Sunday, July 06, 2014

Wordsmithing, part 10


1. a direct pecuniary aid furnished by a government to a private industrial undertaking, a charity organization, or the like.
2. a sum paid, often in accordance with a treaty, by one government to another to secure some service in return.
3. a grant or contribution of money.
4. money formerly granted by the English Parliament to the crown for special needs.

Recently I got into a bit of an online tussle with someone over a quote by TV jester John Stewart of the Daily Show.  The quote was as follows: 

Hypocrisy: bitching that paying for birth control “goes against your religious beliefs” while expecting non-Christian taxpayers to pay for your churches.

The caption by the poster of the meme read: It’s time to tax the churches

I don’t much care for being unfairly called a hypocrite, so I posed the following question on the comments section: 
Please explain to me how non-Christian taxpayers are paying for churches.

To which I was given a link to blog post that referenced this blog post by the Washington Post.  If you click on the link you can read the whole post, but here’s a table with the break-down that is the heart of the piece. 

Now notice that in every case but one (the faith-based initiatives) every line item describes a tax exemption which they then title a “subsidy”.  Here is my online response:

This entire piece relies on a deceptive misuse of a word: "subsidy". This is a rhetorical propaganda tactic that the left uses all the time, and it's based on the concept that all money belongs to the government, and to whatever degree they allow us to keep that money is from their benevolence. Proceeding from that premise, anyone or any group of people who are allowed to keep more of their money than anyone or any other group, is deemed as taking that money from the later. These funds are then viewed as a "subsidy" to the former. This whole premise is not an American idea, it comes from Marxism. The American idea is that our rights come from God, not from the government, and that government only gets its authority from the consent of the people. That authority wields terrible power, though, the power of a monopoly on violence. In other words the government has the power, by threat of violence to confiscate a portion of the money you make. We call these taxes. A subsidy is actually when the government takes money that they have confiscated from one group of people and gives that money to another group of people. These are sometimes called transfer payments. So, for instance, farmers who grow certain crops of which the government wish to see more, in an effort to manipulate commodities markets, are given subsidies from your tax dollars. They are actually given money to grow those crops. But a tax break, such as the mortgage interest deduction you are allowed to claim on your taxes, is not a subsidy, it is merely the government allowing you to keep more of the money you made. Even if I conceded that tax exemption were a "type" of subsidy (which I don't, but let's pretend that I do), it would still be a "type" in which no funds are transferred to the church, only in which funds are not transferred from the church to the government. So the question remains unanswered, and actually unanswerable. The only way to come to the conclusion that tax payers are "paying" for churches is to think that the money that churches would have paid to the government in taxes, if they were not tax exempt, actually belongs to the taxpayerswhich is absurd. There are no subsidiesno transfer paymentsto churches. There is a tax exempt status to them, just as to many other non-profit organizations in this country. That tax exempt status has existed from the very beginning of this nation. If you wish to tax churches, what other non-profit organizations do you wish to tax? Non-profit hospitals? Charities for the poor? Drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities?

As I mentioned before, the one line item in the table above that actually is a subsidy is for faith-based initiatives.  Understand, these government funds do not go for buildings or any other assets for churches, but rather to fund programs that are faith-based, such as alcohol and drug treatment, support for young, unwed mothers, programs that work with prisoners to teach life skills and reduce criminal recidivism.

The misuse of the word “subsidy” by the left to create the misperception that any tax break is actually a theft of taxpayer money is another example of the leftist lexicon, the intentional manipulation and distortion of language, of redefining words to control the popular debate about the size and scope of government.  To the leftist and the statist, government is the means by which utopia can be created; therefore all that is not government—the free market, private business, private charities, non-governmental agencies that compete with what they believe are the provinces of government welfare entitlements— must be marginalized, discredited, or better yet, vilified. 

Thursday, May 08, 2014

"Free" College and the Minimum Wage

I got into an online discussion with a friend of a friend about the minimum wage. The discussion started with my friend’s friend saying that we should offer free college education to everyone, to which I said,

Free college education. That's an interesting idea. How do you propose this? Should we enslave all higher education professionals...and compel them to work for nothing? But they must eat and wear clothing...who will pay for that? And what of their task know, the guys with whips...who will pay them? And will the quality of education suffer under these conditions? Or did you really mean to say that the government should take over all higher education schools, confiscate even more money from us, and provide college education at no cost (other than taxes) to the students? But then that's not really "free" is it?

