Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Of Minimum Wage Laws

I'm a small business owner.  Now, since I have no employees, I'm the smallest of small business owners.  In the past I have owned a business with employees.  I've also gone through periods where I was an employee.

Increases in the minimum wage are touted as ensuring that workers are paid a "living wage."  They are presented as insurance against the tendency of employers (especially "big corporations") to pay workers a pittance for back breaking labor.  We are told they will raise the standard of living of the poor, increase spending and employment and be good for the economic health of the country.  I submit that all of these are lies.  Here's why:

  • I've yet to hear a really good definition of "living wage."  Merriam-Webster defines it as "a subsistence wage" and as "a wage sufficient to provide the necessities and comforts essential to an acceptable standard of living."  These and similar definitions don't take into account that the average person living below the poverty line in this country has a standard of living higher than that of the average person (not the average poor person) on every continent in the world (with the possible exception of Australia).  Specifically, the average poor person (using the government's definition) in this country has
    • enough to eat
    • at least one car that runs
    • heating and air conditioning
    • at least one TV
    • a computer
    • a cell phone
    • a place to live
    • clothes to wear
    • a washer/dryer
  • "How can this be if they are poor?' is a reasonable question.  The answer is that our government's definition of poverty does not define a poor person as one who lacks the necessities of life.  Rather, it uses a rather arbitrary income as its definition.
  • The people who push hardest for an increase in minimum wage laws demonstrate a dramatic misunderstanding of the nature of business and business owners.  Contrary to what some people suggest, most workers are not employed by large corporations.  The most recent year for which I have data is 2008.  According to the Department of Labor, in that year there were 27,281,452 businesses in the US.  That's a lot!  So, if we increase the minimum wage, it might seem reasonable to say that a lot of people would be making more money.  Let's look a little deeper.
    • Of those 27 million plus businesses, 21,351,320 (about 78%) had no employees.  Like me, the business owner was the only person working in the business.  This leaves 5,930,132 businesses that had employees.
      • Of those, just over 3.6 million of them had 1-4 employees.
      • Just over 1 million had 5-9 employees
      • 633,000+ had 10-19 employees
      • 526,000+ had 20-99 employees.
      • From this we learn that of those businesses with employees, approximately 98.16% of them employee fewer than 100 people. 61% of them have 1-4 employees.
      • In virtually any given town, the vast majority of the businesses will be
        • small and locally owned
        • have few if any employees
        • Those that do have employees are, statistically, likely to have not only fewer than 100, but fewer than 20 or 10 or even 5.
        • Therefore, in terms of business owners, the greatest impact of an increased minimum wage will be on the small, locally owned independent business which is often barely making payroll as it is.
    • As items become more expensive, individuals tend to buy less of them and to be more focused on the value they get for what they spend.  The same is true of business owners.  As the cost of anything goes up, business owners become increasingly focused on getting the maximum possible value for each dollar spent, including that spent on labor.  If forced to increase pay from $7.25/hr to $10.00/hr as some have suggested, history teaches us the following will happen:
      • Teenage and minority unemployment will increase as will poverty among these groups.
      • Those with fewer or no skills will be passed over for hire into entry level jobs in favor of those with more skills.
None of this is to suggest that there are not people in this country living in abject poverty.  There are and they need help.  
  • That help, if the cycle of generational poverty is to be broken, must not focus on "feel good" measures that have no basis in reality but on permanent, long-term solutions. 
  • Short term help may well be needed, but the real focus must be on education and skills so that individuals can not only earn more but see the very real possibility of significantly altering their circumstances and those of their families.  
  • We must change our definition of poverty to include only those who lack the necessities of life (food, clothing and shelter) rather than those who live below a certain income level.
  • We must stop incentivizing dependence.  If the possibility of increasing income by $10,000.00 per year comes at the cost of losing $15,000.00 per year in benefits, is it reasonable to believe many are going to take advantage of that?
  • We must find a way to distinguish between those who can't work for whatever reason and those who won't work.  A long time ago, there was a man named Paul who said "If a man won't work, don't feed him."  The obvious point?  If he gets hungry enough, he'll work.
  • We need to leave our kids with a legacy of a strong work ethic.  My dad used to say "hard work won't kill you."  Included in this work ethic must be a real sense of gratitude that they have the opportunity to work and earn an income.
  • We must extinguish in our kids this sense of entitlement so many of them seem to have.  Contrary to what many would suggest, the world does not owe them or anyone else a living.
Note: Some have criticized me in other places for what I've said here by suggesting "that's easy for a person to say who has never been unemployed or had to go on public assistance."  Let me be clear.  I have been both unemployed and on public assistance.  I hated it.  I didn't like the way I felt when I was in those circumstances or the amount of control it gave others over my life.  As a result, my goals were really simple; to get a job and get off public assistance as quickly as I could. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why now?


Yesterday was an important day.  It was, after all, 9/11.  So why wait until now to blog about it?  Because as important as I believe it is to remember the day and its significance, I believe it is equally important to maintain our resolve to protect our country and liberty the remaining 364 days of the year.  We have many nominal Christians who remember their faith on Christmas and Easter (in a good year).  I'm sure other religions have their own nominal adherents.  We really don't need any more nominal Americans.  We need Americans who are devoted to our country, to keeping it free and to making it better than it has ever been.

