Friday, March 28, 2014

Further on the College Scam

There are many reasons why someone being tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a degree in Women's Studies is symptomatic of the problems with higher education, or indeed all of education, in the United States. This goes beyond the problem of trying to steal the cause by emulating the effect and is actually a problem with education itself.

The biggest problem with higher education is that it is trying to achieve conflicting purposes. Some say that higher education is for enrichment and enlightenment, to teach people how to think and to create a broadened perspective. If that is true, then a higher education is a luxury item, and not one that a person should go into debt for at all. The more expensive the luxury item, the more people who cannot afford expensive luxury items should not purchase education. It is horribly politically incorrect to think of education as a luxury for the rich though.

On the other hand, if education is supposed to train one for a career, then again there is no reason why a person should go tens of thousands of dollars into debt for a Women’s Studies degree. If the purpose is to train for a career, then there is something horribly wrong with the educational priorities demonstrated in the United States today. Many people talk about the need for STEM, but the discussion on campus is typically about strengthening the position of the multi-cultural departments.

Even on a typical campus not overrun by multi-culturalism, when the curriculum is being developed each department lobbies to increase their share of the core requirements. It takes a firm hand by the college administration to hold down the core requirements to that they do not overwhelm the course load required by the student of the college. Each of these additions to the required courses hearkens back to the purpose of college being enlightenment instead of applicable to a career. Assuming the purpose is to apply to a career, the enlightenment purpose tends to seep back in over time, increasing the cost.

Assuming again that the purpose is to train for a career, the many people taking the enlightenment and enrichment courses are competing for class space and allocated funds, taking funds away from career oriented courses of study and raising the price for those who would directly benefit from being in college. Both the philosophy major and the engineering major have to take Freshman English, and there are only so many seats in the class. That raises the price of college for the engineering major who is a perfect example of the second potential purpose of education.

One does not need to major in science to have a directly applicable career coming out of college. A typical junior college includes many departments not offered in a typical four year college that train in many trades. At a four year college there are departments that include various aspects of finance, education, or interpreting, as examples of immediately applicable majors.

Then, as John Taylor Gatto has pointed out, there is a third purpose to education as it is set up today, also conflicting. It is to train people to accept the governmental system that exists today and to make obedient workers. That has potential to overlap with the purpose of training for a career but conflicts grossly with the purpose of enlightenment.

Combine all of these with the progressive effort to capture the cause by emulating the effect, a cargo-cult mentality with what makes one successful, and the cost of education can only climb absurdly so that even those who do manage to cut through the nonsense and are sensible enough to major in something that can be applied, even they can no longer afford college. The cargo-cult mentality, hoping to make everyone successful, will result in nobody being successful.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

College Scam

 photo feminist-bartender.jpg

This image has become popular recently among conservatives, and while the authenticity is not verified it is sufficiently likely that one can assume that if this exact picture is not real then there are others in the described situation. While there are several other problems in the 99% statement being held, the most glaring one is the problem of student debt and underemployment.

Other libertarian writers have described just how bad of an investment college generally is. This picture sums up the case as well. Unless a person majors in a field that is likely to have jobs available, a college education can indeed be a losing proposition.

Popular advice is to major in "STEM", Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The problem is only three of those are actually good advice - mathematics even can be considered too general a field, too unspecialized, to be easily applicable to the job market.

On the other hand, there are people who major in fields that have no immediately recognizable applications to such a degree that even the generalized field of mathematics seems like a good alternative. The woman in the picture apparently has a Masters Degree in Women’s Studies. Before going into debt the question should have been asked what was the intended career path of someone with that degree.

Given the soaring costs of college, and the reduced payout even in immediately applicable degrees, it would also be advisable to consider technical schools and trade schools. Many community colleges offer courses in auto repair, plumbing, sheet metal, etc. The point is that each of these, much like STEM, are jobs that can be applied quickly and easily.

The age of liberal arts majors are waning. There was a time when college was a luxury only the rich could afford, or that the very intelligent could attain with scholarships. Confusing cause and effect, it was determined that since the rich went to college, then going to college would make people wealthy, and therefore more and more people should be encouraged to go to college. But instead of producing an entire society of those who were able to afford the status symbol of college, the value of the degree has been weakened while the cost has gone up.

