Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I was reminded of that tonight when I attend a town hall meeting hosted by a local state legislator in Minnesota. One of the documents supplied for meeting attendees to review was an overview of the State of Minnesota's sources of revenue and spending.
Here are the biggest slices of the state budget pie that I wish to discuss in this posting:
SOURCES OF REVENUE:
Individual Income Taxes -- 46.1%
Sales Tax -- 27.9%
Corporate Income Tax -6.5%
Since "corporate income tax" is merely a tax on consumers passed through by companies let's call it what it actually is -- "yet another form of sales tax" -- which gives us these new groupings:
Individual Income Taxes -- 46.1%
Sales Taxes -- 34.4%
Now that gives us a clearer picture of the tax burden on Minnesota taxpayers.
SOURCES OF SPENDING:
Education -- 49%
Health and Human Services - 28.1%
Since "spending" drives "taxation" let me now focus on these spending categories. In the typical family budget we are told that no more than 30% of household income should be spent on housing making it the largest monthly expense item for most families.
So if we look at our state government budget as a "family budget" we would see that our largest monthly expense is "education" at 49%. Let me pose this very simple question -- "if your family was spending a full one half - one half I said!! -- of its budget on just one item wouldn't you have very high expectations in terms of results/satisfaction you would derive from this expense?
Sadly though in terms of Minnesota's education system's (taking 49% of our budget!) performance we are not getting our money's worth based on the recent student achievement test results which were published (and posted on here) in early October.
I have to believe that 50% of our state budget is enough for the education machine -- instead we should have at least 50% of our households/parents having a choice of where to send their children to school by increasing the number and geographic distribution of charter schools which compete for students (and the revenues associated with students) via an open market not via today's education monopoly/plantation system.
Simply demanding more money does not work anymore,
Monday, October 29, 2007
Here is my initial list of the "Great Things in Life" which I hope you enjoy as much as I do:
- Walking in the rain
- Reading the daily newspaper early in the morning
- Boy Scouts of America -- our country would be better if more boys joined
- College fraternities
- Chicago style deep dish pizza
- Laying in the steam room at my gym
- Playing racquetball with my old gang
- Reading books to our daughter when she goes to bed
- Canoeing in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota (www.ely.org)
- Scuba diving in the Caribbean
- Windowless restaurants in the British Virgin Islands
- Free music from iTunes
- Crock pots
- Ending the day by reading a book in bed
- Reflecting on my life while "half-listening" to the sermon in my church
- Order of the Arrow -- if you are a member you know what I mean
- the USA
- Blogging technology/Internet access
- Log cabins in quiet places
- Pedicures and manicures -- I am convinced health care costs could be lowered if more people purchased these services
- Hiking in Arizona
- Baseball Spring Training
- Any level of American football from Pop Warner to the Super Bowl
- Traveling to foreign countries
- Collecting book markers
- Waffles sold by street vendors in Brussels, Belgium
- A hobby farm -- since open spaces create good neighbors :-)
Well, that is enough items for this first installment of what I hope is the first one of many more postings to follow.
Then this afternoon (Monday) my favorite talk radio program, "Garage Logic", discussed the World Series since the show's host (Joe) is a former sports reporter. Joe made an insightful observation when he noted that MLB has a real problem with the length of their games since one game this weekend lasted for 4 hours and 16 minutes. This observation then prompted Joe to opine -- "today's baseball games last so long and the newspaper industry has had to cut expenses so dramatically there is really no reason to even send a reporter to cover the night baseball games anymore because the reporters' deadlines for stories come before the game has ended in most cases thus making it impossible for the newspaper to print the final scores/game results..........." (my paraphrasing).
Yes I enjoyed watching the World Series but let me offer the MLB owners/commissioner this bit of advice -- SCHEDULE YOUR SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER GAMES ON TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY NIGHTS WHEN POSSIBLE.
Because Tuesday and Wednesday nights are the only evenings we football fans (I am watching Monday Night Football -- Denver Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers -- as I type this posting) must do without televised football games!! While I am indeed a baseball fan, I must admit that I was switching back and forth last night between Sunday Night Football and the World Series which is not a good demographic trend for MLB assuming there are others like me out there :-)
Back to the game,
Sunday, October 28, 2007
This posting will NOT focus on whether or not Prohibition was a good or bad idea (it was a VERY bad idea!!) but instead it will focus on why it is essential that we consumers/parents demands that the classroom subject known as "Social Studies" is replaced in all of our schools with "History" and "Government" taught as stand alone topics. Social Studies is just too watered down to leave any lasting intellectual impact on students.
