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Experience Denied

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Jan Ellison is grateful for the low-wage jobs she had as a kid.

“The difference from the way my own children are being raised is that I was acutely aware of the financial burden of these [educational and other] pursuits. . . . I made money of my own from age 11 onward. I had a paper route. I cleaned houses and swimming pools. I took clerical temp jobs. . . . I can’t say that any of this was important work, but the act of doing it mattered.”

She learned to “work for the ticket” that would take her to better things.

That minimum wage laws make it harder to gain such experience is a problem raised not by Ellison but by a Cafe Hayek reader, Mike Wilson, who calls her memoir “as powerful a case against raising the minimum wage as I have encountered.” (Strictly speaking, against establishing or enforcing any wage-rate floor.)

Wilson’s sensible point is that when you’re just starting out in the work force, you must develop the habits and skills needed to do a job well and to then go beyond it. These include punctuality, mastering procedures, accepting corrections with grace, being civil, staying productive and careful when you’re tired, and more.

What you can bring immediately to a job is willingness to learn what’s necessary. But the higher your pay must be before you’ve made yourself worth that pay, the harder for employers to give you the chance to make yourself worth it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Death by Metro

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

“Metro has a reputation for shoddy service and a history of not learning from its mistakes,” Aaron Wiener admitted in a column for The Washington Post. But this extremist zealot’s basic argument for government-run, taxpayer-subsidized mass transit might best be understood by its headline: “Metro’s a mess. All the more reason to ride it.”

A woman died last week riding the city’s subway system. She was overcome when train cars became stuck in a tunnel filling with smoke. Another 84 riders were hospitalized, two in critical condition.

DC Fire was so woefully slow in response — victims say more than 30 minutes — that afterwards no public official was willing to say precisely how slow. Not the new mayor; not the Chairman of Washington’s Metro board. The latter provided an excuse, claiming he “cannot speak to it” because of the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Administration.

Upon arrival, the rescuers’ radios didn’t work. “[D]espite hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades and new training and safety protocols at the transit agency,” The Washington Post reported, “a critical piece of infrastructure — emergency communications — remains a significant problem.”

This isn’t Metro’s first accident, either. Six years ago, nine people died when two Metro trains collided.

Without profits, and run “politically” as a public entity, there just isn’t the same incentive to make the necessary investment in infrastructure required to run the subways safely. A private company with Metro’s record of accidents and failure in addressing safety concerns would likely be shut down.

Sadly, Metro faces no such threat.

But the transit agency faces a different one: ridership has fallen to the lowest point in a decade. People are voting with their feet.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

More Civilization

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Civilization is a choice, a habit, a line in the . . . sand.

For modern, prosperous society to progress, to grow more healthy and wealthy and wise, most of us have to agree on a small set of principles. Mostly, we must agree not to rush to violence at the merest provocation.

There has to be a lot of negotiation to get anything done. At least, in a free and open civilized society.

Terrorism is the repudiation of this principle.

The main perpetrators of terrorism these days hail from Muslim peoples. But there are non-Muslim terrorists, too. Many of the “school shootings” and similar violent acts in America and even in Europe rarely get listed as terrorism, though they certainly look terroristic. And most don’t have anything to do with Islam.

Even when Muslims are the ones committing the terrorism, their victims are often also Muslim.

Some folks estimate that as many as 95 out of a hundred terrorist victims are Muslim. Why? Because so much of this violence goes on in countries like Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

While this estimate is probably too high, the fact that Muslims themselves are the most common victims of Muslim violence suggests that the underlying problem is the lack of institutions in those lands that hold to the choice — the habit — of civilization.

So, yes: tyranny is at the root of the problem.

Americans, if we want fewer terrorists, might want to restrain our governments from propping up or closely allying ourselves to “Muslim” dictatorships, then.

This is something we can control.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Finding a Mission

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Iraq War vet Daniel Gade is a lieutenant colonel, professor of public policy, and triathlon competitor with a message for fellow veterans: disability pay may be doing you more harm than good.

Having lost a leg in combat himself, he submits that he is a messenger somewhat harder to dismiss than some others would be.

Professor Gade criticizes how the government puts vets with relatively mild problems in the same category as those with true disabilities, and gives them incentives to stay out of the job market.

An example is the Individual Unemployability program, which treats veterans rated as at least 60 percent disabled as if they are 100 percent disabled as well as 100 percent long-term unemployable. Demonstrating that level of disability and unemployability to the satisfaction of the government means a bump in monthly benefits from $1,200 to $3,100.

“It’s a trap,” Gade insists.

