Thursday, June 17, 2010

Raising the Minimum Wage Is a Bad Idea

Over the years in which Viewpoint has been around we have from time to time argued that raising the minimum wage is a bad idea. In fact, it's such a bad idea that the only reason we can see for raising it is to flim-flam the young and the poor into thinking that they're being done a favor by their friendly congressperson.

Here's an economics Ph.D candidate giving a four minute presentation in which he lays out two reasons why everyone, especially the young and the poor, should oppose raising the minimum wage:

HT: Hot Air.


The Very Angry Tea Party

J.M. Bernstein at The Stone/Opinionator frets about Tea Party anger, meditates on its causes, and comes to a number of what I think to be erroneous conclusions about what the Tea Party (TP) is all about.

Mind you, I don't presume to speak for the TP. I'm not affiliated with any of its affiliates, and I don't get any mailings they might distribute. Nevertheless, I think I can surmise some things about it that Bernstein apparently misses. He writes:

It would be comforting if a clear political diagnosis of the Tea Party movement were available - if we knew precisely what political events had inspired the fierce anger that pervades its meetings and rallies, what policy proposals its backers advocate, and, most obviously, what political ideals and values are orienting its members.

Of course, some things can be said, and have been said by commentators, under each of these headings. The bailout of Wall Street, the provision of government assistance to homeowners who cannot afford to pay their mortgages, the pursuit of health care reform and, as a cumulative sign of untoward government expansion, the mounting budget deficit are all routinely cited as precipitating events. I leave aside the election of a - "foreign-born" - African-American to the presidency.

Bernstein cannot resist poisoning the well with the obligatory innuendo hinting at racist motivations. He evidently wants us to believe that whatever other nefarious impulses animate the TP we should keep in mind that before we had an African-American president there was no TP. Ergo, Bernstein hints, the TP is a movement caused by the election of an African-American president.

This egregious bit of post hoc, propter hoc reasoning is very unbefitting a college philosophy professor, and thankfully he moves quickly along before the reader has a chance to digest what he's just said:

It is not for the sake of acquiring political power that Tea Party activists demonstrate, rally and organize; rather, [Mark Lilla in the New York Times Review of Books] argues, the appeal is to "individual opinion, individual autonomy, and individual choice, all in the service of neutralizing, not using, political power." Lilla calls Tea Party activists a "libertarian mob" since they proclaim the belief "that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone." Lilla cites as examples the growth in home schooling, and, amidst a mounting distrust in doctors and conventional medicine, growing numbers of parents refusing to have their children vaccinated, not to mention our resurgent passion for self-diagnosis, self-medication and home therapies.

This, I believe, is not true. Most TPers would gladly acknowledge their need for community support, even for the support of their state, and even, to some degree, the support of the federal government. What they object to is being controlled by forces and bureaucrats who have no accountability and who are as remote from their everyday lives as they are indifferent to them.

What Lilla cannot account for, and what no other commentator I have read can explain, is the passionate anger of the Tea Party movement, or, the flip-side of that anger, the ease with which it succumbs to the most egregious of fear-mongering falsehoods. What has gripped everyone's attention is the exorbitant character of the anger Tea Party members express. Where do such anger and such passionate attachment to wildly fantastic beliefs come from?

Well, now. Bernstein has thrown the allegation out there that TPers are attached to wildly fantastic beliefs, as if we all know exactly what beliefs he's talking about. Maybe we would if he would tell us, but he doesn't. He just leans out of the car, fires this volley at the crowd, and speeds away.

He does spend some time decrying the libertarian inclinations he descries lurking in the background of the TP which then occasions a rather pedantic excursis into the philosophy of Descartes and Hegel. Finally, though, he gets around to putting his finger on the source of TP anger, or at least he thinks he does:

Hegel's thesis is that all social life is structurally akin to the conditions of love and friendship; we are all bound to one another as firmly as lovers are, with the terrible reminder that the ways of love are harsh, unpredictable and changeable. And here is the source of the great anger: because you are the source of my being, when our love goes bad I am suddenly, absolutely dependent on someone for whom I no longer count and who I no longer know how to count; I am exposed, vulnerable, needy, unanchored and without resource. In fury, I lash out, I deny that you are my end and my satisfaction, in rage I claim that I can manage without you, that I can be a full person, free and self-moving, without you. I am everything and you are nothing. This is the rage and anger I hear in the Tea Party movement; it is the sound of jilted lovers furious that the other - the anonymous blob called simply "government" - has suddenly let them down, suddenly made clear that they are dependent and limited beings, suddenly revealed them as vulnerable.