How can I say this? Here is evidence for the newspaper article I just mentioned at the start of this posting --
employee at Neumann's Bar (a former 1920's speakeasy/brothel) in St. Paul, Minnesota
Quote -- "I'm not a history buff." when responding to the reporter's question of whether or not she had heard of Prohibition.
Now this is exactly the problem with many voters when they have ZERO historical perspective on public policy issues. In this case Ms. Brault was born just 37 years after the repeal of Prohibition which is not the distant past. To take it a step further -- the Soviet Union dissolved (thank God!!) in 1991 which is now 16 years ago. So I have to wonder do the new voters who turn 18 years old for the 2008 elections know that the Soviet Union showed the world that centralized economic planing was a failure?
I really doubt it since a lot of polling results that I have seen show that our nation's young voters like the idea "universal health care" which is a centrally planned economic system. Believe me, I was in the Soviet Union in 1986 to see the universal health care that the Soviets delivered to their citizens (serfs) and I gave thanks that we had plenty of vodka to drink :-)
Study history not campaign promises,
Saturday, October 27, 2007
The combination of my meeting the author at the Heartland Institute dinner, the issues forum at the Newberry Library I attended, and my unplanned visit of the Columbia College-Chicago campus book store inspired a books posting.
Enjoy your own explorations,
While in Chicago for most of this past week I made a point of reading the local newspapers to find that not much has changed since I quit lobbying at the Illinois Legislature in 1998 -- corruption and sweet heart deals in the government are still prevalent. Two quick examples from the newspaper headlines (my summations are below) --
1.) City of Chicago buys lake front property for park -- political crony sells lot purchased for $50,000 to city for $1.5 million which is a nice profit for their 7 years he owned the lot. The land value changed dramatically as the city dramatically increased the assessed value of the land which is merely an odd-shaped parcel of contaminated land set to be turned into a park.
2.) Former Illinois Governor George Ryan is facing prison time for his practice of selling government licenses for cash on the side but is appealing to the US Supreme Court to avoid the jail time.
So let's turn our focus to the south for a moment to Louisiana which has "off-year" elections so they recently had their open primary election. US Congressman Bobby Jindal won this election with a campaign focus of bringing an end to the culture of corruption Louisiana government is known for historically. Assuming Governor Jindal is able to clean up the state government when the 2008 legislative session begins this could provide a campaign theme for political candidates in Illinois for the November 2008 elections so that Illinois starts moving away from their identity as the "Louisiana of the North" ( my phrase which was inspired by the Chicago Tribune's placement of Congressman Jindal's quote I used above to just below an op-ed entitled "Show Mercy for Ryan not System"). What a coincidence!
Good luck to Governor Jindal not Governor Ryan,
The event itself was not only entertaining but it was also very educational. Nearly 600 dinner guest enjoyed the comedy routine of Tim Slagle who offered a free market perspective on global warming, Al Gore, and Halloween -- yes two of these three things are scary :-) Mr. Slagle's spoof on Halloween was the best as he explained that when a child returns home with their bag of candy that they worked for that he would take portions of the candy away for -- "income taxes, social security taxes, sales tax..................." leaving the child were only half of Snickers bar. This "candy re-distribution" (my phrase) then inspires the child to simply lay on his parents' couch during the next Halloween opting instead to just eat from the bowl of candy that his mother left out for trick or treaters thus creating WELFARE.
After Mr. Slagle's performance we enjoyed a very lively debate between two scholars discussing whether or not US President Abraham Lincoln save the USA or was merely a power-hungry tyrant who destroyed civil liberties. The end result for me was that the debate opened my eyes to several things I was unaware of that even scared me such as President Lincoln's order to have 20 Maryland state legislators arrested to essentially silence them. Historically I am a sucker for buying the book of authors that I meet as I did at Thursday night's dinner so now I have yet another book on the growing reading list.
Overall it was a great trip to the Windy City and I look forward to future visits.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
China faces a real challenge in terms of bringing development and wealth to its poor, rural, low skilled populations just like India does today as their economies modernize and open up to the global economy. But here comes some an exciting news from India in the form of a new company created by a former employee of Microsoft Research -- Sean Olin Blagsvedt -- which is named:
"Babajob.com and babalife.com are a combined effort to provide the best social networking and job site in India and eventually worldwide. It’s based on the simple idea that everyone deserves to get a better job – even if you can’t read English and work in another’s home. Most people find jobs through people they know – namely their extended social network – and most employers – particularly when hiring employees that work in the home, would like to hire a person who someone they trust can vouch for."