He is working with private donors on a pilot program for vets. His idea is to give grants to develop employment skills rather than to maintain unemployment. Participants must forego any attempt to increase their disability pay by seeking a higher disability rating.

According to one soldier who gave the professor’s pitch a hearing, the government’s system to help vets “is just ‘Give me the money, who cares about anything else.’”

Gade’s proposal, on the other hand, “says go out and work, be productive, feel good about yourself. There is where we do well. If we don’t have a mission, we don’t do well.”

Accept the mission.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Subsidy for Everybody!

Friday, January 9th, 2015

According to Vice President Joe Biden, the debate is over. Health care, by which he means medical assistance, is a basic right — to be obtained through government, and made effective by the Affordable Care Act — not a “privilege.”

By “right” he means  “something others are forced to provide,” in this case by taxes, regulations, and the full panoply of U.S. law. Today’s “liberals” like to use the word “privilege” to mean anything obtained without direct government assistance. And therein lies a huge problem.

In his first weekly address of the year, Biden touted how great the ACA, “Obamacare,” is. How affordable it is for families, for everyone! It’s a panacea, though Biden didn’t use the word.

Actually, he didn’t say that we have a right medical care. He said we have a right to health “insurance,” which we’re forced to purchase — and for which many are subsidized, too.

How far does he go with this?

“An awful lot of people who didn’t think they could or would find quality, affordable health insurance are actually able to get assistance from the government to help them pay for their health care plans at a cheaper rate,” he earnestly intoned. “A family of four with an income of around $95,000, they can still get a subsidy to lower their health care premiums.”

You can see where the problem is. If a household making $95,000 per annum can receive subsidies, who’s paying for all this?

Perhaps you.

Can you see why Obamacare’s a prescription for financial disaster?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Philadelphia Freedom?

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

It’s fun to watch intrusive, abusive, and exclusive government operations fail. It’s instructive to see how they react.

Years ago, internationally renowned artist James Dupree purchased a large building in Philadelphia’s depressed Mantua neighborhood to renovate it not only into his studio, but into a place other artists could practice their crafts.

Sadly, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) thought it should be taken from him and then transferred to a supermarket.

Dupree fought back. He got the Institute for Justice on his side and, after years of litigation, the PRA finally gave up, returning the title it had taken it had taken from him.

But with some final remarks from Brian Abernathy, PRA’s executive director, who thought it his mission to bring “healthy food” to the community:

Unfortunately, the legal costs associated with Mr. Dupree’s appeals make it impossible to continue. Despite all the work to date, PRA will end condemnation proceedings enabling Mr. Dupree to keep his studio. While we have explored the potential of building around Mr. Dupree’s property, a viable project under these conditions is not possible. In short, the inability to acquire Mr. Dupree’s property puts the prospect of bringing fresh food to this community at serious risk.

Nonsense. A successful artists’ complex is an asset to the health of a community, its economic health. And citizens, had they kept their community clean, and had the core city government helped keep it peaceful, would have eventually encouraged private expansion to serve local grocery needs.

Meanwhile, the PRA had not even lined up a business to put in the studio’s place. It was all speculation.

A “successful” PRA would probably have wound up with an empty lot.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Pot, Kettle; Obama, Putin

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

President Calvin Coolidge looks more like a sage every day. Confucius would’ve been proud of Silent Cal. Today’s top politicians might take a cue from the man: When you don’t have much to say, say nothing.

President Barack Obama, whose popularity in America up until recently rested, in part, on his sounding more intelligent than his predecessor in office, had the reckless temerity — the audacity of dope, perhaps — to float the notion, in an interview the other day, that Russia’s top banana Vladimir Putin had made a “strategic mistake” by annexing Crimea, and said the latter-day Tsar was “not so smart”:

Those thinking his Russian counterpart was a “genius” had been proven wrong by Russia’s economic crisis, he said.

For my part, I hope that a collapsed economy in Russia is the least we have to fear. The story isn’t over, and I wouldn’t be gloating over a half-hatched batch of eggs just yet.

Which brings to mind the title cliché: pot and kettle, each calling the other black. Here we have a world leader with a horrible economic track record, in addition to a chaotic diplomatic strategy, calling his chief competitor for public adoration (yes, Putin’s acolytes are just as besotted as Obama’s) something of a fool.

Well, the man so involved with a disaster to have it named after him, Obamacare, and who hailed extravagant “stimulus” as a cure for a depression that still lingers — reminding us again of the longest Depression, the Great, and the wrong-headed policies of Hoover and FDR — should know when to keep mum.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.