One cannot impose the effects of a better life in order to create the substance. The substance is what creates the effects. College once was, and is becoming again, an effect or feature of wealth, and no longer a guarantee of wealth. And colleges that emphasize useless majors over anything related to science are a symptom of the decline.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Jim Crow was Law, yes, Law

Whenever civil rights legislation is discussed, especially any threat to the existing civil rights legislation, there are always people read to defend the legislation by stating that without it this country could return to the "days of Jim Crow" because people would not be restrained from bigotry. It is a very spurious argument.

Yes, some people are bigots and would gladly indulge in their bigotry without the current civil rights legislation, but that does not equal a return to the "days of Jim Crow" because the most salient feature of Jim Crow is that it was law. It was passed by the various city, county, and state governments and enforced by the police. Those who violated Jim Crow laws were subject to legal sanctions.

It is important to remember, laws are passed to either to prevent someone from doing what they are already doing, or to compel someone to do what they are not doing. That statement is without value judgment, it is fact. But that implies that there were people willingly not complying with any racist culture that gave rise to the passing of the Jim Crow laws.

Some will object at this point by pointing out that the fact that the laws passed is proof of the racist culture and that the people would not have served minorities anyway. Even if the majority of the culture was racist, that does not mean all were. Laws are passed to stop people from doing what they are doing, even if that means ignoring any racist culture surrounding those allegedly minority businesses that operated without regards to race.

Also, assuming the dominant culture is an example of the Democratic Fallacy, that the actions of a government in a representative voting system automatically represent the will of the people who vote. It happens many times that there is a severe disconnect between the electorate and the elected, with countless examples available.

Still, there are those who will never be satisfied with knowing that Jim Crow was law, and try to insist that it was culture until another law superseded it. If it was cultural, then there exist the problem of explaining away the Montgomery Bus Strike, in which a majority of the people were in favor of a peaceful resolution of the strike. The strike only went on as long as it did because the government found ways to fight against its own people, the people that it allegedly represents and follows the will of.

The problem with civil rights legislation is that it is most often the case of one law combating another law. It is a case of conflicting levels of government passing laws to combat what the other levels of government are mandating or forbidding. That makes a poor case for arguing the necessity of new legislation, when the real case is repealing the old legislation that is creating the problem in the first place.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Economics as Medicine

It is interesting the way people react to various economic proposals on what should be done about the current economic malaise. The two most divergent proposals are those of the Keynesians and the Austrians, with most other proposals being somewhere on a spectrum between the two.

It is interesting because of the disaster that Keynesian economists predict were Austrian proposals to be implemented. If an analogy were to be made between economics and medicine, with the economy being a sick patient, it highlights the absurdity of some of the Keynesian predictions of doom.

Imagine a patient is brought to a hospital with a broken leg. The patient is in pain and unable to walk. Doctor Keynes wishes to give large doses of pain killers, while Doctor Hayek wishes to set the bone before applying a cast. Hearing what Dr. Hayek plans, Dr. Keynes interjects with "There will be a lot of pain while you set the bone. I am interested in treating the patient's pain, your proposals only cause more pain."

Or if a patient is brought in with operable cancer, Dr. Hayek would suggest surgery and a few weeks of recovery. Dr. Keynes would point out that there will be harm caused by the scalpel going in, harm caused to the skin and muscle covering the tumor, and great difficulty for the patient in recovering from the tumor.

These comparisons are absurd, because if the subject were medicine there would be no argument about setting a bone or operating to remove a tumor. But the comparison is also valid.

The Austrian method of ending a recession or a depression is to allow malinvestments to liquidate and to remove barriers to growth. The Keynesian method of ending a recession is to stimulate aggregate demand through fiscal policy, as well as by any other interventionist method since no Keynesian in practice is confined to fiscal policy. Therefore failing industries would be subsidized until theoretically they are no longer failing, and prices that need to fall would be propped up through loose fiscal and monetary policy to prevent the specter of deflation.

Every Keynesian proposal treats a symptom. But what of the actual cause of the ailment? It is the well known "animal spirits", which are not a rational explanation of the cause. Austrian economics, on the other hand, tries to do a diagnosis.

