San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Difference Between Politicians And Businessmen

There is a significant difference in the way politicians and businessmen view the world.  Today I am going to point out some of those differences. First, however, I have some comments about the vast majority of us who are neither politicians nor businessmen.
Most people in this country make a living by selling their personal labor to business or government.  That activity is called "having a job".  Whether the labor consists of cleaning offices, constructing office buildings, working as a secretary in an office, or working in middle management for a company, most of us sell our labor in order to earn our living.  There are two small groups of people who do not earn their living by selling their labor services.  These groups are politicians and businessmen (I use the term generically...I recognize women are in business as well).  For today I will define a politician as anyone who earns his living by creating and administering laws and rules that others are required to obey.  On the federal level this activity was constitutionally designated to the Congress.  Today, however, the process of creating and enforcing laws and rules is practiced by all three of the branches of government as well as by the vast bureaucracy that has been created to write most of the rules we are required to live by.  Obviously, state and local governments also have rule making authority and would be classified as politicians as well.
Businessmen, on the other hand, are those who create, manage and own businesses.  There are two types of businessmen:  private and public.  Private businessmen own private businesses.  The businesses can be small or big but they are owned by the businessmen who create them.  Public businesses are owned by the public via the purchase of shares of stock.  Most private businesses, when it is decided to go public, will allocate the majority of the shares of stock to the private owners so that they can maintain control of the company but it is still the case that anybody who owns a share of stock is a businessmen, even if in a very limited fashion. So, what are some of the key differences between businessmen and politicians?
  • Businessmen wake up each morning asking themselves how they can serve the public.  They know that they will only get paid if they serve the public.   Politicians wake up each morning asking themselves how they can raise revenues.  They know that they will only get paid if they can raise taxes.
  • Businessmen know that they can expand the size of their business by meeting the needs and wants of more consumers.  Politicians know they can expand the size of their realm by creating and expanding the list of rules.
  • Businessmen think about the general public as a group of individuals they need to know better in order to provide goods and services to meet their needs and wants.  Politicians think about the general public as a source of votes that will serve the politician's needs and wants.  Hence, we suffer from a process of round-the-calendar politicking for office.
  • Businessmen provide goods and services to the public, and the public can choose to buy or not buy those goods and services.  The relationship is entirely voluntary.  Politicians make laws and rules that are enforced upon the general public.  The relationship is entirely hegemonic.
  • When the public does not buy a good or service from a businessman, he takes it as a personal failure and attempts to do better.  When the public does not obey a law or rule issued by a politician (although the politician is never subject to that law or rule and the rules themselves frequently change or contradict each other), the politician takes it as a personal offense and arrests the offender.
  • The businessman sees the public as individuals who can be befriended.  The politician sees the public as "civilians" who need to be controlled.
  • The goal of the businessman is to give you what you want.  The goal of the politician is to give you what he thinks you should want.
  • If you choose to not cooperate with the businessman, nothing happens.  If you choose to not cooperate with the politician, you are fined and incarcerated.
  • Businessmen see themselves as profit seeking providers of desired goods and services.  Politicians see themselves as elite leaders of the inferior classes who are too stupid to know what is in their own best interest.
  • Businessmen serve.  Politicians rule.
  • People who believe in freedom are drawn into business. People who believe in controlling the behavior of others are drawn into politics.
  • Progress in business is measured by increased profits.  Businessmen know that higher profits means more satisfied consumers.  Progress in politics is measured by larger bureaucracies.  Politicians know that larger bureaucracies means greater power and the ability to control the behavior of civilians.
  • Businessmen desire to sell their goods and services to all people, regardless of race, creed, or anything else.  Politicians desire to transfer the wealth of the minority to the coffers of the majority, in exchange for a vote.
  • Businessmen do not kill their customers.  Politicians kill people all over the world.
  • Businessmen often pander to the materialistic instincts of the public (heh, they aren't perfect).  Politicians often pander to the envy of the voters.  
These are just a few of the differences.  Maybe you can think of others?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Foreclosure Settlement Is Massive Hypocrisy