Then he proposed raising the minimum wage, to which I said,

If there is anything that should be mine--mine to do with as I please, mine to take anywhere I wish in this country, mine to decide without any interference from bureaucracy--it should be my labor, i.e. selling the labor of my hands. I should be able to sell it at whatever price I deem. Minimum wage is government tyranny in its most pure and undiluted form, though, as illustrated on the cover of Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism, offered with a smiley face with the best of intentions, for "our own good", but tyranny nonetheless. It is leviathan government descending from on high to tell me, "no, you may not sell your labor for that price." And if there is no one willing to buy my labor at the price they deem fit, too bad for me. Here are some crumbs we will give you from our noble largesse from funds we have confiscated from your fellow citizens who are more "privileged" than you.

Then he said, So therefore, if all I can sell my labor for, (assuming that I can find a job), is lower than the cost of living, that's a good thing?

And I said,

Please enlighten me on the "cost of living". What is it? Usually when that term is used today it is in reference to an index arbitrarily set by the same set of bureaucratic tyrants that tell us what the "minimum wage" should be.

And he said, My personal definition of the cost of living is food, shelter, clothing, transportation and costs associated with employment.

And I ended with this,

Food, shelter, clothing, transportation--and how do you measure that? These days I eat quite well (too well, judging by my waistline) but when I was first married and making minimum wage, my wife fixed a whole lot of hamburger helper dishes. We also rented a furnished and utilities-paid one bedroom apartment. We had a second hand TV and a crappy little record player with tiny built in speakers, the kind you would see in children's bedrooms. We had one car. My wife would drop me off at work, then drive herself to work, or I would carpool with a friend at work. We agonized about any clothing purchase and found the best price we could before buying. We didn't have a dishwasher or cable TV or air-conditioning in our car or a smart phone with a data package (they didn't exist in 1975), but we got by and actually saved money. Not because the minimum wage was so much better then, but because we lived as frugally as we knew how.

In times before mine it was common for people with large houses to take in boarders to supplement their income, or to actually run boarding houses as a business. These were very common for single men or women, and quite reasonable since one was only renting a room and sharing a common bathroom. It was also common for men who never earned enough to support a family--for whatever reason--to remain single and live in such boarding houses their entire lives. Today both the boarding house scenario and the conditions in which my wife and lived when newly married seem unthinkable today. Things like personal computers, wifi, central air conditioning, dishwashers, cable TV (and multiple TV sets), smart phones with large data packages, multiple cars per family, $200 or $300 basketball shoes, are all considered necessities and indexed as "the cost of living".

As to the worth of the individual,  [he had indicated that paying someone a small wage meant that employer, or society or something, valued them less as human beings dm] you seem to be conflating a person's worth as a human being with their worth as a wage earner. One has virtually nothing to do with the other. As Jesus told us, we are all of great worth to God by virtue of the fact that we are created in God's image.

But a wage earner's worth is based on the value his or her labor brings to the employer. The entrepreneur creates a product or service which is only worth what people are willing to pay for it. When the entrepreneur needs additional labor other than his own to make that product or provide that service, a job is created, but only at a wage commensurate with what the customer is willing to pay. When wages are arbitrarily driven up--by government fiat, let's say--the entrepreneur often finds that the job is simply unnecessary, as in the case of theater ushers for instance, or can be replaced by mechanization, as in the case of berry pickers or the young bag boys at grocery markets who would take your deposit pop cans here in Oregon, both jobs of which have now been replaced forever by machines. Entrepreneurs don't create jobs so people can have jobs--only the government does that, which they do solely by confiscating money from producers.

Entrepreneurs create jobs because they need work done which they can sell as a product or service at a profitable level. If they cannot do that at a profitable level, they fail and go out of business, and all the jobs from that business end. This is the cold equation. It's not about how anybody "feels" about you, or whether they like you, or whether you "deserve" to earn more (whatever that's supposed to mean). It's just this: can you bring a profitable value to your employer with the work you do? And the other part of this cold equation is that minimum wage laws, apart from being tyrannical and immoral, don't make jobs, or sustain jobs, they end them. Some of them, some whole classifications of jobs, forever. And who is hurt most by this? The low skilled, young worker trying to get a start in the job market. And who among that cohort does this hurt the most? Without question teenage black males.

My economic hero (and hero of other intellectual sorts as well), Thomas Sowell, was a Marxist in his economic ideology, all the way through his academic studies, even as he studied under free market sage Milton Friedman. But what turned Sowell from a Marxists to one of our most eloquent defenders of free market enterprise was his experience working for the Federal Labor Commission as an economist and seeing for himself the raw data. The disastrous effects, especially on his fellow American blacks were clear and irrefutable. When he began to make noise at the Commission about this, they basically told him to shut up about it. So he quit, went back to teaching economics and began his writing career, no longer a Marxist but an ardent apologist for classical economics and free market enterprise. When I read his text, Basic Economics, the scales fell from my eyes. I have since read everything I can find by this giant of clear thinking, and I urge everyone else to do the same. Or at least read Basic Economics.