Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Arthur Brooks: why is the American public shifting from optimism to envy?

Labor Force Participation down to 62.8%

Labor Force Participation down to 62.8%

An editorial by Arthur Brooks appeared today in the leftist New York Times. His topic is the shift from optimism to envy, why it is happening, and whether envy makes us happier than optimism.

Excerpt: (links removed)

The Irish singer Bono once described a difference between America and his native land. “In the United States,” he explained, “you look at the guy that lives in the mansion on the hill, and you think, you know, one day, if I work really hard, I could live in that mansion. In Ireland, people look up at the guy in the mansion on the hill and go, one day, I’m going to get that bastard.”

[…]Unsurprisingly, psychologists have found that envy pushes down life satisfaction and depresses well-being. Envy is positively correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility it breeds may actually make us sick. Recent work suggests that envy can help explain our complicated relationship with social media: it often leads to destructive “social comparison,” which decreases happiness. To understand this, just picture yourself scrolling through your ex’s wedding photos.

My own data analysis confirms a strong link between economic envy and unhappiness. In 2008, Gallup asked a large sample of Americans whether they were “angry that others have more than they deserve.” People who strongly disagreed with that statement — who were not envious, in other words — were almost five times more likely to say they were “very happy” about their lives than people who strongly agreed. Even after I controlled for income, education, age, family status, religion and politics, this pattern persisted.

It’s safe to conclude that a national shift toward envy would be toxic for American culture.

Unfortunately, in the wake of the Great Recession, such a shift may well be underway, given the increasing anxiety about income inequality and rising sympathy for income redistribution. According to data from the General Social Survey, the percentage of Americans who feel strongly that “government ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor” is at its highest since the 1970s. In January, 43 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that government should do “a lot” to “reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else.”

Why the shift? The root cause of increasing envy is a belief that opportunity is in decline. According to a 2007 poll on inequality and civic engagement by the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, just 30 percent of people who believe that everyone has the opportunity to succeed describe income inequality as “a serious problem.” But among people who feel that “only some” Americans have a shot at success, fully 70 percent say inequality is a major concern.

People who believe that hard work brings success do not begrudge others their prosperity. But if the game looks rigged, envy and a desire for redistribution will follow.

This is the direction we’re heading. According to Pew, the percentage of Americans who feel that “most people who want to get ahead” can do so through hard work has dropped by 14 points since about 2000. As recently as 2007, Gallup found that 70 percent were satisfied with their opportunities to get ahead by working hard; only 29 percent were dissatisfied. Today, that gap has shrunk to 54 percent satisfied, and 45 percent dissatisfied. In just a few years, we have gone from seeing our economy as a real meritocracy to viewing it as something closer to a coin flip.

There is a good lesson in this for people who want what is best for the poor. Simply receiving money from others is not going to make poor people happy. What we need to focus on is providing the poorest people with opportunities. For example, we need to reduce barriers that employers face to hire them, and we need to make the school system focus more on skill-building and less on indoctrination in leftist ideology.

Democrats like to give lots of speeches on income inequality, stoking the fires of envy, while doing nothing to help people learn useful skills in school and to help employers hire people more easily, setting them on the path of lifelong independence. For example, Democrats oppose school choice, as when they killed the D.C. voucher program that helped poor black students. Less school choice helps public schools to be insulated from competition, so that they can focus on what they want (bigger government, so they get paid more) rather than what parents want (bad teachers fired, students to learn useful skills, more male teachers in the classroom, a focus on vocational skills rather than ideology). Just this past week, the ultra-leftist mayor of New York city kicked charter schools out of the city. Why? Because if children learn useful skills in better schools, then they will be less dependent on government, and less responsive to “envy rhetoric”.

Democrats also passed Obamacare, which punishes businesses with taxes if they allow part-time workers to work for more than 30 hours a week. Many jobs were lost because of this, and many people are now struggling to pay higher premiums for plans with higher deductibles and co-pays. Now the Democrats are talking about raising the minimum wage, which is going to put even more pressure on employers to lay off workers, because they can’t afford to pay them more for the same work. For Democrats, this is all to the good, though. Because if the poor don’t have jobs, or can’t work enough hours, they start to see the economic game as “rigged” and they are more responsive to “envy rhetoric”.

What we need to see is that it’s not the Democrats’ objective to help people find jobs. They gain when people become more envious, like in European countries, and start to vote to grow the size and power of government to redistribute wealth. Speeches about income inequality never have the goal of giving people jobs. None of Obama’s policies aim to do that. That’s why he won’t build the Keystone XL pipeline, or boost domestic energy development here at home. Instead, they want to extend unemployment benefits and pass the costs on to the next generation. Their goal is to get you unemployed or on disability or on welfare, so that you will vote for the government to continue to take your neighbor’s money. That manufactured envy is what keeps the Democrats in power.

