Monday, April 29, 2013


There are positive and negative rights.

That's not precisely what I'm going to talk about, however.

What I'm going to talk about is the idea of freedom.  What exactly does freedom mean?  What does it entail?  What can we do with it, why should we value it?  Yeah, those would be great questions to answer.  Not really going to specifically address them, either.

Rather, I'm just going to attack a particular and flawed notion of freedom, expressed in condensed format in a single phrase - "wage slave."  The idea that the fact that we have to eat gives employers power over us, that our society forces us to behave in particular ways in order to survive.

There are easy ways of attacking this.  I'm going to come at it sideways.

What exactly does somebody who wants freedom on those terms want?

Fairly simple: They want to be free of deeply negative consequences for their decisions.  Maybe they'll accept a little punishment, a little price, but they don't want that price to be too high.  What they want is for their decisions to be, in a word, trivial.

They don't want their decisions to cost them too much.  And by the same token, yours shouldn't reward you too much either, you should share some of your good fortune.

This isn't an Orwellian horror.  This isn't 1984.  It's A Brave New World, it's soma, it's mindless consumption and a trivial and meaningless society.  It's the other side of the same coin.  And it's not freedom at all.

Freedom requires, not just that you get to make some decisions.  Decisions are merely the trappings of freedom, the holy raiment in which it walks the earth.  Freedom is self determination.  If you cannot fail, you cannot determine your own destiny.  Somebody has already ruled out part of your future; they've mapped out a path you are not allowed to walk.

Such a concept of freedom bears as much resemblance to true freedom as a carefully controlled safari theme park bears to the jungle.  If the lions cannot eat you, you're not in the wild, you're in a playground, a zoo.

Freedom is not just the ability to make choices, but the ability to make choices that -matter-.  If your choices no longer matter, you are in no meaningful sense free.

So make meaningful decisions.  The trivial ones are mere placations.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Working at Home...

Captain Capitalism argues that staying at home is the ideal situation for men.

Actually, I agree with him.  More, I think modern men are, on average, better at stay-at-home work than modern women.

Why?  Because about half the work that needs to be done in the house, few women will actually do.  And the remaining half they insist on splitting, because doing a quarter of the work is the new half.

Cleaning and cooking are only part of the work.  Cars need oil changes and maintenance.  Yards need to be cared for.  The plumbing needs to be kept in working order.  Garbage needs to be taken out.  Drywall sometimes needs to be put up.  (And if you're a woman who will do all of those things, skip your complaints that not all women are like that, and just marry me.)

I just got back from a two week trip to a wall which is soaking wet.  Upstairs bathroom plumbing has developed a leak I need to track down and fix.  I've never met a woman who would do this - even my last girlfriend, who once broke a squirrel's neck to keep it from suffering after running it over (which is to say, she had absolutely no issue doing dirty work), left most of these kinds of tasks to me; she had no issue installing carpet or painting walls, but plumbing and electrical work were my jobs.

In a society in which there's no such thing as women's work, men's work has continued to be a thing.  So arranging things so that men aren't pulling double-duty only makes sense.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fixing the Welfare State

If I said the biggest thing standing in the way of poor people getting out of poverty is the welfare system, would you believe me?

You'd better.

As much as the left rails on about regressive taxation, the -really- regressive thing in this nation is the welfare system.  For a single mother making less than $69,000 a year, on average a pay raise costs her money.

An unemployed single mother is better off than a single mother making $45,000 a year.

Why is this?  Because of the way the welfare system is organized.  Each benefit has a cut-off point - make less than this amount, you get the benefit.  Make more than this amount, you don't.

Around twenty years ago, this wasn't the case.  Welfare reform restructured the welfare system so that every dollar you earned improved your life.  Welfare rates started declining - and Clinton famously declared that his was the last presidency of the welfare state.

Unfortunately, these fixes weren't permanent.  They flattened the slope, but did so by adjusting benefits.  Benefits have since risen - significantly.  Which has recreated several "welfare cliffs" - that is, earning levels at which a raise will cost its earner money.

The community I grew up in was -filled- with people sitting at the welfare cliff.  Mechanics who refused to take any new customers, clerks who refused any additional hours, mothers who -did not want- child support, because all of these things would result in a dramatic reduction in their standard of living.  (Unreported income, of course, was a rampant thing there.)

The cost of welfare cliffs isn't just in the dollars of welfare.  It's in billions if not trillions of dollars of lost productivity from people who can't afford to make any more money, can't afford to do any more work.

The UK isn't much better; the marginal value of additional wages for somebody in poverty is 4%.  Because of the reduction in their benefits, additional work doesn't pay.

I don't care if you support welfare, or oppose welfare - what we have today -sucks-.  It's a system which -literally- traps somebody in poverty - if you have to make $20,000 more than you make today, -just to avoid being any worse off-, you have no incentive, whatsoever, to make a dollar more.

So whether you support welfare, or oppose it, one thing we -should- be agreed upon is to fix the broken system that exists.  A fixed system will cost us less money, will increase the productivity of the nation, and for those who care about such things, will improve tax revenues.

The simplest fix is a systematic overhaul to produce incremental reductions, rather than eliminations, of benefits.  The fix should ensure that, even after taxes, a person still keeps at least fifty cents of each new dollar they earn.  And it should require that any changes to benefits also update the fixes so we aren't fixing this problem yet again in another twenty years' time.

I oppose the welfare system, incidentally.  But if we must have one, I'd rather have one that doesn't make things worse for poor people.  It should incentivize the right behaviors, rather than punishing them.

And hell.  Maybe we'll actually see the end of the welfare state in our lifetimes if it doesn't primarily work to perpetuate itself.