where full-time benefits kick in.

Obama was told that those employees are having their hours limited to avoid having to provide health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Staples Inc. has since said that was wrong and the policy is actually a decade old and unrelated to the Affordable Care Act. However, look at the position the president took when presented with the scenario that his policy has given companies an incentive to cut workers hours instead of paying the high costs of the benefits:

...There is no reason for an employer who is not currently providing health care to their workers to discourage them from either getting health insurance on the job or being able to avail themselves of the Affordable Care Act. I haven’t looked at Staples stock lately or what the compensation of the CEO is, but I suspect that they could well afford to treat their workers favorably and give them some basic financial security, and if they can’t, then they should be willing to allow those workers to get the Affordable Care Act without cutting wages. This is the same argument that I’ve made with respect to something like paid sick leave. We have 43 million Americans who, if they get sick or their child gets sick, are looking at either losing their paycheck or going to the job sick or leaving their child at home sick. It’s one thing when you’ve got a mom-and-pop store who can’t afford to provide paid sick leave or health insurance or minimum wage to workers — even though a large percentage of those small businesses do it because they know it’s the right thing to do — but when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.

This is a very telling answer, and it tells me above all else that the president is not a moderate, nor does he seem to understand that business owners who provide health insurance aren't giving their employees a gift. No, employers provide health insurance as a form of payment. They don't do so "because it's the right thing to do" but because they have to compete with other employers.

Maybe the president's brain just can't grasp economic reasoning, and if so he's far from alone, but let's be honest, his ignorance is left-wing ignorance, not moderate ignorance. Just look at the cliche he ended his statement with:

...But when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.

The president is evoking the concept of infinite wealth, that a company that makes a large amount in profits should be able to provide unlimited expensive benefits to every one of its employees. However, most of those companies have huge labor forces and those expensive health insurance plans add up. It's telling that people making this argument don't list the actual cost of this course of action.

For what it's worth, Staples Inc. reported a net profit of $707 million in 2014, not actual billions like the president said, and actually lost money in 2013. I can't see a number of how many part-time employees it had, but total employees in 2013 are listed on Wikipedia as 83,000 people.

The president has made it more expensive for businesses to have full-time employees, and when told that businesses are responding the way conservatives predicted they would, his response is to blame the companies? Shame on them? No, shame on him and his infamous audacity.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Outrage culture is to blame for boring politics

Politicians give terrible pre-scripted interviews not merely because focus-group testing works so well, but because speaking off the cuff is too risky with partisan opponents ready to twist everything they say.

That's Matthew Yglesias's point in his recent piece about the response to his interview with President Obama. When they talked, the president said:

It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you've got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.

Opportunists on the right claimed the president was denying a Kosher deli was targeting Jews, even though his administration had outright declared it before. This turned into a mini-scandal that has since fizzled. Yglesias believes those critics were sincere, but blinded by their politics. I think he's being generous, while the president's critics were not.

Two years ago Steve Novella wrote:

Before you set out to criticize someone’s claim or position, you should endeavor to grant that position its best possible case. Don’t assume the worst about your opponent, assume the best. Give them any benefit of the doubt. At the very least this will avoid creating a straw man to attack, or opening yourself up to charges that you are being unfair.

And that's the problem isn't it? Politics is dominated by the uncharitable interpretation of one's opponents? Todd Akin simply must have meant by "legitimate rape" that some rapes are acceptable or John Kerry must have been mocking the troops, not George W. Bush, when he said people who don't study in school get stuck in Iraq.

Having a low threshold for outrage is very popular in politics today, but like a leech is sucks the potential for anything interesting to come from the mouths of elected officials.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"The oppressive chocolate capitalists"

This is not a parody, but an actual message written by a group of bitter Marxists against Valentine's Day:

The blood-soaked conspiracy of Valentine’s Day, driven by the oppressive chocolate capitalists, has arrived once again. In order to create a brighter future, we call for solidarity among our unloved comrades, so that we may demonstrate in resolute opposition to Valentine’s Day and the romantic industrial complex.

And when I say bitter I mean bitter. Based in Japan the group is named Kakumei-teki himote doumei, which translates to “Revolutionary Alliance of Men That Woman Are Not Attracted To."

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen, who already used "Romantic Industrial Complex" in a headline so I couldn't.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

An international flowering of trade

Alex Tabarrok's Valentine's Day video is a take-off of Leonard Read's "I, Pencil" and a great lesson on spontaneous order around meeting human needs.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Good riddance to an enemy of speech

Is there something about working in an American university that kills the part of the brain that understands free speech?

Last month NPR's Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos stepped down and his successor posted his final column, which was about media ethics.  Schumacher-Matos was quick to tell us he was once the James Madison Visiting Professor on First Amendment Issues at Columbia University before he told us that we shouldn't have complete freedom of the press.

I do not know if American courts would find much of what Charlie Hebdo does to be hate speech unprotected by the Constitution, but I know—hope?—that most Americans would. It is one thing to lampoon popes, imams, rabbis and other temporal religious leaders of this world; it is quite another to make fun, in often nasty ways, of their prophets and gods. The NPR editors were right not to reprint any of the images. 
None of this is to justify the bombing. That was far worse still. But France itself is now undergoing a soul searching about how it treats its Muslim minority.

He's endorsing blasphemy laws? This is supposed to be the one who watched the watchers? Good grief.

Schumacher-Matos, you say "First Amendment fundamentalists" like it's a bad thing. I'd rather live in a nation where I'm free to be offended then one where the government punishes people for saying unpopular thing.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

NPR self-flagellates

A liberal has told NPR that it sounds too white, and as can be expected, NPR responded by falling on the ground and begging forgiveness.

“Without being directly told, people like me learn that our way of speaking isn’t professional. And you start to imitate the standard or even hide the distinctive features of your own voice. This is one of the reasons that some of my black and brown friends refuse to listen to some of my favorite radio shows despite my most passionate efforts.” 
[Commentator Chenjerai] Kumanyika was referring to the subtle matter of code-switching, or speaking one way to one’s immediate peers and another way — call it more “white” — to a larger group. No matter the racial or ethnic identity of the speaker, people on public radio sound white, he suggested.

His basic argument is that speaking formally and professionally is foreign to blacks and Latinos and they don't want to listen to people who sound that way, so the world needs to go casual to meet their needs.

Does anyone else find this incredibly condescending to minority members? It' the soft bigotry of low expectations. Of course, NPR hosts aren't standing up against it. When you tell a far-left organization that it's too white, they will fold like Circuit City in 2009.


Friday, February 6, 2015

A pox on both your houses

Feminst commentator Anita Sarkeesian is being honored by the Harvard Humanist Community as the person of the year for 2014. A lot of my secular friends are opposed to it, but I completely endorse her nomination.

Not as a compliment to Sarkeesian, but as an insult to humanism.