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International tests show US children lagging despite record spending on education

Jay Richards tweeted this article from the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

Since 1998, the Program for International Student Assessment, or Pisa, has ranked 15-year-old kids around the world on common reading, math and science tests. The U.S. brings up the middle—again—among 65 education systems that make up fourth-fifths of the global economy. The triennial Pisa report also shows—again—that East Asian countries like Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea produce the best outcomes.

U.S. performance hasn’t budged in a decade. For 2012, U.S. students placed 26th in mathematics, a bit below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average, and 17th in reading and 21st in science, close to the average. The U.S. slipped in all categories compared to international competitors, plunging from 11th in reading as recently as 2009.

American teenagers seem especially weak in core academic subjects with high cognitive demands, such as translating concepts into solutions for real-world problems. A quarter never become proficient in math. In Shanghai and Korea, the comparable figure is 10% or fewer. Some 7% of U.S. students reached the top two scientific performance levels, compared with 17% in Finland and an amazing 27% in Shanghai. Is it tiger moms or tiger schools, or maybe both?

The U.S. is way out front in one measure: per-student spending. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland spend more. Despite laying out $115,000 per head, the U.S. did no better than the Slovak Republic, which spends $53,000.

Perhaps most depressingly, the data show no statistically significant U.S. achievement improvement over time. None. In an era when it pays to be thankful for small mercies, at least we’re not getting worse, but America’s relative standing is falling as other countries improve.

[…]Massachusetts has been running public schools since 1635 and today is home to some of the best performers in the nation. The state entered Pisa as if it was its own country—but students of the same age in Shanghai performed as if they had two more years of math instruction than those in the Bay State.

[…]Pisa also adds another count to the bill of indictment for the Democrats who block reform to serve their teachers union patrons. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the report “a picture of educational stagnation,” but liberals are major impediments to more accountability, merit-based compensation and school-choice competition. The Justice Department has even gone so far as to sue Louisiana to block its modest voucher program, which is a moral crime against the students consigned to failing schools.

There are a few areas of economics that I think that Christians really ought to understand, and education is one of them. We definitely need to be concerned about policies that make it harder for poor, minority students to get ahead. We keep throwing money at the unionized public school system, and we get no results. We need to think about making education more like online shopping. What makes online shopping great is choice and competition. If schools were allowed to compete with one another, then the customer would be assured of getting more quality for less money. The public school system is a monopoly, and it serves the teachers and the education bureaucrats – not the children.

Related posts

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Conservative Party MP Pierre Poilievre explains how Canada escaped the recession

Conservative M.P. Pierre Poilevre (Nepean-Carleton), a member of the majority government in Canada, explains how Canada embraced the free entreprise system that America has rejected, and the results they got.

Here is the speech that went viral on Youtube:

And here is his article in the liberal Huffington Post.

Excerpt:

In a few days the “fiscal cliff” deadline will arrive and potentially bring massive automatic spending cuts and tax increases. Even if Congress and the President agree to avoid the cliff, the next crisis awaits. Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, wrote the Senate this week to report that the “statutory debt limit will be reached on December 31, 2012,” which will require extraordinary measures to prevent a mass default. These measures will give the government 60 days before it runs out of money and Uncle Sam’s head smashes into the so-called “debt ceiling.”

It has long been said that when the U.S. sneezes, Canada catches a cold. So why have these debt-related ailments in the U.S. not afflicted the Canadian government?

The answer is that Canada has been practicing what the U.S. always preached: free markets, low taxes and minimal state interference. And it is working.

For example, Canada avoided the interventionist policies that led the U.S. to the sub-prime crisis.

In an attempt to expand home ownership, administrations from Carter to Bush Jr. forced banks to offer mortgages to people who would otherwise not qualify for them. Washington then ordered government-sponsored enterprises such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to insure these “sub-prime” mortgages.

According to a 2010 Report on the U.S. Financial Crisis by the World Bank’s Development Research Group, Freddie and Fannie bought an estimated 47 per cent of these toxic mortgages. Harvard financial historian Niall Ferguson indicates that the amount of mortgage debt backed by these government-sponsored enterprises grew from $200-million in 1980 to $4-trillion in 2007.(1) The government pumped so much air into the housing bubble that it burst in 2008. The resulting financial crisis led to government bailouts of the banking sector.

Big government caused the economic crisis. So we are told the solution is more big government. Funny how the problem becomes the solution.

