Class Warfare Blog

February 22, 2014

What’s in a Title?

I was reading the N.Y. Times this morning and the title of an article struck me, to wit: Religious Right in Arizona Cheers Bill Allowing Businesses to Refuse to Serve Gays.

The article began “In New Mexico, a photographer declined to take pictures of a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. In Washington State, a florist would not provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. And in Colorado, a baker refused to make a cake for a party celebrating the wedding of two men. The business owners cited religious beliefs in declining to provide services celebrating same-sex relationships. And in each case, they were sued.

Setting aside the issue of what right a maker of cakes has to what people do with his cakes after they buy them, I looked at that title and was struck by the implications. Think about what it says. People in the religious right are cheering an agreement that makes discrimination by business owners okay and legal, but in which the discrimination has nothing to do with their businesses. Compare this with drug makers whose drugs are used to kill people in executions. A moral objection to having one’s product used to kill people is one thing; a moral objection to having one’s cake eaten by people celebrating a wedding is another.

When I was a boy, the message I heard over and over in school and church was of tolerance, including tolerance of people who looked different, were different from “us.” Apparently that message is passé and instead we have people with religious motivations fanning the flames of hatred. Have we made a U-turn in the American experience? Are we “going back” to “that old-time religion” of the Great Awakening in this country, no matter who pays or how? If so, it is the beginning of the end of the American Experiment.

June 2, 2010

Illegal Jobs or Illegal Drugs?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:40 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

It has been mentioned that the two most controversial things coming across our border with Mexico have some substantial similarities: illegal drugs and illegal aliens. Both are considered undesirable by the general polity of the U.S. and significant efforts have been made by the Federal Government to prevent the flow of both across the border. Such efforts have been, shall we say, less than successful. Both issues have been treated less than seriously as “political footballs” to kick around to get votes by being “tough” on something or other.

But one has to ask this question: one importation is people who take jobs Americans do not want, the other is drugs which are killing our children, so which is more important? And with regard to the immigration issue, and based on the lack of success of the “War on Drugs,” why do you think that the government will be more successful in a “War on Illegal Immigration”?

The real similarity between the two issues is that they are both driven by demand. It is important to note that business interests are not represented on the anti-illegal immigration side. They have no big lobbying effort or any effort really to address this issue. Since Adam Smith, it has been recognized that business people have always wanted a surplus of labor. Having extra laborers drives down the costs of labor. Whenever there are not enough workers of a particular kind, bidding wars drive up the prices needing to be paid for those worker’s efforts (e.g. the nurse shortages of the 1980’s and 1990’s drove up wages for nurses substantially). So, the right-wing position is fueled not by business interests but by “we don’t want those people becoming citizens because they become Democratic voters.” Yes, send me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses, but only if they have Green Cards and go home after work. Libertarians go so far as to want the 14th Amendment of the Constitution reworked so that the children of illegal immigrants don’t automatically become citizens when they are born here. (They tend to become Democrats, too. This is the same reason why conservatives had it in for Acorn; they organized poor people to vote.)

The demand for drugs and the demand for cheap labor drive both of these traffics. And supply side conservatives can’t see this some how (quite a blind spot, that).

The only solution to the immigration and drug problems is to lower the demand.

It is simple enough to do. The penalties for hiring “undocumented workers” must be more costly that the benefit accrued by hiring them. This is a simple economic fact. (This showed up in the health care debate in the form of an insurance company amendment to the final bill. Do you know what the penalty is for an insurance company denying a valid claim? It is $100 a day. Compared to the many thousands of dollars per day needed to treat some serious illnesses, you can imagine which course the insurance companies will pursue. The penalties must be greater than the benefits for any such counter-incentive to work.) So, significant penalties and swift, sure justice would lower the demand and Mexicans, while they may be desperate for work, are not stupid enough to make the effort to come here when no work is to be had. So, do this and you can tear down the fence and send the National Guard home, they will no longer be needed.