Michael Virtanen, of the Associated Press, announced today that Bank of American, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank, and Ally Financial have agreed to pay a $37 billion extortion fee to various state and federal government organizations, as well as a select group of irresponsible mortgage holders.  Jeff Cox, of CNBC, reported that the extortion fee is $26 billion.  Apparently nobody knows exactly how much money has been extorted from the banks.  Oh well, a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon we are talking about real money.
As I am writing this blog, President Obama has just appeared on the television screen (he seems to make daily appearances) to take credit for the "mortgage settlement", as it is being called.  He talked about how this brings about justice for those homeowners who were somehow forced into buying homes at the height of the housing bubble and are now underwater.  Why people should be receiving compensation from the banks that loaned them money to buy homes they voluntarily agreed to purchase was not discussed by the President.  I am sure, however, that his speech garnered him more votes in the upcoming election.
The President did not take the opportunity to explain how the housing bubble, and the resulting foreclosure "crisis", was entirely the result of government policies.  To hold banks responsible for the federal government's irresponsible actions is the ultimate example of hypocrisy.  Presidential administrations, from Clinton onward, put great pressure upon mortgage lenders to create sub-prime mortgages.  Those who refused to do so were threatened with legal action.  When those mortgage bankers issued the sub-prime loans, those loans were rated AAA by government monopoly ratings organizations, even though they turned out to be anything but high quality debt.  Furthermore, those loans were backed with guarantees to be repaid by the government mortgage companies known as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.  Government had its stamp all over the housing bubble.  The banks that issued the mortgages were simply the patsies that are now taking the fall.
What is the horrible sin committed by these evil banks that justifies such a huge financial penalty?  Basically it boils down to the fact that employees who were processing the mountains of foreclosure forms during the housing bust did so without actually reading every piece of paper they signed.  I am aghast!  This has become known as using "robo-signers".  This situation would never have come about if the government hadn't created the housing boom in the first place.  This situation would never have come about if the government did not have hundreds of senseless forms that need to be signed when a foreclosure takes place.  Any of you who have ever purchased a home know exactly what I am talking about.  Did you read every sheet you signed at closing?  Of course not.  Now these banks are being fined for doing exactly that.  The forms processors did not read every form.  Oh well, they are evil banks that take all of our money anyway.  There is no political fallout from fining banks for sins they have not committed. In fact, politicians know there is much to be gained by demonizing the banks.  Pandering to envy is always a successful political strategy.
Who stands to gain the most from the settlement?  All of the governmental agencies that have effectively deflected the blame for the housing crisis from themselves to the bankers have gained immensely.  Individual mortgage holders have gained as well.  Dick Bove, of Rochdale Securities, describes the mortgage deal as "the mortgage deal from hell" because "the government has selected a small minority of homeowners to get this benefit.  Homeowners who made large down payments on their homes or made the terrible mistake of paying down the principal on their mortgages do not qualify.  Homeowners who made minimal or no down payments will get the windfall benefit of a lower principal repayment or a cash payment.."  So, you behaved responsibly and you get no help.  But, as Bove goes on to say, "Those people lucky or smart enough to stop making payments on their homes may get their loan balances reduced."  What a deal.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Right To Criticize A Politician

Yesterday I mentioned the popular logical fallacy that it is morally proper to vote for the "lesser of two evils" in a political contest.  I also mentioned that today I was going to address the other popular fallacy that seems to find its way into conversations in election years.  That fallacy is that a person who exercises his right to not vote in a particular political contest does not have the right to criticize the outcome.  I have heard this argument advanced hundreds of times and, just like yesterday, the people making this argument would never apply the principle to any other part of their lives. 
The basic presupposition behind the belief that one who does not vote does not have the right to criticize is that one must be a part of the system to be permitted to criticize the system.  This is clearly fallacious.  Nobody operates under this rule in any other part of life.  If this presupposition was true, there would be very little criticism in the world.  Property tax payers would not be permitted to criticize the government schools.  Only teachers would be permitted to criticize themselves.  Recipients of traffic tickets would not be permitted to criticize the police.  Only police officers would be permitted to criticize themselves.  Nobody would ever be permitted to bring a malpractice lawsuit against a doctor or a lawyer, unless he himself was a doctor or a lawyer.  I could not criticize the off season trades of the Colorado Rockies unless I worked in professional baseball in some fashion.  I cannot judge the relative abilities of the various participants in a figure skating contest because I do not figure skate.  All of these assertions are clearly ridiculous, yet many people who vote assert that unless a person votes, and thereby becomes a part of the system, he is not permitted to criticize the outcome. 
It seems to me that those who advance the "vote or be silent argument" are on the exact opposite side of the truth.  When I vote for a candidate it is because I endorse his position on the issues.  My vote is, in fact, a seal of approval of what he does, provided, of course, he does what he said he would do.  If I vote for a candidate and that candidate does exactly what he said he was going to do, I am the only one who has no right to criticize him.  Everybody else, who did not vote for my candidate, is free to criticize him.  This being the case, the only person who has the right to criticize every politician in the country is the one who voted for none of them (or another possibility is that everyone he voted for lost). 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Lesser Evil Is Still Evil

