Monday, May 16, 2011

Serf's Up: Ag. Policy in America

Rather than letting American farmers decide for themselves what to plant, where to plant it, and when to plant it, the federal government pays farmers in some regions to grow selected crops and, in other regions, pays farmers not to grow those same crops.
That’s right:  On the one hand, the government pays farmers to grow corn.  On the other hand, the government pays farmers not to grow corn.  Some crops the government pays farmers simply to plow under.  Rather than farming their fields, some farmers farm the US Treasury.
That silly scheme -- letting the (literal) bean counters in Washington decide what amount of what crops ought to be planted each year, and where they ought to be planted -- and paying famers both to plant and not to plant the same crop -- predictably produces both shortages and surpluses.  In both cases, the outcome is bad:
(1.) When the supply of a product goes down, its price rises.  Crop shortages lead to higher food costs.  Exactly how much more we pay for corn and wheat you discover firsthand every time you go to the grocery store, where you often have to pay more than $4 a box for breakfast cereal.
(2.) Because surpluses need to be safely stored until they can be sold, surpluses lead to greater government expenses and, in time, to higher taxes.  We pay more than $5.5 billion a year just to store the surpluses that government micro-management of farmers now creates.  That figure does not include the money we already paid farmers both to plant and not to plant the same crop.
Only God Himself could know how much flaxseed, honey, oats, wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton, butter fat, grain sorghum, sweet potatoes, lettuce and peanuts ought to be produced in America each year, or by whom and where they ought to be produced.  That knowledge is simply impossible for mere humans.  Federal bureaucrats, who seem to think they are God, do not know such things.  Yet, in their insufferable God-aping hubris, they continue to impose their ignorance on the nation and its food supply.  They will not do what they must do:  Unleash the creativity and productivity of American farmers -- the best in the world.  Because each farmer knows his own land, his own equipment and resources, his own skills, and his own market best, farming freedom, not central planning, is the order of the day.
Consider the now legendary case of Stanley Yankus, who was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant and a chicken farmer in Dowagiac, Michigan.  Yankus raised wheat and barley in order to feed his chickens.  He sold none of the wheat and barely he raised.
Even though the Constitution protects us from the loss of life, liberty and property without due process, and even though it provides for equal protection under the law, Yankus was not free to raise feed for his chickens.  The Department of Agriculture decided that 36 states ought to have wheat-growing restrictions while the others do not.   Yankus lived in a state with restrictions.  Not to be able to grow wheat for his own chickens seemed to him the destruction of his freedom to make a living.  It made him feel like a second-class citizens, someone without the freedoms and privileges possessed by others.  So he grew his wheat and fed his chickens.  The Feds fined him for it.  His fines were equal to his entire year’s income.
In his testimony before Congress, Yankus said this:  “Many people have told me that I would lose everything by opposing these wheat laws.  What is everything?  Money is of no value to a slave. I think freedom is everything.”
For Yankus, being a self-sufficient poultry farmer proved impossible.  Loving his freedom and loving his chosen profession, he moved himself and his family to Australia.
We must not let the Feds turn our farmers into Washington's modern-day peasants and serfs.

Stanley Yankus:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Television and the Withering of Political Prudence