Because the Canadian government did not impose sub-prime mortgages on the country’s charter banks, we avoided the crisis and did not bailout a single financial institution. To keep it that way, Canada’s Finance Minister has ended all government-backed insurance of low-down payment and long-amortization mortgages. In other words, if you want to take on risky debt, taxpayers will not insure you.

Governments must lead by example when managing their own debt and spending. Low debt is the result of low spending. Federal government spending as a share of the overall economy is 15 per cent in Canada (2) and 24 per cent in the U.S. (3). The numbers are not merely the result of prodigious U.S. military spending, though that is certainly a factor. Non-military federal government spending is 14 per cent of Canada’s economy (4), and 18 per cent of America’s (5).

Take a look at some of these graphs from earlier in the year about the Canadian 2012 budget. (This is straight from their government’s web site – they have new transparency/anti=corruption measures now, so the citizens know everything that government does). When comparing the deficit and debt of Canada to the United States, always multiply the Canadian number by 10 to get a benchmark to compare. For example, Canadian GDP is 1.7 trillion, and the US GDP is 15 trillion.

Canada’s budget deficit is around 30 billion, but ours is 1.2 trillion:

Canada Federal Budget Deficit / Surplus 2012

Canada Federal Budget Deficit / Surplus 2012

If we were doing as well as Canada, our deficit would be about $300 billion. But we have run up about 6 trillion in debt over 4 years! Not only that, but Canada’s national debt is only $600 billion. If we multiple that by 10, we would expect ours about $6 trillion. And it was that – during the Bush Presidency. But then the Democrats took over the House and Senate in 2007 and everything went wrong and we packed trillions and trillions onto the debt, including about $6 trillion during Obama’s first term.

Canada’s Debt to GDP ratio is 34%:

Canada vs US Debt to GDP

Canada vs US Debt to GDP

But things are even worse for the United States, now. The current United States Debt to GDP is 105%, according to official U.S. government figures. We are due for yet another credit downgrade, and should see Greece-like levels of Debt to GDP during Obama’s second term. We are spending too much, and we aren’t going to be able to make up trillion dollar deficits even if we confiscate every penny that rich people earn. (And they won’t be daft enough to keep working as hard if we did that – they would move, and probably to Canada)

What is happening to us here in the United States is self-inflicted. We are – and have been – voting to impoverish ourselves and generations of children born and unborn, by punishing those who work hard and play by the rules, and rewarding those who don’t work and don’t play by the rules. It didn’t have to be this way. We could have elected a President who actually knew something about business and economics. Knowledge matters. We can’t just choose a President who gives us the “tingles” and then expect him to perform the actual duties of being President. Competence is more important than confidence. Substance is more important than style.

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Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal unveils education reform plan

Here are the details on Bobby Jindal’s new education plan, from New Orleans Online Access.

Excerpt:

 Gov. Bobby Jindal on Tuesday outlined a far-reaching set of proposals aimed at improving education in Louisiana, including a state-wide voucher program for low-income students, an expansion of autonomous charter schools and steps to link a teachers’ classroom performance to their job protections and their compensation. The governor has been promising for months now to make education reform the centerpiece of his second-term agenda.

[…]The voucher program may prove the most controversial aspect of the plan. Jindal is proposing to help pay tuition at private and parochial schools for any child of a low-income family who attends a school that receives a letter grade of C, D or F.

More than 70 percent of Louisiana’s public schools would fall into that category, opening up districts across the state to competition for public funding from private institutions. Parents who opt out of those public schools would be able to take the public funding set aside for their child with them to pay for tuition.

Voucher opponents argue that offering private school tuition siphons money away from public education, but the governor is framing the idea as a way to put decision-making in the hands of parents.

Also toward that end, Jindal is proposing to fast-track the approval of new charter schools for proven charter operators. Charters are publicly funded but privately managed and typically overseen by nonprofit boards. They compete with traditional public schools in their area for students.

Jindal is also proposing to end regular annual pay increases for teachers based on years in the classroom, ban the use of seniority in all personnel decisions and weaken the power that local school boards have in hiring and firing decisions in favor of superintendents.

Teachers coming into the classroom for the first time would also see major changes under Jindal’s plan: districts would have greater flexibility to establish their own pay scales for new teachers and tenure would be set aside only for those who earn high ratings on evaluations five years in a row.

I thought it might be helpful to also post this quick introduction to the issue of school choice, from the Cato Institute.

I don’t agree with the Cato Institute on everything, but they’re right on this issue. The Heritage Foundation also has 3 small videos explaining school choice – with cartoons!

