Tucker Carlson’s Diagnosis

A recent monologue from Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program is blowing up the right-wing blogosphere, and understandably so.  Carlson has been a vocal critic of the neoliberal deification of economic efficiency at all costs.  I used to be a member of this cult, until the candidacy of Donald Trump (and lived experience) knocked the idealistic scales from my eyes.

Normally, it bugs me when people send me video clips to watch.  If they’re cutesy videos of the variety that drive clicks—think cats playing piano, or Goth versions of Christmas songs—I usually ignore them, no matter how hyped they are.  That’s not some virtue on my part; I just don’t want to take the time to watch them, especially on a cell phone (a pet peeve:  someone making me watch a video on their cell phone; I will refuse).

That said, I’m indulging in some hypocrisy:  you must watch this video as soon as you’re able.

For those of you that don’t want to take the time, here are some highlights:

  • Elites care only about maximizing economic efficiency, regardless of the human costs to individuals, families, and communities
  • That lust for efficiency drives income inequality, particularly benefiting the technology sector/Silicon Valley
  • “We are ruled by mercenaries, who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule”—a key idea; I’ve read a similar analysis from controversial blogger Z-Man, in which he argues that leaders in a democracy are, inherently, renters rather than owners, and therefore are heavily tempted towards asset-stripping while in office, rather than building and maintaining a nation:  http://thezman.com/wordpress/?p=15929
  • Because of the hollowing out of American manufacturing and declining wages (again, due in part to the quest for efficiency), men struggle to find employment or to improve their wages
    • Because of that, rural parts of the country are dominated increasingly by healthcare and education, female-dominated fields
    • While better wages for women is fine, Carlson claims that—whether or not they should—women are less likely to marry men who earn less than them, therefore

These are just some of the most interesting insights, but Carlson sums up in fifteen minutes what would take a legion of hack bloggers like me hours or weeks to explain.

Again, I urge you to watch this videohttps://video.foxnews.com/v/5985464569001/?playlist_id=5198073478001#sp=show-clips

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America’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

Scott Rasmussen, writing for Ballotpedia, reports that 62% of American adults say their dream job is owning their own company.  That’s encouraging news, as it suggests that, despite decades of welfare state decadence, Americans still possess our entrepreneurial spirit.

That spirit has been with Americans going back to the colonial period.  Textbooks tend to focus on the Puritan planting of the Plymouth colony, which was certainly important, but the first permanent settlement in colonial British North America was Jamestown.  That settlement, and the entire colony of Virginia, was founded as a commercial enterprise, the efforts of joint-stock company in England.

French aristocrat and political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in Democracy in America (1840) over two centuries later (during the height of the Jacksonian Era), noted Americans’ keen interest in commercial matters, and the pulsing energy and enthusiasm of always hustling.  He also noted the positive effect of trade upon liberty:

Trade is the natural enemy of all violent passions. Trade loves moderation, delights in compromise, and is most careful to avoid anger. It is patient, supple, and insinuating, only resorting to extreme measures in cases of absolute necessity. Trade makes men independent of one another and gives them a high idea of their personal importance: it leads them to want to manage their own affairs and teaches them to succeed therein. Hence it makes them inclined to liberty but disinclined to revolution.

Despite enthusiasm about the idea of starting a business, Rasmussen’s findings show that only 5% of Americans are “very likely to start their own business” in 2019, while 11% are somewhat likely.

Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to see that the desire to hustle is prominent among Americans.  The economic mojo of the Trump economy no-doubt improves Americans’ optimism (although I should note that many Americans started businesses during the Obama stagcovery, albeit for a different reason—they couldn’t find work).  That optimism likely fuels some desire to get in on the action.

On a personal note, I will say that even I, a high school teacher—teaching being a job uniquely suited to the risk-averse in general—have caught this bug (don’t worry, loyal readers—I’m not going to try to sell you massage oils with untested healing properties).  I’m excited to expand some of my side-hustles in 2019, including writing, performing live music, and teaching private lessons.

Regardless of how those pan out, the thrill of applying effort towards ones passions is exhilarating.  What could be more American?