BabaJob and BabaLife combine the worlds of social networking with online job searches but Baba's focus is on poor, unskilled workers which from my perspective makes this service so unique. Baba uses an incentive system that pays people for successful referrals once job applicants are hired which is perhaps an incentive system the USA's various social services/welfare workers should have implemented into their salary structures. One final observation is perhaps an obvious one -- creating job mobility and promotions for India's unskilled workers creates future middle class (potentially of course) consumers which is important news for both of our nations.
Keep up the good work Mr. Blagsvedt,
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
However, this last Sunday's sermon by our senior pastor really made me focus on his message since he made an impassioned pitch for every member to double our annual donations to the church so they could meet their budget and missionary commitments. While I hesitate to remind my own pastor of scripture it is worth mentioning that Jesus Christ himself told us via the Bible that we should -- "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto the Lord what is the Lord's..............." to which Father Robert Sirico, President of the Acton Institute (www.acton.org) told me years ago, "right there, Jesus tells us there is a limit to government.............."
Yes indeed Father Sirico -- Jesus only expects us to give 10% via the "tithe" yet the secular government expects nearly 50% of our personal incomes (once you add -- income taxes, Social Security taxes, sales tax, gas tax, etc................together" -- so I agree with your worldview not my local church which is an advocate of things like "fair trade" that merely create a trading regime that keeps poor farmers poor with just a few more coins in their pocket. If you don't believe me just review Paul Collier's book, "The Bottom Billion", since he is a supporter of World Bank development programs yet opposes fair trade.
Essentially I want my church (and any others who see the light) to call government greed exactly what it is -- immoral and sinful!! -- because requiring us to give 50% of the fruits of our labor to the Church of Big Government is a form of hell on Earth. Once government is cut dramatically I would gladly give a portion of what is returned to me to entities like my church although the Acton Institute would receive a check first.
Forgive me Father for I have earned,
Friday, October 19, 2007
One article I read during our flight was focused on a sport that we never played when I was in school -- Chess Boxing (www.wcbo.org).
Readers can probably guess for themselves what this sport is all about but the basics are this -- a round of boxing is followed by a round of chess and so on until the match is completed. The world championship is set for November 3 in Berlin but I will be at an Iowa State University football game instead (www.cyclones.com).
Chess Boxing's creator (a Dutch guy) got the idea while reading a science fiction/futurist graphic comic book where the sport of Chess Boxing was depicted. Clearly the Dutch culture provides citizens with a lot of free time!!
As a sports enthusiast and aspiring professor this combination of "brains and brawn" captures my attention especially since it was created by an entrepreneur with no known government support that I have seen -- there you knew I could not complete a posting without mentioning the government!!
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Muzinich and Werker note that the USA currently spends $23 billion on development aid to foreign countries which Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, has called for nearly doubling to $50 billion annually. Muzinich and Werker go on to argue that instead of simply providing foreign aid the US government should provide tax credits to American companies who invest in the countries who are current foreign aid recipients. Put another way these authors argue that building a factory in a country like Kenya via a US tax credit system for corporations is far better than a direct grant/forgivable loan that usually end up embezzled by corrupt local politicians and/or sent to the recipient country's military.
Now this is very fresh thinking on foreign aid -- MUCH more creative than Obama's "let's just spend more and hope for better results in these countries." Given the difficulty of implementing a tax credit system like the one the authors advocate let me offer my own version of foreign aid reform based on a model that has already been used by the US Congress.
Yes the US Congress via the leadership of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich boxed then President Bill Clinton into a corner forcing him to sign the welfare reform into law. Essentially Congress converted the perpetual welfare train formerly known as "Aid to Families with Dependent Children" (AFDC) into the TEMPORARY assistance program known as "Temporary Assistance to Needy Families" (TANF) which imposes a five year maximum benefit for welfare assistance per individual thus giving all of us to get our lives right and to help our fellow citizens when they need a little assistance.
So I call on the US Congress, United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, etc. to reform all of their current foreign aid programs into a completely new mindset/policy to be called -- "TANNS" -- Temporary Assistance to Needy Nation States. How long do you think a complete thug/dictator/sadist like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe would remain in power if all foreign aid were to be cut off at a date certain? He is starving his people today despite the food aid we send to his government (the government officials call it "fasting" -- I kid you not!!) so cutting off foreign aid to his country would not add to the harm being done today.
