The socialists next door…

There was an article on Bloomberg this morning ran under the sub-title “Polls show young Americans souring on capitalism.”

According to the article, “51 percent of 18-to-29 year-olds in the U.S. said they opposed capitalism” and when asked what type of economic system they preferred to live under, “44 percent picked a socialist country.” I get that youth is the time when you’re supposed to be wildly hippy dippy liberal – before you wake up one morning and the government is slicing away taxes in $10,000 increments – but I see this largely as a failure to teach either history or current events.

The last half of the 20th century was a great global cold war between capitalism and communo-socialism, where the latter collapsed in Eastern Europe when those living under it discovered that their “worker’s paradise” wasn’t able to provide them the goods and services that they wanted. Those being the things produced in the decadent and immoral west. It’s vestigial tail lives on across Europe in the form of Democratic Socialism

Looking at contemporary examples like Venezuela, they seem not to care that the the vast promises made by the government were window dressing without any kind of sustainable mechanism to fund them when the price of oil fell back from record levels. Venezuela now is a shell of a country that seems incapable of providing even the most basic services.

But, you’ll say, capitalism picks winners and losers and leaves some people behind. It does. So does every economic system. The biggest difference being that under our capitalist model bread lines are the exception rather than the rule. Given my druthers I’ll put my money on an economy where I have a fighting chance to better my lot in life than one where I spend my days working to pay taxes in the hope that the central government lives up to its promises. I’ve always found it better to make your own fate than to simply hope for the best… but maybe that’s just me.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. No paper towels. I’m all for environmental responsibility where it makes sense. I recycle. I’m replacing all the light bulbs in my house with LEDs. The new water heater I installed is ridiculously efficient (and has the price tag to match). Some things, though, are beyond the pale. I know that keeping old fashioned paper towels in your public restrooms is a hassle. They’re expensive, they end up all over the floor, and they become bags and bags of trash to be disposed of… even knowing that, I just don’t care. All I want to do after taking a wiz is wash my hands and be able to dry them. The underpowered, barely functional “hot air dryer” just doesn’t cut it since I don’t have 43 minutes to thoroughly dry my hands each time I used the facilities. Public restrooms are an unfortunate necessity. I don’t expect them to be gold plated but for the love of Pete, I’d like to be able to dry my hands.

2. The demand side. Given my predisposition towards fairly conservative economic principles I can safely be called something of a supply sider. Watching the US Coast Guard show off the nearly half billion dollars wort of cocaine and heroin interdicted last month, though, I’m not sure the who “drug thing” is something that we can fight principally from the supply side. As long as there’s a demand, the suppliers are going to find a means and method of supplying that demand – at an increasingly high cost on both sides. I’m not enough of a libertarian to think that flat out legalization of everything is a good idea, but it increasingly strikes me that to get after the issue with drugs means going after it on the demand side. Pouring increasingly large amounts of money into chasing the supply would seem to only garner continuingly middling results. I have no idea what the answer to the demand side is – treatment, sure, that will work in some cases. Start letting the addicts drop dead, or what I like to cheerily think of as letting Darwin have his due? OK, maybe it’s hard medicine but perhaps best in the long run if it means that subset of the population is no longer thieving and whoring and begging, which might help alleviate the impression that every city and small town in the country is well along the process of turning into a filth ridden hell hole.

3. The NFL. Stories are popping up on a number of news sites about the ratings hit the NFL has taken this year. Some sources are blaming the weather, others the rise of “activist” players. As someone who hasn’t watched a professional football game from start to finish since the late 1990s, I don’t really have a dog in the fight, but I can make a few observations. First and foremost, the NFL is a ratings driver. It’s not in danger of going out of business any time soon. With that said, the league would be well served to remember that despite the outward appearance of a nation of fierce team loyalists, the product they offer is entertainment and it’s subject to the same market forces that influence every other competitor out there trying to put their hands on viewer’s wallets. There has probably never been a time when there are more and better entertainment options available to the average American consumer than we have today. The fact that a game run by billionaires, played by millionaires, and marketed to the great swath of Americans who think of themselves as middle class is losing some of its grip on the market shouldn’t in any way be surprising. A good first step in bringing fans back into the fold would seem to be to making sure the paid performers don’t offend their viewers by dragging politics into what would otherwise be a nice mindless Sunday’s entertainment. Don’t put a stick in the eye of the people who you want to hand over enormous sums of money feels like it should be Rule #1.