2018’s Top Ten Posts

2018 was a good year for The Portly Politico.  I relaunched the blog back over the summer, when I had more time to write multiple pieces a week.  With the South Carolina primary elections, it’s not surprising that some of the most traffic hit during June.

Just like the 2016 election, I was unable to dedicate the time necessary to covering the 2018 midterm elections; perhaps my greatest deficiency as a blogger is the inability to post regularly during the school year, a function of both a lack of time and focus (and, very likely, a lack of discipline).  While the blog has not gained the traction I’d hoped for six months ago, it’s been an entertaining way to put some of my thoughts to “paper,” as it were, and get some interesting feedback from you, my small coterie of loyal readers.

All navel-gazing aside, here are 2018’s Top Ten Posts, as determined by the number of views:

10.) SC Primary Run-Off Election Results – the title says it all!  I think some wayward Googlers boosted this one into the top ten.

9.) #MAGAWeek2018 – George Washington – during the Fourth of July week, I kicked off what will become an annual observance:  MAGA Week.  Each day featured an essay about some figure or idea that had made America great in his or its own way.  While I’m most proud of my lengthy overview of the career of John Quincy Adams, the post on George Washington gained the most traction with readers—a deserved victory for America’s most influential Founding Father.

8.) A Discourse on Disclaimers – I got so sick of endlessly qualifying every statement, I wrote this protesting post.  One thing the Trump presidency has taught us is that you’re never going to appease the progressives, so you’ve gotta fight back.  You’re never going to able to mollify an emotional, inherently violent beast with an appeal to decency and reason, so why bother?

7.) SCOTUS D&D – one of the lighter works of the Brett Kavanaugh character assassination, this post linked to another author’s attempt to place the Supreme Court justices on the legendary Dungeons and Dragons alignment chart.  Very fun.

6.) Progressivism and Political Violence – one of my best pieces, I would argue.  This post detailed the strong link between the progressive ideology and violence, be it the official use of state violence to enforce its way, or street-level thuggery when it’s been systematically denied the levers of power.  If Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg kicks the bucket in 2019 and President Trump and the Republican Senate successfully appoint and confirm a conservative justice to replace her, I shudder to contemplate the hysterical bloodshed that will result as masked Antifa goons and hipster black boots take to the streets.

5.) #TBT: It’s a Thanksgiving Miracle – the only “Throwback Thursday” post to make the top ten, this was a reposting of the old blog’s 2017 Thanksgiving post, which I wrote with a freshly broken left wrist.  We all have a great deal to thank God for this year.

4.) America Should Expand into Space – one of my early pieces during the 2018 relaunch argued that the United States should make a concerted effort to continue expanding into outer space.  Why get our precious rare-earth metals from China when we can mine them from asteroids?  Speaking of…

3.) Breaking: President Trump Creates Space Force – I whooped with joy when President Trump announced the creation of Space Force.  Apparently, many readers were excited about it, too.  It’s a commonsense move:  space is the next, and final, frontier.  Why cede dominance—military, economic, cultural, or otherwise—to the ChiComs?  Make America Space Again!

2.) 4.8% Economic Growth?! – one of the first posts upon relaunching the blog, this little piece drew a good bit of attention (and probably benefited from the initial curiosity traffic).  Let the good times roll!

1.) Run-Off Elections in SC Primaries Today – this post blew all others away, with (at the time of this writing) 101 more views than its next competitor.  I was shocked, but the blog showed up in several online search results as South Carolinians sought out information about the primary run-off elections this past summer.

So there you have it!  My personal favorites didn’t always gain the traction I hoped—and some of my better essays were nowhere near the top ten—but that’s the fun of blogging:  you never know what’s going to catch readers’ attention.

Thank you all for a wonderful 2018.  Here’s looking forward to bigger and better things in 2019!

God Bless, and Happy New Year!

–The Portly Politico

Global Poverty in Decline

Regular readers know that I frequently cite pollster Scott Rasmussen’s #Number of the Day series from Ballotpedia.  I do so because a.) his numbers often reveal some interesting truths about our world and b.) blogging is, at bottom, the art of making secondary or tertiary commentary on what other, smarter, harder-working people have thought, written, and done.

