Archives for March 2010

Another One Mugged By Reality

Who was it who said a conservative is a liberal who got mugged by reality? Well that apparently happened to Julie Coudry, a student leader in France a few years ago who agitated against sensible economic policies. At the time she thought she was fighting to help young college grads get jobs, but in fact she was fighting for just the opposite. As a WSJ article points out, now she finally realized it:

Even in France, some erstwhile opponents of reforms are changing their tune. Julie Coudry became a French household name four years ago when she helped organize huge student protests against a law introducing short-term contracts for young workers, a move the government believed would put unemployed youths to work.

With her blonde locks and signature beret, Ms. Coudry gave fiery speeches on television, arguing that young people deserved the cradle-to-grave contracts that older employees enjoy at most French companies. Critics in France and abroad saw the protests as a shocking sign that twentysomethings were among the strongest opponents of efforts to modernize the European economy. The measure was eventually repealed.

Today, the 31-year-old Ms. Coudry runs a nonprofit organization that encourages French corporations to hire more university graduates. Ms. Coudry, while not repudiating her activism, says she realizes that past job protections are untenable.

“The state has huge debt, 25% of young people are jobless, and so I am part of a new generation that has decided to take matters into our own hands,” she says. “We’ve decided that we can’t expect everything from the state.”

Now if only more French would realize that. And more Americans.

America, Feast Your Eyes On Our Future

One thing I noticed while traveling in Europe is how rude so many waiters were (at least on the Continent) compared with the U.S. Why? Not because Europeans are ruder by nature, but because of lack of market forces in restaurants – i.e. the tip is written into the price of the meal, so what incentive does the waiter have to be nice?

It’s a similar phenomenon in European hospitals: lack of market forces. With heavily unionized government healthcare workers, doing such-and-such like fetching a glass of water isn’t part of their contract, so why do it? (See “Dying Patient Refused a Glass of Water“.) And they likely have little fear of being fired, thanks to their government employees union. So why provide good service?

Lack of market forces in restaurants? Trivial consequences. In hospitals? Tragic consequences.

Opportunity of a Lifetime, Missed

When America embarks on a disastrous policy, as it did last night during the Sunday Night Massacre, when the House voted to pass Obamacare, I think to myself if there’s any little thing I could have done to help stop it. I did write a couple of anti-Obamacare articles. But they were probably read by a few hundred, or if I’m lucky a few thousand people, or about .0001 percent of the population of America. So that didn’t help at all.

But this morning in the shower (where a lot of my ideas come to me, in addition to jogging) I was kicking myself for not trying another strategy. Had I been more astute, it’s something I should have done, in retrospect. To be sure, I’m absolutely sure that it still wouldn’t have changed anything whatsoever, but at least I would have given it my best shot.

In previous weeks I had been toying with researching and writing an article on the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring method. When the CBO determines a certain policy’s effect on the deficit, it doesn’t take the political feasibility of that policy into account. So if Congress says it’s going to raise taxes and cut spending by a certain amount, the CBO uses that amount in its calculations and doesn’t make a judgment regarding how likely those tax increases and spending cuts will come to fruition.

That was the case with Obamacare. Last week the CBO stated that based on Congress’s numbers, Obamacare would cut the deficit due to the massive tax increases and cuts to Medicare payments to doctors. That gave a big shot in the arm to Obamacare supporters in the House, prompting them to call for a vote on Sunday.

But it’s so ludicrous because the reductions in payments to doctors are highly unlikely to happen, based on past experience, and additional government revenues from tax increases will likely be much less than anticipated, also based on past experience (because when taxes go up, people’s behavior changes, prompting them to work less, find tax loopholes, or defer paying taxes).

I should have written an article about that. In addition the the article itself, I would have had a lot more knowledge about the subject under my belt. That would have equipped me to be quite conversant on the topic.

And then I could have approached Doug Elmendorf on the subject. He’s the director of the Congressional Budget Office.

For the past decade or more I’ve been going off and on to a group called the Prosperity Caucus, where a modest-sized group of free-market types meet once a month to hear a speaker. (Anyone can go – you certainly don’t need an exclusive invitation or anything like that.) And they’re usually quite prominent people in the policy world.

Last month, Doug Elmendorf was the speaker. That could have been a great opportunity, during the Q&A, to suggest to him, nay plead with him, that the CBO should report back with two or more sets of numbers, assigning the likelihood of each set. (The Obamacare deficit reduction number certainly would get an “unlikely” scoring. A soaring deficit number, contrary to Obamacare pipe dreams, would have gotten a “likely” scoring.)

After his talk, when everyone was milling about, he surprisingly stayed for quite a long time, willing to take questions and comments from people individually. That would have been a great opportunity for me to hand him my (would-be) article and reiterate to him that the CBO really should take political feasibility into account.

Of course, I’m not so naive as to think that had I done that, it actually would have changed anything at CBO. (For all I know it may require an act of Congress.) But at least my conscience would have been clear.

Opportunity missed. Probably never again will I ever have such close access to such a key figure in the policy world just before such an America-shattering vote.