Gone secesh…

I hesitate to say the idea of Western Maryland seceding from the rest of the state has started to gain traction, but it has recently garnered some interest from at least one of the local Baltimore newscasts. I’m a contrarian by nature and generally tend to come reverse2down on the side of rebels, troublemakers, and malcontents, but on the issue of a free and independent Western Maryland, I’m not sure the concept is fully baked.

The idea of a small, less obtrusive government sounds delightful (and in line with my own general beliefs about the just and proper role of the state), but there are issues no one is discussing. They’re the issues of how such a new state would raise revenue and on what its economy would be based. Maryland writ large has tax money flowing from the defense industry and federal government, the Port of Baltimore, financial services, and yes, agriculture, aquaculture, and a host of other large and small businesses. I have to ask what are the equivalent economic drivers to make Western Maryland viable as an independent state? Tourism, agriculture, and scenic beauty aren’t going to get the job done by themselves. Ask Allegany County how well the “tourism gambit” has worked out for them over the last 30 years.

The state has an obligation to provide a host of public services – police, education, infrastructure, protection of natural resources, to name a handful. Until those who seek to cleave off the western five counties of the state present a clear plan for how they will govern rather than simply offer the complaint that “Annapolis doesn’t listen to us,” I can’t even consider the idea, let alone endorse it.

But despite my misgivings about this plan, it comes down to this: Even when the fortunes of work and responsibilities led me far afield, I’ve always considered myself a Marylander, a loyal son of the Old Line State. I’ve risen and slept my entire life under the quartered banner of Calvert and Crossland. I’ve been duly awed by the majesty of the old Wye Oak and rightly impressed by the tenacity of the St. Mary’s settlers who carved their colony out of Maryland’s primeval wilderness on the lower shores of the Chesapeake. Anyone who wants to throw that legacy over the side will need to make an awfully compelling argument for why 382 years of history should be turned on its ear.

To my brethren in Western Maryland, all I can say is we hear your cry on the Eastern Shore. They hear it in southern Maryland too. Annapolis no more listens to us than it does to you… but I can’t quite bring myself around to thinking the best we can do is slice off the three corners of the state and leave them to their own devices. Would it not better serve us all to unite the three rural sections of this state against the middle rather than continuing to let the middle play us off one against the other?

As for me, I’d rather go down fighting under the cross bottony than have the colors of any other state, old or new, raised above my head.

Superpower America (or How’s that for Mixed Metaphors)…

The actual future is going to look different than the future we thought we were going to have. That’s true if only because we’re notoriously bad at predicting the future – We’re all still waiting on our flying cars, right? I don’t think it’s going to be radically different to the point that Canada starts being cool or Hollywood starts making good movies (that would be some kind bizzaro universe). I actually have a sneaking suspicion that the future is going to be painful. Painful in that we’ve spent the last 30 years binging on cheep booze and grease ball cheeseburgers and now we’re about to wake up with a national hangover the likes of which none of us has ever seen. The fight to raise the debt ceiling ain’t nothing compared to the battle that will be joined when we realize we’ve got to actually start paying down the debt itself.

The future is going to seem painful because there’s every possibility that we’re about to experience a world where Superpower America isn’t. Those of us who grew up beyond the shadow of the cold war are going to have the hardest time adjusting because we’ve never had to moderate our expectations about anything really. You guys know I’m not exactly an alarmist, but my read of the situation is that bottom line: Superpower America is too expensive. How we go about fixing that with the least pain possible (the no pain option is well off the table), remains to be seen. So too does whether we have the national will to collectively make hard decisions about what is in the long term national interest and what isn’t; what we can pay for and what we can’t. These decisions matter. Economic realities matters.

Don’t believe me? Ask Superpower USSR how it works out when you pretend economics is an imaginary science. Spending ourselves into oblivion isn’t an option, but I wonder who’s going to be the first to offer up their sacred cows so we can try to avoid slaughtering the whole herd.