Every time an election year comes around it seems that folks lose their ability to think rationally.  Whether it is through patriotic idealism or simply enthusiastic support for "their guy", many people advance two arguments in regard to participation in the political process that are clearly fallacious.  The first argument is that it is the moral duty of every citizen of the United States to vote, even if the vote is being cast for the candidate that is acknowledged by the voter to be "the lesser of two evils".  I will examine this fallacy today.  Tomorrow I will examine the equally fallacious argument that if one makes the rational decision to not vote for any candidate, and thereby not participate in the political process at that time, that person has forfeited his right to criticize any of the future actions of those who are eventually elected.
The "lesser of two evils" argument is a utilitarian argument that presupposes that both candidates for office are going to do harm to the country and that it is the duty of the voter to elect the candidate who will do the lesser amount of harm.  The general theory seems to be that, yes, I acknowledge that these men are bad for the country, but the less evil man will move us along the way towards evil less quickly and efficiently than the more evil man.  The less evil man, therefore, deserves my vote. 
A part of the confusion in the minds of those who advance this argument is their failure to recognize that the choice to not vote for either candidate is, in fact, a vote.  It is a vote for "none of the above".  Furthermore, it is a solid assertion of the voter's basic right to his belief that only those who would do good should be elected.  Apparently a large number of US citizens believe in their right to not be forced to vote for an evil man.  Non-presidential election years have not seen a voter turnout greater than 40% of eligible voters since 1970.  Presidential year elections have not seen a voter turnout greater than 60% since 1968.  In fact, in 1996 less than half of all eligible voters bother to cast a vote.  In other words, more than half of the eligible voters in this country chose the "none of the above" option.  That should be telling us something about the will of the people, shouldn't it?  (At the very least it means that no elected politician should ever claim that he has a "mandate from the people".  That is lunacy.)
More important than the fact that a significant percentage of US citizens choose to not vote is the fact that voting for an evil man is an evil action, regardless of his relative degree of evilness.  To attempt to justify evil simply because it is of a lesser degree than another evil is immoral.  Those who advance the "lesser of two evils" argument understand this principle in other areas of life.  Nobody would choose to purchase the services of a bad heart surgeon simply because he was not as bad as another heart surgeon.  Nobody would choose to purchase the services of a bad lawyer, simply because there were worse lawyers around.  No judge would ever dismiss a charge of vehicular homicide against one person simply because he had only killed one person while driving drunk whereas another man had killed multiple people.  Nobody would assert that a man who has raped one woman is worthy of our support whereas the man who has raped multiple women is not.  Nobody would say that Hitler was a good man because he was only responsible for the deaths of 4 million people whereas Lenin was evil because he killed 15 million people.  For goodness sake, we all realize that evil is evil!  It should never be supported in any way, shape or form.  If you have come to the conclusion that every candidate for a particular office is evil, you should not be forced to vote for one of them.  You should never vote for the lesser of two evils.  You do not behave that way in the rest of your life, why would you do so in politics?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Walk A Mile In The Other Man's Moccasins

Many Americans are quick to criticize citizens of other nations for their willingness to work in jobs the average American would eschew.  This is especially true in situations where US companies are expanding manufacturing operations in foreign countries in order to take advantage of cheaper prices for labor.  The pejorative term "sweatshop" is immediately attached to any job that is disapproved of by American elitists.  These elitists would control the employment contracts of independent citizens of foreign countries in order to satisfy their political and societal sensibilities.  Perhaps these ignorant do-gooders should take a moment to consider the terms of the employment contract from the perspective of the person who wants to work.  Maybe they should walk a mile in the other man's moccasins before they render their authoritative moral judgments. 
A story at PCMagazine.com (January 31, 2012.  Thanks to NS for the link.) entitled "Thousands Aim to Land Job at Foxconn Despite Harsh Conditions" tells the story of how "scores of hopefuls are clamoring for a job, despite rampant reports of unsafe working conditions at the company's facilities"  The story goes on to describe how 14 workers in two Foxconn plants in China have committed suicide since 2010.  The alleged reason for these suicides is due to the fact that "the company has come under fire in recent years for its unsafe, military-like conditions that have driven workers to despair and suicide."  Folks who work at these plants are given starting salaries of $261/month or per week, the article did not specify the time frame.  They are also provided dormitory housing and meals.  They are expected to work long hours assembling iPhones and iPads for Apple.  
Not surprisingly, a meddling, business minding, consumer watchdog group called SumOfUs has posted an online petition to attempt to get Apple to "overhaul the way its suppliers treat their workers".  Why it should be the business of Apple to determine how Foxconn writes its employment contracts is not described.  Why US citizens should be up in arms about employment contracts in China that were entered into on a voluntary basis is not explained.  Why special interest groups in the United States have any business involving themselves in the private affairs of citizens in another sovereign nation is never said.  Yet, for some reason, we are expected to experience moral outrage on behalf of the Chinese citizens seeking employment with Foxconn.
The Chinese people who want to work for Foxconn are not stupid.  The Chinese people who are seeking employment assembling devices for Apple are not idiots.  They are not being forced to apply for a job at the point of a gun.  All of them are seeking work with Foxconn because they believe it to be in their best interest to do so.  How dare we tell them they are wrong?  How dare we pretend to know what is good for them better than they do themselves?  The article described how thousands of applicants stood in "lines stretched 200 meters long as people waited for hours in the cold, applications in hand."  These people know the risks and the rewards associated with their choices and they are making their decisions freely.  Why in the world do citizens in the US consider any of this to be our business?  We need to leave Apple, Foxconn and the Chinese people alone.  We need to mind our own business.