Saturday, May 5, 2012

Who’s to Blame for Slow Job Growth?

I find it ironic that Republicans blame the Obama administration for slow job growth in the current economic environment. I’m not really sure how that accountability is assigned. Here’s my take on the matter.

1.    The administration certainly is accountable for jobs in the federal government, but those job are shrinking, not growing, because of the Republican cuts in the federal budget. These same Republicans complain that the government is too big, and they want to eliminate more departments of the federal government and the jobs that go with those departments. I can’t blame Obama for that!

2.   Jobs in the rest of the economy are created by businesses, which hire and fire based on the demand for the business’s products and services. The demand for products and services certainly is affected by consumer confidence, and Republicans blame the Obama administration for the lack of consumer confidence. I attribute the lack of consumer confidence to the gridlock and intransigence that characterizes the Congress, and I think we all know which party has pledged never to compromise. The Tea Party movement in the Republican Party has exacerbated the situation by demanding pledges from its candidates that they will never vote against the interests of their local supporters (see my blog post of July 26, 2011, “The Fatal Flaw in the Tea Party Movement”). That banishes the prospects for compromise. Consumer confidence will improve when cooperation, good will, and commitment to an “all for one and one for all” spirit returns to our Congress and the executive branch. Frankly, in a bitter election year, that is an unlikely outcome; but you can’t blame Obama alone for the mean-spirited partisanship that undergirds the current environment and erodes consumer confidence.

3.   All the non-government jobs in our economy are created by businesses. Based on the salaries being paid to top business executives, you would think that our economy is doing great; but business are not hiring. The concentration of wealth in our country among the top 1% or even 10% means that most of our future economic prospects are controlled by the wealthy, not by the President of the United States. (Of course, if Romney is elected, the two categories will be merged). If the wealth of our nation is not invested in economic growth, business expansion, innovation, job creation, and social improvements, we cannot just blame the politicians for economic stagnation.

I have little confidence that we will change the current decline of our economy or our society. The attention of our media is on the frivolous. The focus of our economic power (exemplified by the current valuation of Facebook’s public offering) is increasingly on the superfluous. The greed of the wealthy and the hunger for power among our politicians offer little hope that substantive attention will be paid to our fundamental needs. And our moral voices are dying—except for those that entertain and inspire with little substance and even less attention to the core issues of the poor Galilean, whose voice has been lost in the megaplexes we call churches and the extravaganzas we call worship. The moral voices that are left are watered down by secular values that embrace rather than transform our culture. Maybe we are all to blame for the social environment that is leading to a stagnant economy and a stagnant society. Maybe we all should be giving more attention to moral and ethical dimensions of our society so that we are laying up treasures in heaven rather than treasures that moths, rust, thieves, politicians, and the super-wealthy can destroy or steal away.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Illegal Aliens and Other Illegalities

Most people favor a society that is guided by law and order. We know that we cannot allow everyone to do their own thing without any regard for the impact of their actions on others. At the same time, we sometimes cringe at the impact and implications of quirky laws that seem intrusive on our own interests, behaviors, or practices.

A lot of people in our society are concerned about the matter of illegal aliens. Others defend a more lenient policy that allows the “illegal” aspect to be overlooked in the interests of opening our society to people who share our common interest in freedom, self-fulfillment, and economic advancement. The simple matter is that “illegal” is “illegal”; and once you close you eyes to keeping the law, the basic premise of law and order begins to disintegrate.

Similar concerns can be found in numerous areas. Let me identify three others.
·      Many in our society are concerned about the integrity of our system of voting. Recognizing that the very foundation of our democracy cannot stand if the will of the people is distorted by votes cast illegally, these advocates of election integrity want all voters to register to vote personally and to prove their identity when they vote. That seems a small matter when confidence in our democratic process is at stake.
·      Many municipalities have installed cameras at intersections where traffic accidents occur frequently. These cameras take pictures of vehicles that run red lights, and the owner of those vehicles are then ticketed by mail for the traffic violation. While many complain that this practice is designed to generate revenue for the municipality, the fact is that a basic law that protects the safety of people operating motor vehicles on our streets is frequently being breached. Ignoring traffic signals raises the threat of injury to innocent drivers and their passengers.
·      Almost every road in America has a posted speed limit. Speed limits are imposed in an effort to improve the safety of all people traveling on public roads. Excessive speed raises the danger of accidents, endangers drivers and passengers in the speeding vehicle, and exposes law-abiding motorists to higher risks of accidents, injuries, and even death.

