San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Friday, July 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Walmart

Walmart turns 50 this year.  The company founded by Sam Walton has grown to be what is probably the greatest success story in the history of business.  If success is measured by the wealth of the owners of the business, and that is a very good barometer, then Walmart is the greatest company in the history of the world.  The combined fortunes of the multiple heirs of Sam Walton would amass a net worth that is at least a factor of two larger than either Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.  Based upon the economic facts that profits are realized only when people make the voluntary decision to purchase a product, and people make the voluntary decision to purchase a product only because it makes them happy to do so, I can conclude that Walmart has been more successful at serving the population of the earth than any other company in history.  That is an amazing accomplishment.  So, a heartfelt congratulations and Happy Birthday greeting to the owners, managers, shareholders and employees of Walmart!
Not everybody shares my sentiments about Walmart.  As is typically the case, the great wealth earned by the company attracts great envy.  Success breeds hatred in the hearts of evil men who want to destroy everything that is good.  Walmart is no exception. There is a debate raging in the Denver area right now about a Walmart store.  It is a familiar story.  Walmart wants to put a store into a particular part of town.  The people who owned the land prior to it being purchased by Walmart were not forced or coerced in any way into selling their land to the company.  The folks at Walmart who want to build their store, on what is now their land, have complied with the myriad of zoning regulations.  Bribes....oops, fees have been paid to the requisite government authorities to allow the construction to go forward.  Enter the local association of busybodies and do-gooders who believe they know what is best for everyone else.
A group of people, who display a pathological hatred for Walmart, have started a petition drive to force the local government authorities to disallow the construction of the Walmart store. It does not matter that time and time again it has been shown that the majority of the folks living in any particular area want the store to be built.  You may question how I know this fact.  The truth is as plain as the nose on my face.  Although there is often tremendous vocal opposition by a tiny minority of lunatics, when a Walmart is constructed the parking lots are filled with happy customers the day the store opens.  If the majority opposed the establishment of the store, it would not be profitable.  Economic facts never lie and people vote with their feet.  I believe economic facts and people's feet.  Nevertheless, these people hate Walmart because it represents everything they are not.  These people hate Walmart because they are filled with envy over the success of the company.  These people will only be happy when Walmart is driven into bankruptcy.  Yet, Walmart continues to be wildly successful at giving people what they want for a price they are happy to pay. 
A war of words has been going on over the past week in the Letters to the Editor section of the Denver Post.  The usual vitriol has been spewed and the common ignorance has been put on stunning display.  The standard argument, in the face of every economic fact that confronts it, is that Walmart's wage scale depresses a community and drives down the standard of living.  One writer went so far as to allege that the real disposable income of US citizens has steadily decreased since 1962, when Walmart came on the scene.  He attributes that decrease to the evil influence of the company.  Here are the facts.  Real disposable personal income (in billions of 2005 dollars) was 2,089  in 1962, 3,298 in 1972, 4,457 in 1982, 6,060 in 1992, 8,601 in 2002, and presently sits at 10,272.  Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
The plain and simple fact is that Walmart allows millions of customers to save huge amounts of money by providing quality goods and services at very low prices.  Walmart increases the value of the dollar.  Walmart makes it possible for people who are not rich to increase their standard of living.  The lower wages that are paid to the small number of people (relatively speaking in any individual area) who work for Walmart is more than offset by the tremendous benefit of low prices derived by the thousands who shop there. Indeed, the "low" wages that are paid are real wages that would not have been earned at all if the Walmart store was not present.  The fact that some people do not like how much somebody else is paid is irrelevant. Those people should mind their own business.  If they do not want to work at Walmart, good for them.  But leave those who do want to work there alone.   Nobody is forced to work at Walmart against his will. 
One of the most insipid comments I have ever read was made in regards to the Walmart wars.  I have spent the last hour or so trying to find it.  I have not been successful.  My presentation of the argument is based upon my sometimes faulty memory.  Nevertheless, this argument was so bad I don't believe it is possible for me to remember it incorrectly.  The writer made the comment that Walmart is an evil corporation because it is successful at causing its customers to become addicted to its low prices.  The writer came up short of asking the government to declare Walmart to be illegal.  Still, the argument was clear.  Walmart is a pusher that is forcing its goods onto unsuspecting customers in order to get them addicted.  Then, he says, Walmart just sits back and lets the profits come rolling in.  I nominate this person's idea for the "most ridiculous idea of the year" award.
Since when are low prices a bad thing?  Since when are low prices indicative of immorality?  How envious does a person have to be to come to the conclusion that a voluntary transaction between a customer and a company is immoral because the price is low and the customer is happy?  How stupid does this writer have to believe the general public is, when he states that Walmart customers are too dumb to realize they are addicted to the low prices found at Walmart?  Is it time for an intervention?  Do we have to assemble at Uncle Joe's house and tell him he has a problem?  Do we have to enroll him in the twelve step program for Walmart addicts?  Do we have to take away his car keys so he can't drive down to the local Walmart any more?  Do we have to tell him he can't spend $15 on a new Zebco fishing rod until he enters therapy?  The whole concept is utterly ridiculous.  Yet, it shows the depths of insanity those who hate Walmart can be plunged into.  It is a scary thing to be in the mind of one who is filled with envy and hatred.
I applaud success.  I love it when millions of people are made happy by voluntary transactions totally separate and apart from the coercive power of government.  I love Walmart.  Happy Birthday to you.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