In America, we often repeat a very silly saying:  "The camera never lies."  The facts, however, are quite the opposite.  The camera does not bring the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The camera lies.  The camera always lies. 
It always introduces a degree of falsity, sometimes a very large degree.  Nevertheless, because the camera provides what film makers and news directors call "the illusion of presence," and because we viewers tend uncritically to adopt a na├»ve realism toward what we see on camera, we accept that visual falsity almost without question.  We tend automatically to take the perspective of the camera as our own, even though a television camera is an inherently superficial newsgathering device, not simply because it is inescapably perspectival, but because its very presence changes things.
         As your own eyes have shown you repeatedly, human beings do not behave normally in front of a camera.  Children, football players, talk show audiences, and mere passers-by all act differently, all act up, when the camera turns to them.  We now know that nearly everyone has a mother (Hi, Mom!"), and that nearly everyone is a champion (We're number one!).  We also have seen in multiple cases that rioting subsides when the cameras are removed.
         You must remember that politicians behave according to that same camera-based principle. When the camera turns to them, they act up; they stop talking normally and start acting and speaking for the camera.  Superficial snippets of perceived personality have replaced dispassionate analysis and discussion; on-stage demeanor has replaced deliberation and debate.  After the election, the same techniques apply; those in power operate by the same principles as those who seek it.  Because the media loom so large in contemporary politics, we are subjected to endless bouts of spin control and to government by leaks, the current democratic version of disinformation.
         Political advisors now think like television news directors:  If it bleeds it leads; if it thinks it stinks.  Political advisors know that tough pictures mean that tough policies cannot likely be widely accepted, or at least not for long, because the viewing public has no stomach for it.  To talk about the morality of war is one thing, to show maimed children and riddled corpses on television every evening, to broadcast the horrible reality of soldiers and civilians killing and being killed, is quite another, even in a fully justified war.  The viewing public cannot long endure the harsh face of combat. 
         This is the lesson:  If you want to stop a public policy from continuing in effect, or else prevent it ever from being so, then you must relentlessly broadcast its unpleasant consequences -- and every policy, no matter how prudent, has them.  Almost no amount of sober analysis and cogent argumentation can overturn the conclusion that a policy is incurably evil once these graphic images have been seared into the minds of viewers, however contrived and anecdotal those images might be.  All too often, policies are defeated on the screen, not in Congress; in the news editor's office, not in the public square, in graphic, full-color pictures above the fold, not in delicate, difficult, and sustained deliberation.  Emotional potency, not reasoned deliberation, has become the political tool of choice.
         When we think clearly and carefully, we understand that anecdotal arguments are not as logically compelling as principled and logical demonstration.  But in issues of contemporary public policy and morality, that fact hardly matters because television is inherently geared toward anecdotes, towards gripping pictures and shallow, slanted stories, rather than rational discourse.
         I am not saying, of course, that all television news directors try consciously to deceive society, though doubtless some do.  I say only that the medium itself has a built-in falsification.  To get his or her story aired on a news broadcast, a reporter must show something gripping, something unusual.  Consequently, news reporters and photo-journalists tend to search for images with considerable visual impact, not for plain, unadorned fact.  News reporters crave face time on the tube.  They shape their stories in ways that make them an effective means of personal promotion.  Career considerations can, and have, made a casualty of truth.  And if, as we have been told on the highest authority, the truth sets us free (John 8: 32), then as long as we continue to subject ourselves to the enslaving errors and distortions of modern media, slaves we will remain.
The American voter seems to have forgotten that the highest and surest qualifications for statesmanship are virtue and wisdom, and that it takes far more than intelligence, energy or personality to govern well.  Character, not charisma, identifies the statesman and sets the statesman apart from the mere politician. 


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Inflation: Obama's Undeclared Tax Increase