If you were asked to rank the importance of these four laws (illegal aliens, voter ID, running traffic lights, and speeding), you likely would rank those that have the least impact on you higher than those that you think are intrusive on your freedoms. The reality is that the law is the law. If our society is tolerant of breeches in its laws at any point, our system of justice for all is under threat. You might want all illegal aliens to be tracked down and deported, but you don’t want traffic cameras catching you running a red light or speed traps catching you speeding. This unequal application of the law, however, is the basis for undermining the entire integrity of our legal system. Just because you think one law is picky and narrow and should be ignored will not exempt you from charges of vehicular homicide if you run a red light or crash into another vehicle as your cut back and forth between lanes of traffic while trying to get to your destination more quickly. In those cases, the consequences of the illegal action is considerably higher than, say, illegal aliens or checking voter IDs.

When citizens blatantly ignore laws, they are undermining the basic foundations of our law and order society. The reality is that we want the authorities to focus on the illegalities in which we are not involved rather than on the illegalities that we think are minor and unimportant. Our law enforcement agencies have to make difficult choices in deciding where to focus their energies. Those choices often are influenced by the priorities of the constituencies they represent. This leads to ignoring violations that are “minor” in the view of the constituents.

One major problem that this approach raises is that research has generally shown that when law enforcement focuses on minor infractions, a significant drop occurs in major infractions as well. For example, when law enforcement cracked down on NY subway passengers who jumped the turnstiles and didn’t pay the subway fare, the incidents of other crimes in the subway dropped dramatically. Law-abiding subway travelers were not affected by the crackdown on paying subway fares, but everyone benefited from the drop in crime.

Maybe we need to focus law enforcement more on speeding and running red lights. Law-abiding citizens will not be affected, and we might just see a corresponding drop in other major crimes as vigilance is focused on the minor infractions. Major law-breakers are more likely to also ignore minor laws. A focus on minor regulations like voter registration, car registration, mandated automobile insurance, and other nuisances might well do more to improve the law-abiding nature of our society than crackdowns on major crimes. At least, that’s my thinking aloud.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why Aren't "Conservatives" Liberal?

The first definition of "liberal" in my dictionary is "suitable for a freeman." That makes sense, since "liberate" shares a common Latin root with "liberal." Both derive from the word liber, "free." So much of what I hear from conservatives these days is that they want to be liberated from taxes, big government, regulations, and such. You would think from their public statements that they would find little about our society that they want to "conserve." Maybe they ought to reclaim the freedom theme and become true "liberals."

Of course, when you probe more deeply into the meaning of being a "liberal," you discover what is lacking in the "liberal" concern of the conservatives (and of those who would call themselves “liberal” as well). Here are some liberal-defining dictionary words that surely are antithetical to the mindset of both "the right" and “the left”:

·      “giving freely; generous”—certainly doesn't apply to those who hoard their wealth and hide their riches in foreign accounts to avoid taxation that otherwise would support basic human needs like nutrition, health care, education , and such.
·      “tolerant of views differing from one’s own; broadminded”—well, that supposedly applies to “liberals,” but I’m afraid these qualities are lacking on both sides of the aisle.
·      “of democratic or republican forms of government, as distinguished from monarchies, aristocracies, etc.”—I would say that the control of the top 1% in income over just about everything is a kind of aristocracy, although I’ll admit that aristocracy actually applies to “government by the best citizens,” not government by those who can afford to buy the most attack ads on television.
·      “favoring political reforms tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual”—that “personal freedom” thing fits both sides of the debate; though the freedoms being sought are quite different. One side seems focused on being liberated from social constraints; while the other side is dedicated to freedom from taxes, government intrusion into business practices, and so forth.
·      “favoring reform or progress; progressive”—both sides would claim this mantle, but the goals that reflect “progress” are vastly different.

My dictionary also lists some synonyms:
·      liberal implies tolerance of others’ views as well as open-mindedness to ideas that challenge tradition, established institutions, etc.
·      progressive, a relative term opposed to reactionary or conservative, is applied to persons favoring progress and reform in politics, education, etc. and connotes an inclination to more direct action than “liberal.”
·      advanced specifically implies a being ahead of the times, as in science, the arts, philosophy, etc.
·      radical implies a favoring of fundamental or extreme change, specifically of the social structures.

I guess I would call myself “an advanced progressive liberal.” Everyone else seems to me to be “radical.”