The problem with this is that it's almost entirely wrong (not to mention fatuous), or at least I think it is. The TP is not libertarian so much as it is conservative and it's animus has not suddenly arisen with the Obama presidency. It's been simmering since the sixties. The discontent of TPers stems largely from a frustration with the direction this country has been moving for fifty years. As leftists have been making their long march through the institutions of our culture, more and more people have grown increasingly alarmed at the erosion of traditional values and freedoms.

Periodically, they were given hope that things would change course - in the eighties when Reagan was elected, in 1994 when Republicans took control of congress for the first time in fifty years, and again in 2000 when George Bush was elected with a Republican congress. But these all proved to be only temporary impediments to the inexorable advance of progressivism which has moved through the culture like army ants devouring everything within reach.

By the last years of the Bush administration the tinder was as dry as parchment and three sparks came together to set it ablaze: The first was talk radio. Rush Limbaugh, and even more importantly, perhaps, Glenn Beck, have diligently and cogently exposed the left's agenda in ways that average people can grasp and have provided the ideas and insights which have fueled, informed, and stoked the kindling anxieties of conservatives throughout the nation.

Then the Obama administration came along and began confirming what Beck and Limbaugh had been saying on radio and tv every day. Mr. Obama was clearly the most left-wing president ever to make it to the Oval Office and he began almost immediately to "fundamentally change" the country in ways that appalled both conservatives and independents, many of whom in the latter group had voted for Obama thinking he would bring a touch of class and competence to the White House.

But the spark that finally galvanized ordinary people to engage in public protests and demonstrations was Rick Santelli's spontaneous performance on CNBC in February of 2009 which immediately went viral. Santelli's call for a modern tea party had an amazing resonance with people, tapping into the discontent that had been smoldering for over a generation and moving average people to finally say they had simply had enough:

Bernstein, however, acknowledges none of this history. Indeed, he seems oblivious to it. He then compounds his ignorance of the movement he writes about by making this baffling assertion:

In truth, there is nothing that the Tea Party movement wants; terrifyingly, it wants nothing. Lilla calls the Tea Party "Jacobins"; I would urge that they are nihilists.

Nihilists?! Here Bernstein is just being silly. It's simply not true that TPers want nothing. They want the government to stop spending money it doesn't have, to stop insulting our allies and bowing to our enemies, to stop raising our taxes to feed the ravenous bureaucratic appetite of Washington, to stop allowing people to enter the country illegally, to stop devouring major corporations, to stop crony capitalism, to stop imposing policies like the freeze on oil drilling that are costing tens of thousands of jobs, to stop telling us what kind of light bulbs we have to use, and on and on. There's a lot the Tea Party wants, but most of all it wants the people responsible for the corruption and sleazy politics of the last two years to be unemployed come November of 2010 and 2012.

To date, the Tea Party has committed only the minor, almost atmospheric violences of propagating falsehoods, calumny and the disruption of the occasions for political speech - the last already to great and distorting effect. But if their nihilistic rage is deprived of interrupting political meetings as an outlet, where might it now go? With such rage driving the Tea Party, might we anticipate this atmospheric violence becoming actual violence, becoming what Hegel called, referring to the original Jacobins' fantasy of total freedom, "a fury of destruction"? There is indeed something not just disturbing, but frightening, in the anger of the Tea Party.

With this paragraph Professor Bernstein has managed to scale the highest peaks of asininity. For fifty years we've heard nothing but excuses for the rage of the left or the rage of minorities. Liberals witnessed the destructive rage of left-wing nuts who tried to assassinate several presidents (and did assassinate JFK), and said nothing about the ideology that motivated the assassins. They witnessed the mob rage at every gathering of the World Trade Organization and tut-tutted the youthful misbehavior. They laid the deadly rage of African American mobs in L.A. and elsewhere squarely at the feet of the larger society with which minorities had "legitimate" grievances. Now a bunch of senior citizens, housewives, home-schoolers, small businesspersons and other such folk finally get tired of seeing the country they love - the country they've spent a lifetime to build and in some cases defend - get flushed down the toilet, and Bernstein is quaking with fear at what these "Jacobins" might actually do.

It's hard to take such piffle seriously. It's the sort of thing only a liberal college professor could really believe.