There’s an even longer video narrated by John Stossel that you can watch, that really explains the why school reform matters – and why it’s a conservative issue. Like the sex-selection abortion issue that I blogged about here before, this is an issue that conservatives need to seize on. Here, we can really let our compassionate side show by helping the poorest students, especially those in visible minorities, who simply cannot get a quality education in a public school monopoly that is not responsive to the needs of parents, or their children. This is an issue where we can win – the only losers are the educational bureaucrats and the teacher unions. But the kids are more important.

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Canada’s economic boom: low tariffs, low corporate tax and more oil drilling

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

From Canoe.

Excerpt:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced Sunday the government will scrap 70 tariff items to save Canadian businesses about $32 million a year.

“This builds on our government’s commitment in Budget 2010 to make Canada a tariff-free zone for industrial manufacturers,” Flaherty said in a statement. “By lowering costs for these businesses, we are enhancing their ability to compete in domestic and foreign markets and helping them invest and create jobs here at home.”

Various sectors — including food processing, apparel, electrical equipment and furniture — will benefit from the move.

The Conservatives had previously eliminated the duty on imported machinery and equipment in an attempt to make Canada a tariff-free zone for industrial manufacturers by 2015.

The Tories say that since 2009 they have eliminated more than 1,800 tariff items and have provided more than $435 million in annual tariff relief to Canadian businesses.

According to the leftist CTV news, Canada also has lower corporate taxes.

Excerpt:

The study released Wednesday by KPMG International found Canada’s corporate tax rate has dropped by more than 16 per cent over the last 11 years.

Canadian companies are actually paying less than their American counterparts.

On average, Canadian companies pay 28 per cent of their income in federal and provincial tax, well below the 40 per cent paid by American companies.

But Canada’s corporate tax rate is higher than Europe’s 20 per cent and the OECD average of 26 per cent.

Canadian corporate taxes fell three per cent in 2011, from 31 per cent in 2010.

“Canada’s corporate tax rate falls around the middle of the pack among the OECD countries,” said Elio Luongo, KPMG’s Canadian Managing Partner for Tax.

“But Canada’s general corporate tax rate is anticipated to continue to fall in 2012, when the federal tax rate will be 15 per cent, versus 16.5 per cent in 2011.”

I’ve written before about how Democrats oppose the job creation that would occur if the United States developed energy in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and the Ohio shale. Additionally, Obama has also opposed building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have created 20,000 jobs paid for by a Canadian company. But Canada has no problems with developing their own energy resources, because their government operates independently of the environmentalist left.

Excerpt:

As world leaders gather in South Africa to discuss climate change this week and next, Canada’s environment minister says he plans to defend Alberta’s oilsands and is willing to argue they are an “ethical” and reliable energy source.

Heading into the 17th Conference of the Parties meeting, Environment Minister Peter Kent says he will not sign on to any deals that mandate some countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions while others don’t — as his government argues was the case under the Kyoto Protocol. He is also unequivocal in his defence of northern Alberta’s bitumen production, a position he expects will be supported by Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen when she joins him at the end of the week.

“We still need to — and the industry needs to and our provincial partners need to — be aggressive in ensuring international friends and neighbours and customers recognize Alberta’s heavy oil is no different from heavy oil produced in any number of other countries which don’t receive nearly the negative attention or criticism,” he says. “It is a legitimate resource.”

Kent has made headlines in the last year by arguing that Alberta’s oil is “ethical.”

“We talk about this on quite a regular basis,” Kent says. “I think it’s important we correct where we find … misunderstanding, misinformation or deliberate ignorance to demonize, to criticize and to attempt … to create a boycott.”

In January, on his second day as environment minister, Kent referred to Alberta’s oilsands product as “ethical oil” during an interview with a newspaper reporter.

Reports immediately linked Kent’s comments to the title of conservative activist Ezra Levant’s recent book, Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands.

The book essentially compares Canada’s human rights record to those of other oil-producing countries, and argues Canada’s “ethical oil” is preferable to “conflict oil” produced in countries with poor human rights records, such as Sudan, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia or Iran. The argument removes environmental issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions, from the equation, though Levant notes Alberta’s data on environmental issues is more transparent than information shared by other countries.

So in total I’ve presented three reasons why the Canadian economy is booming, while the American economy is stuck in neutral. Obama opposes free trade, lower corporate taxes and domestic energy production. When you elect a socialist lawyer, you get a Greece/Spain economy. When you elect a capitalist economist, you get Canada’s booming economy, and consequently, a lower unemployment rate. Recall that our recession began exactly when we elected Nancy Pelosi to the House leadership and Harry Reid to the Senate leadership in 2007. Democrats wreck economies. There is no reason why America cannot be more prosperous than Canada, but we have to not elect an abject buffoons as our leaders.

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