Yesterday’s #Number of the Day dealt with global poverty; specifically, Americans’ ignorance to the fact that global poverty has declined substantially over the last twenty years.  Indeed, global poverty has been reduced by half in that time.

I’ll confess I was ignorant of the extent of this decline, too, although it makes sense that poverty has decreased, especially when you consider the rise of post-Soviet market economies in Eastern Europe and China’s meteoric rise since the 1980s.

I suspect that the perennial culprit of the Mainstream Media is to blame, in part, for this ignorance, coupled as it is with progressive politicians.  The rise of “democratic socialist” candidates—as well as the lingering effects of the Great Recession—would have Americans believe that the global economy is in terrible shape, and that “underprivileged” parts of the world labor in ever-worsening poverty (so, let’s just move them all here—that’ll solve poverty!).

It’s refreshing to see that capitalism is working its economic magic, and people all over the globe are lifting themselves out of poverty.  If representative republicanism and strong civil societies can take root and flourish in more places, the ingredients will be in place for continued economic and cultural growth.

Democrats Favor Socialism

Republicans and conservatives have long understood that many Democrats [not-so?] secretly harbor a love for socialism, and that socialistic policies are their end-goal.  As I wrote in “Democrats Show Their True Colors,” “democratic” socialism has been growing in popularity in the Democratic Party, and the party has tapped into its progressive roots and lurched violently to the Left.

Scott Rasmussen’s #Number of the Day today backs this trend up with hard numbers.  He writes that 57% of Democrats have a positive view of socialism, while only 47% have a positive view of capitalism.  That 47% figure is down from 56% just two years ago.

71% of Republicans, on the other hand, view capitalism positively, while 16% of RINOs view socialism favorably.  I don’t understand how any Republican can view socialism favorably; I suspect they view “socialism” as “limited government-run enterprises,” like the Tennessee Valley Authority or the Department of Motor Vehicles.  I can’t imagine many of them support true, complete government ownership of property and the means of production.

These trends toward socialism on the Left make Republican victory—as unlikely as it might be—in the 2018 midterm elections all-the-more crucial.

Progressivism and Political Violence II: Candace Owens Attack and the Deficiency of Decorum

A small part of me really believed that the insanity of post-election 2016 and pre-and-post-Inaugural 2017, while still simmering at a low boil, had largely shifted back to the fringes, with the real threats to liberty returning to online flame wars and techno-corporate elites deplatforming anyone to the right of Joseph Stalin.  Sure, Antifa—the ironically-named organization of hooded, masked Millennial fascists—is still around, and entitled behemoths still kneel during the National Anthem, but the street-level thuggery seemed to have quieted down.

As with many things in life, I was, unfortunately, wrong.  Candace Owens—the intelligent black conservative who inspired Kanye West’s Twitter lovefest for President Trump earlier this summer—was attacked in Philadelphia by a group of noodle-wristed soy boys and their pansexual, transgender lesbian besties while trying to enjoy a breakfast with Charlie Kirk. the founder of Turning Point USA.

I should have listened to my own analysis—and remembered very recent incidences, like White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s expulsion from a restaurant because her mere presence made gay employees uncomfortable (I know they’re drama queens, but, c’mon—can we stop indulging gay men like they’re fragile children?)—rather than engage in unfounded optimism.

The attack on Owens—who was forced to leave the restaurant because of the disturbance, and who endured cries of “F*ck White Supremacy” (remember, she’s black)—is merely the latest in a long stream of Leftists attacks on the Right.  Some, like yesterday’s deplatforming of Alex Jones and InfoWars—are non-violent, but hurt economically and socially by reducing or eliminating traffic to websites.

What the Left cannot achieve through social or economic coercion—through its dominance of institutions like academia, media, the arts, corporations, etc.—it will gladly do through physical violence (thus the “by any means necessary” mantra so beloved of Communist revolutionaries).  I suspect that a number of seemingly respectable cultural and academic figures on the Left, while publicly tut-tutting their street fighters, secretly thrill at the violent upheaval their radicals-in-arms create.

Indeed, this is no mere speculation.  Remember the television executive who scoffed, after the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay shooting, that most of the victims were probably Republican Trump supporters, anyway?