I Hate All Stupid Governments

I have occasionally been accused of being various things.  Those things do not include "handsome", "brave", "debonair", or "brilliant".  Chief among them are "unpatriotic", "disloyal to my country", and "anti-American".  These criticisms never cease to amaze me.  Take the concept of patriotism, for instance.  A patriot, in the entire history of the world, has never been defined as one who loves his government.  Until today.  All of the men and women who were described as, and known to be, patriots from our country's history were men and women who had a massive distrust of government in general, and their government in particular.  Only in recent times has it come to be that the definition of what constitutes a patriot has changed to be a lover of government.  Historical patriots sought to limit government power.  Modern patriots relish its expansion.  Historical patriots sought to limit imperial warfare.  Modern patriots glorify the warfare state and pray for its dominance over the world. Historical patriots wanted government to leave them alone.  Modern patriots seek to have government involved in every decision of every citizen's life.  So, if being a patriot means worshiping at the throne of the omnipotent state, call me unpatriotic.
Others have accused me of hating America.  That is another strange accusation.  I do not even know what "America" means when they use the term.  That makes it difficult for me to hate it, whatever it is.  I have tried to figure out what they mean when they say I hate America.   I do not hate the people who live in America.  Many of them are my friends.  I do not hate the geography of America.  I have climbed to the top of hundreds of mountains in this land and loved every one of them.  I do not hate the cars, homes, televisions, cell phones, or bicycles that are found in America.  I do not hate my neighbor's property and I try, insofar as I am able, to not steal any of it from him.  I do not hate the sports teams, soccer fields, or golf courses found in America.  As long as he does not attempt to steal my property or harm my life, I do not hate the activities of my neighbors.  In fact, there is very little that I hate.....except government.  So, if hating an immoral, thieving, murderous, violent, expanding state is what makes one an American hater.  Call me an American hater.
In my defense, however, I must point out that if I can be called an American hater, I must also be called a hater of every other country on the face of the earth.  As far as I know, every other country on the face of the earth has some form of civil government.  Also, as far as I know, none of those civil governments are dedicated to the protection of our three inalienable rights:  life,  freedom and property.  If what I believe I know is correct, it is fair to say that I hate all human governments in existence at this time in history.  Simply put, I am an equal opportunity government hater.  As an interesting sidelight, I believe that I am hated by every government on the face of the earth as well.  Every one of them would steal my property, if it was able to do so.  So it is fair to say that when hatred is involved, the feeling is mutual.
Ken Fisher's website (www.marketminder.com) had an interesting article that illustrates why I hate all governments.  Arrogance, pride, avarice, grandiose claims of omnipotence, and the desire to control the daily activities of their subjects are characteristics that are not limited to politicians found in the United States alone.  They are defining characteristics of politicians all around the world.  A June 30th posting on Fisher's website tells the story of political stupidity in Australia.  I reproduce it here because it is so typical of politicians:
  
"On July 1, Australia’s government implements a carbon tax designed to reduce emissions from the heaviest polluters. Top carbon-emitting companies will be required to pay a tax of $23 per ton of carbon, with the proceeds designed to support adoption of “greener” power sources.
The companies impacted—mostly coal-related firms and heavy industrial facilities—have long griped about this rule. And on Friday, Aussie Prime Minister Julia Gillard lent them a helping hand in the form of 90 million taxpayer dollars, funneled to the biggest polluters.
You’ve got that right: The Aussies are seeking to prop up polluters so they can tax them to reduce emissions.  Of course, they could just eliminate the new tax. But these complicated schemes are just so much more fun—and good politics! This way, the government can say they supported jobs (the impacted firms employ many), but still took action to reduce emissions. In reality, though, it’s more likely this scheme does neither very effectively."