Driver Error is the Culprit

A recent letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal confirmed what I’ve always thought: most car accidents are preventable. Driver error is mostly to blame, and if only someone had been paying better attention, driving more defensively, and/or driving more carefully, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. As the letter to the editor states, “A meteorite hitting your car is an ‘accident,’ everything else is driver error.” Most drivers aren’t that skilled, writes a former advanced training driver instructor. A similar phenomenon holds true in the realm of interpersonal relations. Most fights, arguments, soured relations, bad blood, and divorces are preventable, caused by “driver error”. I.e., caused by lack of people skills. For example, a person tries to accomplish something in a way that antagonizes another person, but there probably is a way to accomplish the same thing without antagonizing. The trouble is, most people who lack people skills don’t realize that they lack people skills or deny that they do so, so the problem never gets solved.

A Tribute to Bob Rice

Last week marked the passing of the venerable Bob Rice, a long-time denizen of the north woods of Wisconsin, in the Chequamegon National Forest, Clam Lake, Wisconsin. Age, 63.

Bob was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs. Not long after graduating from high school, he moved up to the forests northern Wisconsin and never looked back. There he bought 40 acres (later expanded to 80), and built a small home on Red Ike Lake, which he added on to over the years. He always talked about his desire to have a power line run out to his house, and after many years it finally happened. Until then he got his electricity from a gas-powered generator.

He married Lynn Holter, the daughter of master wood carver Jerry Holter of Clam Lake, and had two kids, Nate, now serving in Iraq, and Anna, a college freshman.

At our cabin – what I call the Lake House in the Middle of the Woods, bought by my dad decades ago – Bob was our closest neighbor, about a mile’s trek through the woods. I spent a lot of time at Bob’s, especially when I lived up there right after high school while working at Telemark resort 20 miles away. He was a man of integrity, humor, knowledge, friendliness, helpfulness, and dedication. As a master carpenter, he could build or fix anything. He died with his boots on; I’m told that he was still in the middle of building a mansion. I’m also told that the owner of the mansion must be devastated because he liked Bob so much – not just for his work, but for his good company. Someone else told my mom that he was his best friend. I’m sure lots of folks considered Bob their best friend.

Bob managed to give up smoking and never resume, but not so, I am told, the bottle. It appears latter is what, perhaps indirectly, finally did him in. But even so, 63 years of good cheer, hard work, and a love of the north woods is a pretty good life.

Now Bob is living it up on the great Red Ike in the sky.

Exposing the Dark side, and Then Joining It


I want to highlight an outrage of the week. Or maybe of the month. Possibly the year.

Say a person, in his idealistic youth, brought to the world’s attention, and roundly condemned, an an unethical activity. Legalized corruption. In the course of digging up and exposing the immorality, he became intimately familiar with all the details of it. Maybe even in the far back of his mind he was thinking, “Man, if I weren’t so ethical – and exposing this bad stuff to the world – I could make a killing doing this.”

Fast forward a few years. He decided to drop his moral scruples, join forces with the dark side, and go forward with making a killing off of it.

True story. His name is Bill Lerach, of the law firm Milberg Weiss. Here’s an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal:

“In 1972, a young lawyer co-authored an article for the University of Pittsburgh Law Review. He targeted class-action securities lawsuits, calling them ‘procedural monstrosities.’ They were legal extortion, he said, in which plaintiffs simply use ‘allegations as a bargaining weapon to be disposed of when an appropriate premium has been extracted from the defendant.’

The lawyer-author was none other than Bill Lerach, who would quickly get over his moral scruples and turn those ‘monstrosities’ into one of the most lucrative businesses in the country….pioneering an assembly-line model of ‘strike’ lawsuits against corporate America.”

Lerach got so greedy during his legal extortion that he started engaging in illegal corruption in order to underpin his legal corruption. He paid kickbacks to a plaintiff – a phony plaintiff named Seymour Lazar who was involved in in more than 70 of Lerach’s lawsuits.

Now Lerach is in jail.

That, along with several other cases of law firms engaging in illegal corruption, was a huge scandal. Probably the biggest scandal you never heard of, unless you read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. Almost all of the other media ignored it. That’s because the latter only report on corporate corruption scandals like Enron. They don’t report on corruption scandals involving their ideological soul mates, i.e. the trial lawyers.

Sometimes you may be able to eke out of them some reporting involving labor union corruption scandals, but that’s very rare, and if it happens, it’s usually buried on the inside pages as a “small news” item.

Bill Nye: PG, or Perhaps PG-13?

What a hassle it’s going to be. Bill Nye the Science Guy now requires parental guidance! Whoda thunk that the guy has had an agenda all this time, foisting it on his impressionable young viewers.

Believe me, if you allow yourself to appear on the far left’s Rachel Maddow’s TV show, and you call anyone who questions man-caused global warming unpatriotic, as Bill did the other day, then you have an axe to grind.

This means that whenever your kids watch reruns of his show (the PBS series ended) or more recent presentations, try to watch with them in order to provide commentary in response to any claptrap that ole’ Bill Nye spews.

Now hopefully he talks about noncontroversial things most of the time, like how magnets work or what not, but when he treads on hot political topics of the day like global warming, then you’d better be there to present to your kids the opposing point of view. And if you can’t watch with them, then talk about opposing viewpoints with them when you can. Have them check out websites like the Cassiopia Project including their video on global warming. They seem to really know their stuff when it comes to science – certainly more so than Bill.

I’m not saying I know for sure whether global warming exists and if so, whether man is causing it, but when it comes to something as controversial as that, be wary of guys like Bill; his opting to appear on Rachel’s show, and spew what he spewed, just blew away any appearance of objectivity on his part.