Aging counterculture revolutionaries—now firmly entrenched in their tenured ivory towers and emeritus seats, forever addicted to the false god of youth—live dreamily, vicariously through the antics of young street “toughs” who emulate the very professoriate that idealizes their destruction.

Now more than ever, the Right must come together.  Remember the meteoric rise and swift fall of Milo Yiannopoulos?  For years, conservatives dreamed of a funny, popular figure who would help break us out of National Review and Weekly Standard stuffiness and show that we don’t hate gay people or minorities (we just hate annoying people in general).  When he finally came, Conservatism Inc. rejected him out-of-hand because he made mean jokes on stage (the same objection, I’m sure you’ve realized, they’ve made about Trump).  Milo can be a little much sometimes, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard him state a fact that was incorrect.  Hyperbolic in delivery, yes; factually inaccurate, no.

My point is this:  we’ve got to give the decorum thing a rest.  I’m not saying we should go out and diss every non-conservative we ever meet, or to engage in street fights with Antifa (except in self-defense)—we should try to be cordial and peaceful whenever possible—but if the other side is going to punch you while you’re trying to have a rational discussion, then, well, your fists have gotsta do the talking for you.

Again, I am not condoning or attempting to incite anyone to violence.  I’m just saying that we need to back off figures like Trump, Milo, Candace Owens, Gavin McInness, etc., who are making the tough, real sacrifices in this culture war, and who are exposing themselves to real physical danger.  So what if they get a little rhetorically saucy or say something mean but funny?  Decorum has its place, but it seems to be a luxury we can ill-afford at present.

HSAs are A-Okay

My Congressman, Tom Rice, sends out little e-mail updates on a regular basis.  In his latest newsletter, the South Carolina US-7 representative included a link to a video (below) of his statements before Congress about expanding Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs.

The gist of the proposal is to expand health-savings accounts to allow account holders to contribute more to them.  The current legal annual contribution (in FY2018) for a single individual is $3450, up from $3400 last year and $3350 the year before.  That comes out to $287.50 a month, which can be contributed pre-tax directly from an account holder’s paycheck.

The way the law is currently written, HSAs are excellent both to cover medical expenses before reaching your deductible (and, naturally, most HSA-compliant plans are high deductible ones) and to save and invest for retirement.  You can accrue a qualified medical expense today—say, a visit to the emergency room—and you can submit that receipt in a decade (or longer—there’s no apparent time-limit) to take out that amount.

To give a hypothetical:  let’s say you have a medical bill for $3000.  Yes, your annual contribution to your HSA could cover that.  But, let’s say you’ve built up a good emergency fund, and elect to pay the bill out-of-pocket through that fund.  In, say, five years, you need to tap your HSA funds for some reason.  If you’ve kept the receipt (and credit card statements help, too), you can file that with your HSA and withdraw the $3000.

Why go through the trouble?  Because many HSA administrators—including my own, HealthSavings Administrators—allow you to invest in mutual funds with your HSA contributions.  If you’re making an 8% annual return on those contributions, that $3000 today will be worth around $4100 in five years (investment math folks, please check my numbers; regardless, you get the point—money grows).

Alternatively, if you don’t tap that money for decades—and keep contributing—you’ll have a very nice retirement account growing tax-free for all those years.

My current health insurance carries a $6550 deductible—which I didn’t even come close to hitting in 2017 when I broke my left wrist, although it was still expensive—but I’ve accrued enough of an emergency fund that I could meet that expense should the need arise (I pray it doesn’t).  If my emergency fund were sunk into something else—say, a new car, or a less flood-prone house—then I could tap into my HSA contributions from the past few years.

And here is the other benefit of HSAs, the one that I’m sure Congressman Rice as in mind:  they help you reach your deductible, and bring some market forces to bear on healthcare costs.

I suspect that one of the culprits of high healthcare costs is the lack of transparency—no one knows how much anything costs, and everything is fungible.  When I broke my wrist, I received a hefty ER bill (about $3000) about four months after the fall (I don’t understand the delay on that; it seems like they could just tally it all up and print it out at the time of the accident).  I called the hospital, and they told they were “running a special”—if I paid in full that day, they’d knock HALF of the cost off the bill.  Because I’m an extreme budgeter and have an emergency fund, I could do it, and leaped at the “special.”

