Friday, July 31, 2009

A Real Clunker

Well, it turns out the the "Cash for Clunkers" program is a huge hit, and why shouldn't it be? People know a sucker when they see one, and you'll never have trouble drawing a crowd to line up for free money.

The problem, of course, is that, as the old saying goes, there is no such thing as a "free lunch." Somebody is always paying for it. That's also true of inflated payouts for junkmobiles: someone is paying for it. When Joe takes in his '89 Reliant station wagon (book value: $135) into the dealer and gets a check for $4500, that money is coming from somewhere; in this case, that "somewhere" is all the people who are not gulping out of the public trough.

They rifled through the first $1 billion allotted for the "Cash for Clunkers" in only a couple of days, but lo and behold, it turns out there are a lot more people in the country with cars worth less than $4500 who would like to get wildly-above-market prices for them. History has proved that the best way to get a wildly-above-market price on something is to have the government buy it, and this proves to be no exception.

But tough times call for tough measures, right? We need to stimulate the economy, so now is no time to be worrying about where the money is coming from. Can't we worry about all that later?

Well, not exactly. The major rationale for the "Cash for Clunkers" program is that it will supposedly stimulate the economy. Will it? Well, it will certainly stimulate one part of it: the moribund auto industry. But what benefit will that be to the economy overall?

Normally-sane, sensible people frequently seem to forget one fact: every dollar the government spends is a dollar it has taken from someone else, by force. (This is true even when the government turns on the magic printing press, thus devaluing the dollars everyone else is holding.) When the government gives a billion dollars to people who were still clinging to their Dodge Darts, it's a billion dollars that has been taken from other people, by force. And in addition to the simple moral wrong of stealing from one to satisfy the covetousness of another, we often overlook the fact that that's a billion dollars that won't be spent somewhere else.

All the government has done in such a scenario is take a bucket of water from one end of the pool and pour it into the other end of the pool, triumphantly declaring the water level to have been raised. What is unseen are all the things that money will not now be spent on. We see the benefit to the car owner and the car dealer, but what about people and companies to whom that money really belonged? They will now not be spending any of that billion dollars on opening a new branch, raising worker salaries, paying for medical insurance, building a house, or taking a vacation. They will not be investing it in mutual funds (which sends the money to companies which use the money to do things) or putting it in the bank (where it will be lent to people starting businesses or needing new capital). One sector of the economy benefits from the car deal, but it's at the cost of an untold number of other sectors that are hurt by it.

I see Congress is now scrambling to pump more money into the "Cash for Clunkers" program, since--surprise!--it's proving to be wildly popular. As I've heard the inimitable Walter Williams say, "Politicians love a visible beneficiary and an invisible victim."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Christians On The Dole

Doug Wilson has a little something here to make just about everyone uncomfortable. Tough but necessary words:
...Christians who live in subsidized housing are part of the problem. Christians who use federal money to get their free education are part of the problem. Christians who get on Medicare so they can ding the taxpayers if anything goes wrong with their hobby of homebirthing are part of the problem. Christians on food stamps are part of the problem. Christians who use tax money to fund their mercy ministries are part of the problem. Christians who think that their health care would be more affordable for them if I paid for it are part of the problem.
Read the whole thing here. And read the follow ups here and here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

An Upside Down Society

I just want to make sure I have this straight.

NFL player Michael Vick, who was convicted of organizing dog fights, was released today after serving 23 months in prison.

NFL player Donte Stallworth, who was convicted of a drunk driving accident in which he killed a man, was released earlier this month after serving a 24-day jail term.

Applying my admittedly rudimentary math skills, my calculations indicate that Stallworth served about one day in prison for each month that Vick served. Vick was involved in dog fighting; Stallworth killed a guy.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Stop The Insanity!

I'm not generally one to complain about media attention for dead celebrities. In fact, I've frequently been know to even defend it on occasion.

So for me, the problem has not really been the amount of Michael Jackson coverage (though I have to admit being surprised--I would have expected this magnitude if he'd died perhaps 15 years ago, but not now, so far removed from his hit-making days and with so many years of freakishness and lurid allegations under his frilly cloth belt). As I said the day after his death, I was a fan of Jackson as an entertainer. It's the tone of some of the coverage that is getting really, really carried away.

Today puts the capper on it. This comes from Professor Cornel West (via John Kass in the Chicago Tribune), who desperately needs to have a drink and lie down for awhile:
It's almost like a crucifixion, in terms of the cross you have to bear...We reap the fruits of the resurrection, in terms of the power that emanates from [Jackson's] sacrifice. He sacrificed his childhood because he loved us so. He didn't just entertain us, he sustained us.
Yes, Joe Jackson so loved the world, that he sent his five begotten sons....

The rhetoric of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Michael Eric Dyson, and the usual collection of hucksters has been little less hyperbolic than West's. And all of this raises a few questions. For instance, when did Michael Jackson, who spent the last 20 years of his life trying to erase any vestige of his blackness, including (according to some reports) having "his" children conceived from the donated issue of another man so they wouldn't be black, suddenly become an African-American messiah?

Let's make something clear. Michael Jackson was not sacrificed by anybody, nor did he sacrifice anything for anybody. America did not "fail to appreciate him" as his brother Jermaine has laughably claimed over the past couple of weeks. Jackson made in the ballpark of $500-$700 million in his lifetime because people liked his records, videos, and concerts. He was on the cover of every major magazine dozens of times. Even now, he's receiving day-and-night coverage, 13 days after his death. America gave him all the attention he deserved and hundreds of times more. He was an extremely talented but very, very weird guy who made some horrible (and possibly criminal) lifestyle choices, and also made more than the GNP of some small countries off of a fawning American public. He made no "sacrifices," nor was he in any sense a savior of anything or anybody.

Okay, he had a tough childhood. So do about a billion Third World kids--and they don't get to spend the rest of their lives spending millions on choo-choo trains to recapture what they thought they should've had. The fact is, all things considered, America gave Michael Jackson a shot at an exceptionally good life, and he got to create for himself an idyllic childhood that lasted about 30 years longer than a real one would've.

So Cornel West, Al Sharpton, Jermaine Jackson, and a bunch of their media enablers need to relax for a few days before they say something embarrassing.

As if these guys were capable of being embarrassed.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Did He Leave Home Without It?

Despite the recent spate of celebrity deaths, the remaining members of my old "I Can't Believe They're Still Alive" list have been hanging on tenaciously since my last update after the death of Joey Bishop in October '07.

Until today, that is. Farewell, Karl Malden. Hey, you can't say the guy got cheated--he was 97!

Here's the updated list:
  • Doris Day
  • Harry Morgan
  • James Arness
  • Conrad Bain
  • Jack LaLanne
  • John Forsythe
  • Rose Marie
  • Al Molinaro
  • Barbara Billingsley
  • Karl Malden
  • Larry Storch

[**Since I haven't explained it in ages, it may be helpful to point out what this list actually is. It's not a traditional dead pool. It's entirely composed of people who have, for the most part, dropped out of the public eye. It's literally people who, when they die, you say, "I had no idea he/she was still alive!" That's why people who would otherwise be good candidates like, say, Larry King or Artie Lange, don't make the list. Even though I really can't believe either of those guys is still alive.]