Trade not aid,
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Two other reasons come to mind -
1.) Fear of an autonomous Shia region/nation joining to form a "Greater Iran" , and
2.) Fear of upsetting the USA's ally (although they did not allow the USA invasion force to use their air space so not really much of an ally) , Turkey, since they fear an autonomous Kurdistan that would then lay claim to land in Turkey given its Kurdish population.
This week the news media is reporting that Turkey may launch a military offensive into Iraq against the Kurds which they view to be a terrorist organization. For more information on Kurdistan please visit -- http://www.theotheriraq.com/index.html While the USA would risk upsetting Turkey I see ZERO reason to lose more American military lives simply to keep Iraq in one piece.
Now in the 1980's we had the slogan "Peace Through Strength" but perhaps today's slogan should be "Peace Through Sovereignty/Autonomy" (a bit wordy but you get the idea) for regions like Kurdistan, the Basque region in Spain, and even Scotland which is increasingly interested in leaving the United Kingdom based on recent parliamentary election results. My regular readers know that I am NO fan of the United Nations but this is one idea that the UN should support since it will increase their membership numbers while also increasing the chances we will see less warfare/terrorism in the future (yes I know the Scots are not sending suicide bombers to London!!).
Bring on the Kurdish embassies!!
Believe me people I would MUCH rather write about some non-government topics but government is so pervasive in our daily lives I am obligated to highlight what is wrong with government almost daily via this blog. This is not only an attempt to keep my sanity by "venting" on this blog a bit but is also a campaign to educate those "fence sitters" out there who simply go through life with no passion on any public policy issue. So now let me invite you to get on the fence to come down on my side of the field by working to cut government wherever we can.
I can offer no better reason than an "affordable housing" project that has been proposed in my idyllic suburb in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. The situation we face locally is that our "Dakota County Community Development Agency" (CDA) is presenting a plan to our planning commission and eventually the city council -- my instincts tell me the wheels are greased on this proposal so it will move like things move through a goose :-) -- to build a senior citizen housing complex alongside an "affordable housing" rental town home project.
First of all let me state the obvious that the everyday communist (like some of my neighbors who attended the public meeting I did) does not fully consider -- GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS AND TAXES DRIVE UP THE COST OF HOUSING thus causing a "need" for affordable housing. Think of it -- lumber imports from Canada are restricted thus driving up the cost of building materials, construction companies services are taxed, building codes add costs, and government borrowing increases the "cost of money" thus driving home mortgage rates up. Once the cost of housing goes up then government sees the opportunity to take our tax dollars to finance affordable housing projects.
Okay anyone who knows basic economics can figure this out for themselves but let me offer you a personal insight from the public meeting I attended when I asked the CDA staff, "so given the useful life of this housing stock you plan to build will it always be rental properties or do you try to phase in renters to become home owners via a condo association model so that the residents will become part of the ownership society?" To which the CDA staffer replied -- "oh no , these properties will always be rental properties because some people in the world will never have the capability to become home owners...................."
Did you hear that? The central planners in our government are picking winners and losers when it comes to people getting their first step on the property ladder. I have more faith in the "working poor" than the CDA does OR is the CDA staff simply motivated to keep this economic class "poor and down" in order to keep all the CDA staff employed?
Bottom line is that if the need for "affordable housing" is growing then let's try a new approach by completely phasing out agencies like the CDA coupled with an overall reduction in the costs of home ownership as noted earlier. Clearly the current model is not working.
Owners not vassals,
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Overall I can report that Europe is still broken in many ways as confirmed by my European friends such as my former flat mate who had to secure an electrician to fix the wiring in my former apartment. It was very difficult for my friend to organize this repair work due to the poor customer service so he lived via candle light for over one week -- but at least he reduced his carbon footprint to help ease global warming!! Another example was the overall customer service experience in many venues. Overall there is a staff shortage for either/or both of these reasons:
- European unemployment/welfare payments are higher than what some of these service economy jobs would pay so why should people take the jobs?
- Employment law makes the labor market VERY restrictive because Belgian law requires nearly two years of severance payments to be made to most employees that are fired I am told. Two years!!! So if you hire someone to fry hamburgers at your restaurant but they never develop the skill you essentially can't afford to fire them due to the severance payment rules. So employers simply avoid hiring more staff.
If you don't believe me just stop by the UGC movie theatres in Brussels sometime which regularly have staff shortages. You have to arrive at least 30 minutes early just to line up to buy a ticket.