Most people don’t have enough money saved up to even meet a $500 emergency, but an HSA makes it more doable.  Even without an emergency fund, if an account holder were making monthly contributions, he’d be able to take advantage of such price reductions.

HSAs aren’t a magic bullet to bringing down healthcare costs, but they would go a long way to addressing the problem.  If we lived in a pre-Obamacare age, you’d be able to get a high-deductible, HSA-compliant plan for probably $50-100 a month, depending on age and health.  Even if you didn’t want to manage the money in various investments, the incentives to save—namely, the pre-tax benefit—are enough that many Americans would likely take contribute to their HSA.

When Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was running for president in 2015-2016, he proposed transferable, minimally-funded ($5000 at birth, I believe) HSAs be issued for all Americans.  The ability to transfer funds between family members and to grow that wealth over time would be huge.

Similarly, President George W. Bush proposed giving Americans the option to contribute their Social Security contributions into personally-managed investment accounts.  That would reduce the astronomical costs of that federal boondoggle and give Americans much greater returns on their investments.  Naturally, Democrats rejected that plan out of hand, and accused Bush of hating old people.  Yeesh.

The takeaway is this:  whether it’s in healthcare or retirement savings, the American people know best.  Yes, we’d need some additional financial education—which we desperately need anyway—but, c’mon, are you going to continue running the same inefficient, wasteful systems just because a small percentage of people won’t adequately manage their money?

Liberty works in nearly every arena, and it would work in healthcare and health insurance, too.  HSAs are the wave of the future, and I’m glad to see Tom Rice is championing them.

Trump’s Economic Growth Isn’t Due to Farm Exports

President Trump has enjoyed massive economic growth since his election, much less his actual inauguration.  The latest economic growth numbers for Q2 put the annualized rate of growth at a whopping 4.1%.

Naturally, the progressive Leftists are grasping about for any explanation they can to account for this growth, or to downplay it.  One of the more novel proposals is that the only reason growth is so high is because farmers are rushing out their exports to other nations ahead of planned tariffs—and the retaliatory measures they will garner.

While I’m willing to concede these premature exports may account for some of the growth rate in Q2, I doubt very seriously that there are enough additional soybean exports to China in a three-month period to bump the entire economic growth rate by more than a fraction of a percent.

Consider all the factors at play here:  the 2017 tax cut, specifically to the corporate tax rate, created a yuge incentive to companies to repatriate dollars held overseas, and made American companies internationally competitive again (prior to the cuts, our corporate tax rate of 35% was one of the highest in the developed world).  The easing of pressure on corporate rates and individual income tax rates have boosted business and consumer confidence, and wages have increased as unemployment continues to fall.

Even before the passage of the tax cut, deregulation within the executive branch began stimulating the economy.  In his famous Gettysburg campaign speech, in which then-candidate Trump put forth his reform agenda for the United States, he promised an executive order requiring the removal of two regulations for every one new regulation written.  In classic Trumpian fashion, the President delivered—and then some:  in 2017, the Trump administration cut a whopping twenty-two regulations for every one regulation passed.

The one-two punch of deregulation and tax cuts has juiced the engine of the economy with rocket fuel, but the media loves to run with the narrative that it’s all smoke-and-mirrors, and we’re only enjoying this growth because a bunch of farmers rushed out exports early.

They push that story for two reasons:

1.) They can’t give Trump credit for anything positive

2.) It draws attention to the downsides of tariffs, and the cloying sentimentality of the farmer struggling under Trump

I have a great deal of respect for farming and the rural life, but these aren’t Nebraska homesteaders or Jeffersonian yeoman farmers we’re talking about.  Not that that matters—big corporate farms shouldn’t be punished for being big; I’m merely cautioning readers to take such rhetoric with a massive dose of soy (actually, pick something else; we don’t need anymore soy boys).  The mainstream media is going to spin this story in the most maudlin fashion possible.

Tariffs historically have hurt farmers, who often pay the price of tariffs both ways:  they pay more imported goods, and they struggle to access foreign markets competitively when they export their products.  And, as I wrote recently, I don’t think tariffs are without their costs.