Yes, transition to sound currency and balanced budgets would cause economic turmoil during the transition, and yes some people - especially those who depend on unbalanced budgets and fiat currency - would be hurt. In the long term the short term pain would lead to long term health, like setting a bone.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sorry, Republicans, the illusion is gone

Usually the accusation comes from liberals or progressives, that somehow in some undefinable way libertarians are at least allied to conservatives, and at worst are merely a minor variant of the same basic ideology. Even then, it is only the less experienced and less informed liberals and progressives who make that accusation, the rest having found out otherwise and relying on the very lame joke that a libertarian is a conservative that wants to smoke pot.

As a side note, why is it never "a democrat that likes money"?

There are still those who try to compare the two, but after the 2012 Republican National Convention there should be no doubt left of the distance between the two. The way the mainstream Republican Party treated Ron Paul and his delegates showed clearly and effectively that Republicans want nothing to do with those of the libertarian ideology.

Some will protest at this point saying that an unjustified equivocation is being made here between conservatives and Republicans. The problem is, if a large majority of people who self-identify as conservative also self-identify as Republican, and if a large majority of people who self-identify as Republican also self-identify as conservative, then the equivocation is not at this end.

So conservatives, as represented by the Republican Party, do not want the company of libertarians. This has been true for many years, but the 2012 convention established it beyond any doubt. Moreover, it was at that convention where it was announced formally that Representative Paul Ryan would be the Vice Presidential candidate, in a move that was supposed to mollify supporter of Ron Paul. Here are the positions of supposedly libertarian-leaning Paul Ryan:

He voted Yes on TARP.
He voted YES on Economic Stimulus HR 5140
He voted YES on $15billion bailout for GM and Chrysler
He voted YES on $192billion additional anti-recession stimulus spending
He voted YES on federalizing rules for drivers licenses to hinder terrorists
He voted YES on making the USAPATRIOT Act permanent
He voted YES on allowing electronic surveillance without a warrant
He voted YES on authorizing military force in Iraq
He voted YES on emergency $78Billion for war in Iraq and Afghanistan
He voted YES on declaring Iraq part of the War on Terror with no exit date
He voted NO on reducing US troops out of Iraq starting in 90 days
He voted YES on limited prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients
He voted YES on providing $70million on Section 8 Housing vouchers
He voted YES on extending unemployment benefits to 59 weeks
He voted YES on No Child Left Behind
He voted YES on Head Start Act

So then why is this unexpected attack coming from the other direction? Justin Amash, who should know better, is saying the two ideologies are the same. Not just similar, not just allied, but actually the same. Although Justin Amash is better than the average Republican, he should know better than to make this basic mistake.

It is because, after so thoroughly alienating libertarians, the argument that libertarians should line up behind whatever statist candidate the Republicans are offering has become little more than a bad joke. People aren’t buying that argument. Even progressives are having a tough time explaining what mysterious appeal the current Republican Party should have to libertarians. On top of that, Senator Rand Paul is making things harder for the Republican Party to attract libertarians by endorsing Senator Mitch McConnell over a primary candidate endorsed by the Kentucky Republican Liberty Caucus. Every so often Rand Paul realizes he’s alienated too many libertarians and makes a token gesture to say “don’t worry, I’m still with you.” Then he alienates them again.

The gulf between conservatives and libertarians has become starkly visible. It is visible because the Republican Party has made it visible. So if there is going to be any way to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, it has to come from the Republican Party as well. That is where the recent remarks by Justin Amash come in. Perhaps he actually believes what he said, making him a distinct minority within the Republican Party if so. Otherwise he is trying to recreate a shattered illusion.

Even progressives are having a problem pretending that libertarianism is a strain of conservatism. This is creating a real problem for both the major parties. As long as the Republican Party keeps shunning, insulting, and suppressing libertarian views, supporters of the Democratic Party cannot say that libertarian views belong in the Republican Party. The illusion, shared by both, is shattered.

So Justin Amash is saying the two are the same in spite of them not being the same.

Not only are libertarians consistently against war, not just against it when the wrong person is in office...
Not only are libertarians against the drug war...
Not only were libertarians in favor of gay marriage before the progressives were...
Not only were libertarians in favor of interracial marriage before the progressives were...
Not only do libertarians want to legalize prostitution...
Not only are libertarians even stronger in defense of the 1st Amendment...
Not only do libertarians oppose every single instance of police abuse that libertarians become aware of (which in this day and age can lead to outrage fatigue because these instances are far too common)...
Not only do libertarians want to slash the military budget...
Not only are a super-majority of libertarians pro-choice...
Not only are libertarians opposed to business subsidies...
Not only are libertarians opposed to business bailouts...
Not only are libertarians opposed to corporate welfare...