It is not just the US government that is amazingly stupid.  It is not just US politicians that are amazingly stupid.  Stupidity is a defining characteristic of all governments and all politicians.  I love America.  I hate stupid governments and stupid politicians. I hope you do to.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Origins Of The National Anthem

Chances are pretty good you will be hearing or singing the National Anthem sometime tomorrow.  Do you know the history of the song?  If you are anything like me, you probably believe that it was written by Francis Scott Key and that he penned it sometime during the Revolutionary War.  For my entire life I had believed that Key witnessed some horrific battle with the British as they sought to subjugate the revolutionary colonists.  I assumed he wrote the lyrics one morning when, after a night of fighting, he arose to see the star spangled banner still waving.  Man was I wrong.
Key did write the words to the song.  They came from a poem he wrote in 1814. The tune was not original to him.  He borrowed if from the pubs where it had been a popular beer drinking tune for years.  Now that is hard to imagine.  As hard as the National Anthem is to sing and it came from the bars?  Yet, that is the case. By the way, the information in this posting comes from Jefferson Morley.  He is a historian who posted an article on Salon.com on June 19, 2012.  If you want to read the full article, do a search and enjoy it for yourself.  As I mentioned, Key wrote the poem in 1814.  Although it would be technically possible he was still pondering a battle in the Revolutionary War, that is not the case.  In fact, he was pondering a battle that had just recently taken place in the war of 1812.
The War of 1812 is a little remembered war.  It is significant for several reasons however.  First, it was the first war declared by the newly formed United States.  Second, it was the first war of territorial expansion undertaken by the fledgling country.  Third, it was the first time the United States lost a war of imperial expansion.  Fourth, it was the first time the war resulted in serious damage to property on our own soil.  Let me give you a brief history of this ill-designed conflict.
A group of congressmen, who called themselves "war-hawks", decided that it would be a good idea to go to Canada and liberate the Canadians from the oppression of British rule.  The biggest problem with this idea is that neither the British nor the Canadians desired for Canada to be liberated. In fact, both the British and the Canadians realized that this was really just an attempt by the United States to expand its boundaries.  After much spirited debate it was decided that war would be declared on Canada.  Technically war was declared on the British but it was the Canadians the US troops were immediately dispatched to engage. Quite naturally the British did not take kindly to this decision.  They sent several boat loads of soldiers to US soil to engage the Americans. 
The short war was fought on two fronts.  US forces were repulsed at the Canadian border each and every time they engaged the Canadian forces.  They quickly gave up.  By then the British had arrived and they were marching towards Washington.  The British stormed across the countryside and entered Washington where they promptly burned the capitol building to the ground.  Shortly thereafter it was decided that the spanking that had been delivered upon the upstart Americans was not enough.  The British made the decision to shell the city of Baltimore until nothing was left standing.  So they did.  After a night of ferocious shelling the city of Baltimore lay in ruins.  It was at this point Mr. Key enters the picture.  He awakened to discover that amidst the rubble of what had been Baltimore, there was a lone flagpole still standing with an American flag hanging on it.  He was inspired to write his poem that eventually became the words to the Star Spangled Banner.
I find it most amusing that our National Anthem, written to rejoice in the glories of war, was actually written on the occasion of one of the country's most ignominious defeats.  It is only notable that the flag was "still waving" because of the fact we had just taken such a horrific beating in a war that we started and lost.   I also find it amusing that it was also written, not just on the occasion of a war that we lost, but on the occasion of a war that we started for the purpose of attempting to exercise hegemonic control of another sovereign nation.  That pattern of behavior was to continue down to the present day. 
Of additional interest is the second stanza in Key's poem.  As it turns out, the British liberated slaves while they marched across the land towards Washington.  Many of those slaves were more than happy to take up arms, given the opportunity to "put some lead in their masters", as Morley described the situation.  After the war those "rebellious" slaves were brutally put down.  Key describes how the blood of the traitorous slaves was running in the streets.  The second stanza was written with the intention of being a glorious description of the victory realized by US forces over their own slaves.  Seems a bit anti-climactic to me. 
All told, the Star Spangled Banner, when historically understood, seems to be a pretty good song to use for our National Anthem.  It accurately describes the United States in many ways.  It recognizes that we are imperialistic.  It recognizes that we are arrogant.  It recognizes that we oppress our own people.  It recognizes that we rewrite history to make ourselves look good.  You might want to think about these things the next time you hear it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Patent Office Ignorance