         Contrary to common parlance, inflation is not rising prices.  Nor is inflation the result of rising prices.  Rising prices are the result of inflation.  Inflation is when the government floods the marketplace with printing press money -- as it now is doing.  The consequences of that flood surround us on all sides, as I aim to point out.
Like other commodities, the value of money is determined by the interaction of supply and demand.  When the supply of money increases dramatically compared to the supply of goods and services, the value of money declines.  In that case, it takes more dollars to do what fewer dollars used to.  Because the Obama administration prints money day and night without end, the gallon of gas that cost $1.84 when he took office now costs $3.92 just half way through his term.  The rise in gasoline prices is not the result of decreased supply or radically increased demand.  They remain basically what they were when Obama took office.  The difference is inflation and the wild-eyed speculation it engenders, which taxes you at the incredible rate of more than $2 per gallon of gasoline.
Naturally, Obama could not have gotten passed a new tax of more than $2 per gallon of gas. Just trying it would have made the mid-term shellacking he and the Democrats suffered even worse.  Instead, he simply amped up the printing presses, thereby stealing value from every dollar of every person who owns even one, making gasoline prices rise dramatically -- just as it did nearly everything else -- which you have noticed whenever you bought milk, bread, cereal, or meat for your family -- or bought gas.  Thank inflation.  Thank the president. 
Why would Obama do it?
He did it because inflation favors debtors.  The Obama administration, you’ll recall, is the world champion of debt.   In order to reduce its own financial burdens, the government induces inflation.  Inflation allows debtors to discharge their obligations with dollars of reduced value.  It steals from creditors.  Creditors, therefore, are reluctant to make loans because inflation makes lending more likely a losing proposition.  If borrowers can just print a batch of reduced value dollar bills in order to pay their debts -- in other words, if borrowers were counterfeiters -- lenders will be justifiably reluctant to give them loans.  You’ve probably noticed that loans are harder to get.  Thank inflation.  Thank the president, the Counterfeiter-in-Chief.         
Because inflation means that today’s dollar is worth more than tomorrow’s, inflation discourages saving.  If you get more for your money by spending it now than if you spend it later, you spend it now.  But if you spend it now, savings diminish.  When savings diminish, there’s less money from banks for investment.  Less investment means fewer jobs and higher unemployment.  That is, by undermining the value and stability of the dollar, government undermines capital investment.  On the one hand, investors can’t easily get loans.  On the other, they are reluctant to enter into long-term commitments when the very value of money itself is unpredictable.  They can’t calculate what they’ll earn or what they’ll owe.  Unstable money drives businesses overseas, to places where the financial climate is more predictable.  You’ve probably noticed both the high rate of unemployment and the flight of American businesses to other countries.  Thank inflation.  Thank the president.
         Think of inflation as government alchemy.  In the Middle Ages, alchemists tried everything they could think of to turn some other substance into gold -- with predictable results.  Governments try the same trick now.  When Roosevelt took the US off the gold standard, he wanted to make paper serve as gold.  Paper is more easily manipulated than gold, and he wanted to manipulate the money.  Roosevelt became the anti-Midas:  Rather than everything he touched turning to gold, the gold he touched turned to paper.  The value of the dollar dropped accordingly.  The results are devastating, especially to the poor.
For example, if you were born into a poor family in 1944, and if, over those intervening years, you worked incredibly hard and managed to increase your family income by more than 3000 percent, you’d have fallen even further below the poverty line because of government-induced inflation.  Inflation makes the escape from poverty even more difficult than it already is because it requires ever-increasing amounts of money from you to produce your escape.  Inflation is a chain that binds the poor to their misery.  Perhaps you’ve noticed that the percentage of persons in poverty in America rarely goes down.  The cliff of prosperity is too high and steep to scale.  Thank inflation.  Thank the president.
Think of inflation as a teenager’s credit card.  The teen gets the goodies and the parents get the bills.  For “teenager,” read “government,” and because government prints its own stage money, for “government” read “tyrant” and “counterfeiter.” With inflation, the tyrant-counterfeiter gets the goodies, and you are left to pay his bills with the reduced-value dollars he has printed.
Now do you see?
Inflation is a weapon.  This administration aims it at us.
Perhaps you are one of those who expect government to help protect you from thieves. Perhaps you think that government ought to track down, capture, and punish counterfeiters.  But what if the thief and the counterfeiter are the government?  What happens when, say, the government prints several hundred billion dollars or so in order to pay its bills, thereby stealing value from its citizens’ financial resources?  This happens:  Dollars lose their value; loans are hard to get; prices rise precipitously; investment slows; jobs go overseas; unemployment is high; the poor are chained; and the nation’s prestige is diminished.
Welcome to Obama’s world.
As long as he’s your president, it’s your world too.