The real gripe that conservatives and progressives have with libertarians is that libertarians won't admit that libertarians are conservatives.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Recession or Depression

Even though economic difficulties continue, supporters of President Obama insist that the Great Recession is over. The problem is, technically they are correct. A recession has a technical definition of consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. A single quarter of miniscule GDP growth and the recession is considered to be over, so that even if there is negative GDP growth in the quarter after that it is not the same recession anymore.

Of course one could access Shadowstats to argue that there have been continued quarters of negative GDP growth but that only leads to an argument over which set of numbers is more accurate with most conservatives and all liberals trusting government numbers. The real problem is that even though the definition of "depression" isn't as firmly settled as is the definition of "recession", it is clear that the two are not the same.

This is important when discussing the dismal economic situation with supporters of whoever is in office, of whatever party. Supporters of whoever is in office will argue that the recession is over, and that the recession ended during the term of their own person in office. Even though technically the recession ended a long time ago.

The best way to illustrate to supporters of the current administration is with a concept from trigonometry, a simple Sine wave.

Sine Wave photo SineWave.jpg

There are four distinct parts to the wave that can be used when discussing economics. The first is when the value and the slope are both positive, the second is when the value is positive and the slope is negative, the third is when the value and the slope are both negative, and the fourth is when the value is negative and the slope is positive.

Recession would then be when the slope is negative, and growth would be when the slope is positive. Prosperity would be when the value is positive and depression would be when the value is negative.

Understanding it from this point of view can explain why the Great Recession (as it is commonly known) can actually be over, while the negative effects of the Great Recession aren't over, that the United States is still in Great Depression II. It still won't convince any supporter of a current administration, but it might be enough to educate the neutral observer and make the supporter seem foolish in denying reality.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Corporatism really isn’t Capitalism

Every so often, on websites like In These Times, arguments are made that appear to be against Capitalism. The problem is, ever time, the detail of the argument isn’t against Capitalism but is instead against Corporatism. The difference between the two should be immediately evident. Yet no matter how often it is explained, those making the argument insist on conflating the two.

It should be easy to differentiate between the two. Although what follows are not the textbook definitions of various economic systems, they serve as a good way to differentiate the various economic systems.

Capitalism – no government interference in the economy
Monetarism – government interference in the economy through manipulation of the money supply
Keynesianism – government interference in the economy through manipulation of fiscal budgetary policy
Corporatism – government interference in the economy through benefits to the wealthy
Welfarism – government interference in the economy through benefits to the poor
Supply Side – government interference in the economy through stimulating aggregate supply
Demand Side – government interference in the economy through stimulating aggregate demand

Of the seven economic systems listed, one of the stands out as starkly different from the rest. Yet it is often inexplicably lumped with various others, most often Corporatism. There is an actual relationship between Corporatism and Capitalism. It is akin to the relationship between a parasite and a host. A host does not need a parasite, and Capitalism does not need Corporatism. But those making the argument are trying to insist that the host and the parasite are the same thing.

There is an attempt to justify such a conflation by saying that one is the natural outcome of the other, that Capitalism eventually evolves into Corporatism. But that does not justify the attack.
Interestingly, those making that argument seldom argue against freedom in other areas. If their argument on Capitalism is to be believed and extended, then tyranny is late stage liberty. Those making the argument are keen to support other areas of liberty, but to reject it in the case of economics. They could be consistent and say that since they believe liberty to be hopeless they do not support it in any area. Instead they support it in all other areas except economics, and say that since liberty is hopeless in economics they choose a tyranny different from Corporatism to replace the liberty of Capitalism.

Rejecting Capitalism on the grounds that it eventually becomes Corporatism should lead the person making that argument to reject free speech on the grounds that it eventually becomes censorship, reject freedom of religion on the grounds that it eventually becomes a state church, reject the fourth amendment on the grounds that it eventually becomes warrantless searches, reject the sixth amendment on the grounds that it eventually becomes secret courts, etc.

The argument is horribly inconsistent. And, after all these years of people pointing out the difference between Corporatism and Capitalism, there is no excuse for making the argument in the first place.