Well that is enough discussion of employment law - let me return to the Capitalist Ball. When my wife and I stepped out of our taxi we noticed the "anti-capitalism" protesters stationed across the street from the ball's venue. These people were reading from scripts to protest the "evils of capitalism" since the local government authorities require planned protests to submit transcripts of what they plan to protest about -- no doubt to simply give a bureaucrat something to do for a job.
Personally I like the capitalist system especially since I experience the Soviet Union's command/control economy first hand back in the 1980's where I saw everybody but the Communist Party leadership living in dire conditions. Let's consider some "evils" that capitalism produces including:
- safe drinking water
- computers that double computing capacity every 18 months
- cellular telephones that are given away to attract customers
- shoes that fit and come in a variety of colors :-)
Perhaps you have a favorite product or service that comes to you via capitalism versus a government program?
The Capitalist Ball was very entertaining and provided me with some excellent professional networking opportunities so I look forward to attending next year.
Competition not compulsion,
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
I read this op-ed with interest since my wife and I are flying to Brussels, Belgium for the week to attend the annual "Capitalist Ball" hosted by the Centre for the New Europe. This annual gathering of the free market community is mainly a social gathering but there is substance in terms of the policy conversations.
I plan to share copies of today's pro-EU op-ed with my friends at the Ball to get their reaction so I can produce a posting later this week.
I look forward to hearing from readers regarding which economic markets are the most dynamic in the world AND enjoy the highest relative standard of living/quality of life.
Monday, October 08, 2007
"Language immersion interest remains for Superior schools"
This article was focused on the Superior (Wisconsin) School District's pending decision regarding whether or not to create foreign language "immersion schools." Now at my friends know by now I am not xenophobic regarding immigration preferring to have the world have less "walls" and more free trade including the movement of people under the rule of law where property is protected. Secondly I have studied two foreign languages during high school, undergraduate, and graduate school so no one can call me an "English only cave man" especially since my hope is that my children will become at least bi-lingual thus surpassing my foreign language abilities.
Having said all that what most attracted me to the Superior Schools article regarding immersion schools is this central question -- "why don't we create charter/immersion schools for new immigrants to ease their transition into the USA?" Such a school would have as its focus:
-English language immersion
-History (not "social studies" of the USA)
-Reading/literature (to reinforce the English instruction)
Such a model would be focused which is exactly the opposite of what education is today -- instead the education establishment has evolved into simply chasing more money for specialty jobs and "special education" students so the incentive becomes to have everything deemed "special or 'for diversity' " to help chase the dollars.
Fiscal conservatives and free traders like me would be a strange bedfellow to chicken little commentators like Lou "Build a wall across Mexico" Dobbs on CNN since he should LOVE this education reform idea that I offer.
Buy textbooks not barb wire,
So the question remains -- were there never homosexuals in Iran or did the government/religious police do something with them? Perhaps the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan provides us with a possible explanation. As noted in a recent Men's Health magazine article regarding the growing popularity of weight lifting/body building in Afghanistan the Taliban used what was called "Kabul's Pool (not "Rule") of Law" in the article I read. The program was simple -- the Taliban utilized an empty Olympic swimming pool built by the Soviets in the mid 1980's for their form of justice. Quoting Men's Health now --
" Homosexuals and political dissidents were pushed from the top (diving) platform and judged innocent if they lived. Today the pool serves as a soccer field for Afghan youth."
Progress is being made if we are willing to look for it.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Clearly I need some professional counseling because while we walked through the forest land in search of grouse I could not help but think of the very mis-guided Al "Save Mother Earth" Gore!!! I thought about Gore during a conversation my brother and I had with a US Forest Service Ranger regarding which areas are best for grouse habitat so we could focus our hunt. The ranger informed us that grouse thrive in "recently clear cut logging areas.........." What, how can that be possible? We let people log forest lands and the net result is that more grouse are able to reproduce/thrive by feeding on the young aspen tress that are able to grow once the old growth trees are removed by the loggers. Just imagine that by simply harvesting a useful product like trees to build homes and offices which spur further economic growth we get the added benefit of more bio-diversity via higher grouse populations. Another benefit of this logging that I would add that the ranger did not mention is that the clear cutting also helps prevent/manage forest fires by removing "fuel" from the area.
So the obvious point here is that we do not need activists who advocate highly centralized government control over the environment such as Al Gore does. In fact we need the complete opposite -- hunters like my brother and I who spend our money utilizing the great outdoors because it is people like us that have a personal, vested interest in ensuring we maintain environmental quality.
The hunt for smaller government continues.