That said, there’s no way Q2 GDP growth can be driven solely, or even mostly, by farm exports.  Further, it seems that such robust growth makes tariffs more affordable, in the sense that the United States can spare a few decimals of growth in exchange for greater protections of worker.

Finally, tariffs-as-bargaining-chip seems to be working.  China’s economy is in free-fall, and the Chinese have to eat.  Even with tariffs on US soybeans and other farm products, China needs what we’re growing more than we need what they’re churning out.

In short, stay the course, President Trump.  Rebalance our trade agreements, make the income tax cuts permanent, and keep regulations light.

Democrats Show Their True Colors

Over the weekend, Democratic congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared on a video with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  The two self-styled democratic socialists were campaigning for Brent Welder in Kansas City.  In the video, the telegenic young Marxist boasted that “We’re gonna flip this seat red in November,” accidentally confusing the Republican Red for the Democratic Blue.

A minor gaffe, to be sure, but it’s interesting to consider the political party colors, which were reversed not too long agoRed has traditionally been the color of Communist, Marxist, socialist, and other leftist movements since the nineteenth century.  According to a piece from The Smithsonian (linked above and here), the media’s first usage of different colors to demonstrate presidential election results occurred in the 1976 race, in which Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter won when Mississippi went “red.”  Apparently, media outlets used the colors interchangeably until the 2000 election; we’ve stuck to red for Republicans and blue for Democrats since then.

In retrospect, though, the red coloring fits more with the ideology, goals, and history of the Democratic Party, and particularly its progressive wing (which, I would argue, is most of the party at this point).  Lately, Democrats have been flaunting their true colors unabashedly.

Take Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, for example.  She won a much-discussed upset in the Democratic primary for a New York congressional district against a powerful incumbent, Joe Crowley.  Her politics are stridently Leftist:  she supports Medicare for all, the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the forgiveness of all student loan debt, and a plethora of other unrealistic, expensive causes.

She’s also a much more appealing—and, therefore, more dangerous—face for “democratic” socialism than its other ubiquitous standard-bearer, Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders is an aging, old-school socialist of the Trotskyite variety, much like his British counterpart, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.  He’s never held a serious job outside of politics (which he entered in his forties), and he now looks like a kooky mad scientist who could disappear in a pile of dust and bones if a strong wind hit him (or if the deal he made with that necromancer is broken).

Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, is 28, and has the sort of Millennial profile that is common for my confused generation:  she worked as a bartender until a year ago; she’s passionate about many subjects, but not well-versed in any of them; she’s over-educated to the point of uselessness (see the previous phrase).

She’s also super telegenic and—except for some unfortunately-timed photos—a babe, and a Latina at that.

That’s a combination that Democrats can’t resist.  Like President Barack Obama—who was cool, African-American, a community organizer, and had a messiah complex—Democrats want a candidate who parrots radical ideologies while also validating them emotionally.  The hope is that an attractive young candidate will help them in future elections; thus, the constant touting of Ocasio-Cortez as the “future of the Democratic Party.”

Never mind that NY-14 congressional district that Ocasio-Cortez will soon represent (there’s not much chance of a Republican challenger succeeding in this district, which is a +29 D district) is nearly 50% Hispanic.  “Hispanic” is a tricky term, because it covers a number of different groups, but these aren’t your third- or fourth-generation Texas Hispanics (the ones who make up about half of the ICE agents Ocasio-Cortez wants out of a job); these are likely recent immigrants who, regardless of race, traditionally vote Democratic.  Some of them no-doubt originate from countries accustomed to leftist populist politicians.

Regardless, the Left is stripping down the last pretenses of being “moderate” or in favor of “common sense,” although you’ll still hear some use that phrase.  In the wake of President Trump’s election and administration, the Democratic Party has become increasingly open about its desire to soak the rich, redistribute wealth, take on a host of burdensome social and economic responsibilities, and generally move the nation further along toward socialism.

Outside of some parts of the South and the Midwest, the idea of the old-school “conservative Democrat” is long dead; it’s only now that the Democratic Party is showing its true colors.