To address the demand for illegal drugs the simple solution is to make some recreational drugs legal. I have long advocated the legalization of certain recreational drugs, but I am not in favor of legalizing marijuana. (Surprised you, no?) The reason for my being anti-pot is the simple fact that smoking pot is no safer than smoking tobacco; neither is to be recommended. Smoking is a poor drug delivery system. I advocate a more enlightened approach, in fact, a market-driven approach! (Aha, surprised you again, no?) I would have the Federal Government conduct a contest, a contest whose task would be to create safe, non-abusable drugs. (Non-abusable drugs are merely drugs which have an optimum dose that is quite low. Raise the dose and the effect is diminished.) The top three drugs that meet all of the criteria (nontoxic, non-abusable, affordability, etc.) would receive government patents for 50 years to exclusively produce the drugs for the market. The taxes on these drugs would be quite high (to pay off the national debt, say) and use and sale of these drugs would be legal in all 50 states. Illegal drug demand would dry up to a small trickle supported only by anti-establishment types and the judicial hammer could be dropped on these miscreants quite heavily. So, people are going to continue to smuggle illegal drugs into a market that isn’t particularly interested in buying them? Uh, no, I don’t think so, too much risk, too little reward.

So, it is time for some “supply-siders” to be transformed into “demand-siders” and solve these problems.

May 19, 2010

Chasing Arizona’s Tail

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 2:41 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I am a scientist. As part of my training it was drummed into me that it was really, really important to understand “the problem,” “the question,” before trying to answer it, because if you got the question wrong, you could waste a great deal of time and effort trying to answer it, and even if you did it wouldn’t be satisfying because it isn’t the answer that is needed.

Which brings us to Arizona.

The current brouhaha in Arizona is over their “immigration” problem. The state legislature passed a law requiring law enforcement officers to ask anyone “looking” like they might be in the country illegally for identification papers. This “papers, please” law has created a firestorm of controversy. Some say it leads to racial profiling. Some say it is a law enforcement nightmare. But has anyone challenged the reasoning of the sponsoring politicians? Remember we are talking about politicians here, not people trained to think well.

The stated rationale is that Arizona is suffering from a perfect storm of violence and crime from an unprecedented wave of illegal immigrants streaming over the Arizona-Mexico border. And since the Federal government has failed to act, Arizona was forced to do so.

So, is there any evidence to back up this argument? For example, what are the crime statistics?

Well, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the violent crime rate in Arizona was lower in 2006, 2007, and 2008 (the most recent years from which data are available) than any year since 1983. The property crime rate in Arizona was lower in 2006, 2007, and 2008 than any year since 1968.

A border county sheriff stated that the number of arrests of illegals is way down from ten years ago and that the standing procedure has been to turn those people over to the Border Patrol who then deports them right back across the border. (Unfortunately, the federal system is considerably backed up at present and many illegals are given temporary work permits and driver’s licenses until they can have their deportation hearing.) The new Arizona law requires these people be locked up in state run jails, being housed and fed at the citizen’s expense, while they work their way through the AZ judicial system. Sounds a lot more expensive to me. And law enforcement officers say the are afraid that the illegals, who up until now have been fairly docile when caught, will react differently if they know they are going to jail and/or prison, which will make law enforcement’s job much tougher. That doesn’t sound good, either.

Well, that kind of blows a hole in the “need” argument.

So, why was Arizona’s state legislators so worked up about a problem that was slowly getting better?

The answer is simply fear. There has been a great deal of drug-related crime violence just across the border and it has been leaking into the U.S. But still the statistics are what they are. The fear that is most threatening is the fear in the minds of these people. It is being fanned to white heat by the conservative fear mongering media. People who are afraid can be controlled and it doesn’t matter is the fear is real or imagined. There are real problems but the problems these conservative “commentors” are imagining are not the real problems.

Spending a lot of time and energy trying to solve a problem that isn’t real is a tremendous waste of time and effort and spiritual energy, that is such “problems” sap our spirits, leading us to think we are inundated with problems, that we are making no progress, when in fact things are quite different from what we were lead to believe.

And, we have enough real problems, thank you, and we shouldn’t we wasting time on Arizona’s stupid law. How about dealing with the real immigration problem? How about offering amnesty to all of the current illegals (with the appropriate hoops for them to jump through to achieve legal resident’s status) while simultaneously announcing that this is the last time such an amnesty will be offered . . . ever! To reduce the flow of people across the border, all we need do is require people to prove citizenship (or legal resident status) when they get a job and we need enforcement with severe penalties on employers who hire people without such proofs. If there are no jobs, people will not come. The reason they come now is the same reason drugs flow fairly freely across the same border—demand.

Why do we just swallow whole the rationales and claims of people making such divisive claims? Why don’t we check the facts first and get the problem right before we start “solving” it.

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