The front page headline of the Sunday Denver Post said, "Patent Office to File In".  The sub-headline said, "After intense lobbying, site is likely to open 2012, landing the region 1,000 high-paying jobs."  The text of the article, which was very short, contained the following statement, "The Denver metro area is among three places that will get a new U.S. Patent and Trademark office---a $440 million economic generator that promises hundreds of new high-paying jobs....The announcement...comes after six years of aggressive lobbying from a cabal of business leaders, lawyers and politicians....The average patent examiner earns $81,000 annually." 
Let's discuss all of the wrong-headed ideas in this article.  First, and not for the last time, the government does not create wealth.  I do not understand why it is so hard for people and newspapers to understand this basic and simple economic truth.  Wealth is created when individuals apply their labor to raw materials in order to create something that did not exist previously.  Once individuals create something that did not exist previously, by applying their labor to land (I am being purposefully redundant because I have been told that repetition is the key to teaching simple concepts), they engage in trade with one another.  This process of production and trade is responsible for 100% of the wealth that is created in the world on a daily basis.  There is no other source of wealth.  There is no other means by which wealth can be created.  When somebody tells you that government is able to create wealth, that person is either lying or ignorant of economic truth.  In either case, that person should be avoided or ignored.
When the federal government decides to open an new bureaucratic operation in Denver there is no wealth created.  Everything that new bureaucratic operation will be doing is paid for with money previously extracted from citizens in other parts of the country.  The taxpayers (made up of the 49% of the population that is unable to protect themselves from the 51% that believes they should pay all of the taxes) foot the entire bill for the new Patent Office.  The money that comes out of the economy is simply taken from one part of the country and given to another, less 10 or 20 percent for handling by other government bureaucrats.  For every apparent economic gain in Denver, there is an equal economic loss to be suffered by the millions of taxpaying citizens in the United States elsewhere.  No new net wealth is created.  Never.  It is not possible.  It never will be possible.  So, Denver Post, stop writing that this is an "economic generator".  It is not.  It is simply another wealth transfer program from one group of people who are not politically connected (the 49% of us who pay all of the income taxes) to another group of people who are politically connected (the "cabal of business leaders, lawyers and politicians").  There should be no celebrations in Denver when all we have done is plunder our neighbors around the country.
Rather than celebrating this announcement, the proper response to the declaration should be to mourn it as a classic example of government interference in the free market.  We are told that business leaders, lawyers and politicians have spent six years lobbying the federal government for the privilege of having it open a Patent office in Denver. What an incredible waste of six years.  Why would an honest business owner spend six years lobbying the government to give him something that belongs to someone else?  Answer:  because he wants the special privileges that come associated with a close relationship to those in political power.  That close relationship will allow him to punish his competitors and realize profits that he would not ordinarily be able to realize in a free market.  No self respecting business owner should or would ever approach government in search of special privileges.  Sadly, there are lots of business owners who have no self respect.
The fact that the federal government is setting up a Patent office is equally destructive to the economy.  Patents are immoral (and should be illegal) grants of government monopoly privileges to politically connected businesses.  They are designed to exclude competition and grant monopoly profits to the protected industry that would not normally be realized in a competitive free market environment.  I strongly recommend that you read "Against Intellectual Monopoly" by Boldrin and Levine.  They make a devastating moral case against patent law.  Businesses that seek patent protection do so because they are immoral, greedy, selfish and desirous of easy gain.  In addition, a totally unexpected consequence of the proliferation of laws related to patenting has recently developed.  Immoral, greedy, government-connected businesses have realized that they can stockpile patents that they have no intention of using simply to give them the ability to sue their competitors at some point in the future for patent infringement.  Indeed, legions of immoral lawyers now work for immoral US corporations exclusively to stockpile patents and sue competitors.  A more effective way to stifle economic growth could not be conceived.  Denver does not need a new Patent office.  Citizens who believe in behaving morally do not need to work for this system, even if they can earn $81,000/year.
Citizens of the Denver metropolitan area....do not rejoice over this most recent announcement.  If you are unemployed, resist the temptation to seek work in this immoral system.  Don't become a fence for the money stolen from our neighbors around us.  If you vote, seek to vote the politicians who lobbied for this boondoggle out of office.  And, as always, do everything you can to oppose the lawyers who orchestrated this entire deal.  What a joke.  What a sham.  What a shame.  Plundering our neighbor is now described as economic growth.  Orwell, where are you?