The Colorado recall

Like many pro-rights people I giggled at the results of the Colorado recall elections.  I also shook my head at two things.  First, I shook my head in disbelief at those on the anti-rights side who had spoken of the significance of the recall before the election but who now declared it irrelevant.  We can disagree as to its significance, but recall elections are hardly irrelevant.  Contrary to what some have suggested, disagreement with the way an elected representative votes is a perfectly valid reason for a recall, if the disagreement is strong enough and if the disagreement is over something the voters view as fundamentally important.  To me, it seems simple.  You either represent your constituents and their will or you get to go home.  Second, I shook my head at the pro-rights people who seem to think the recall has put the final nail in the coffin of anti-rights groups.  It did not.  They aren't going away and if any of them do, it's almost a guarantee they'll come back under another name, but with many of the same players (remember the National Council to Control Handguns, I mean Handgun Control, Inc...er, The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence?)  It is the nature of anti-rights people and groups to concern themselves with the activities of others.  That's what they do.  They aren't going to change their nature simply because they've lost a battle.  They will never go away. Rather than celebrating too much, we need to take the momentum gained and use it for the next battle. Trust me, if they had won the recall they would capitalize on their momentum.  We must do the same.  It's going to be a long battle and it is far from over.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

On freedom

Fellow blogger Greg Camp recently posted an insightful piece on the Constitution.  While I'm reproducing one of my comments here, I suggest you take the time to read the original posting and the comments that followed.  WARNING: If you have no Scottish, Irish or Danish ancestors the last few comments may be lost on you.

I tell all my clients that there are two things that lead to freedom. Those are choice and accountability. Many people “shy away” from both, but especially accountability. Together, they make it clear that I, and only I, am responsible for my life. My life has turned out the way it has because of the choices I’ve made. Thus, if I want things to be different, I must learn to make different choices. I must also be willing to “pay the price” for the choices I make. If things turn out well as a result of my choices, that’s great! If things turn out otherwise, that’s also great because they were my choices and I can still change things…by changing my choices. This is freedom.
Just as choice and accountability lead to freedom, freedom requires those who would enjoy it to exercise those two things. It may be that it’s here we find the problem for those who favor group rights over individual liberty. I’m beginning to believe they fear the implications of individual responsibility and accountability, for both themselves and others. A fear that some others are unfit to exercise choice and accountability and that to allow them to do so will result in widespread chaos and social collapse. The way to deal with that? Limit choice and disperse accountability. Fewer choices means a person is less likely to make a bad one (though there is the regrettable but unavoidable result of limiting the benefit of making good choices). The dispersion of accountability keeps people from “paying the price” for bad choices (note: I’m not discussing criminal activity here) thus, their situation is more likely to be about the same as that of everyone else.
My point is this: Freedom scares some people. They are terrified of the idea that they and those around them are solely responsible for how their lives turn out. They seek the security provided by an ever increasing house of rules, laws and regulations. If others are less fortunate, then the cure is even more laws, more rules and more intrusion into the lives of others. This, too, provides security. After all, if a person born in less fortunate circumstances achieves success all or largely on his own, it asks the question “why didn’t I, born into more favorable circumstances, achieve far more than I have?” However, with a massive set of laws, rules and regulations in place, the other person’s success can be attributed largely to those rules. This may be the most subtle form of prejudice the world has yet seen.
Which brings us back to the Constitution. It serves to both define a government and to limit its power to intrude upon the rights of individuals. The point of this, I am convinced, was to maximize the opportunity of individuals to make their own choices and enjoy the benefits of good ones (and pay the price of bad ones). Certainly, this was tied to economics and finances (“property”…after all, we grew out of the Enlightenment, especially the Scottish Enlightenment), but the results were far reaching. Great Britain, with whom the United States has long enjoyed a special relationship (since the Great Rapprochement) has never been as free as the U.S. The British government started its move toward ever increasing control over its citizens (as all governments do) earlier than ours. It also started from a position of greater control, because there were in place far fewer limits on its power. This is helpful to those who will learn. Our mutual language, shared history and related cultures allow us to see what happens when those limitations are not in place…and to foresee what is likely should those limitations be removed. This is why I am so opposed to any efforts to restrict the freedoms protected by the document, particularly those found in the first ten amendments. They were written so as to place profound, some might even say severe, restrictions upon the power of government and to allow individuals to fully experience the benefits and consequences of making their own decisions.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that I'm correct.  Freedom doesn't just scare some people.  It terrifies them.  Contemplating a society that values, embraces and promotes true liberty produces within them a psychological discomfort that is completely unacceptable.  It leaves them with the feeling that they are "just hanging out there, all alone." The only way they see to combat this fear is to place ever increasing limits on freedom. Encompassed by walls of rules, regulations and laws, they feel safer and their psychological comfort increases.  Seldom does it occur to such people to acknowledge their fear and work through it so they can experience greater freedom.  That freedom could be worth the risk and uncertainty it carries is never seriously contemplated.  Freedom is, instead, an abstract concept, talked about and touted as desirable for groups of people, but not considered something to be truly experienced in very real and concrete ways.
Allow me to give an example from religion.  As a person from a conservative Christian background, I've seen this in the way many people view Christianity.  Uncomfortable with the idea that Christianity might be more about a relationship based upon a few simple principles (and even fewer rules) than it is about laws, people (both Christians and non-Christians) erect elaborate regulatory and theological structures to decrease their psychological discomfort. Suggesting that these folks, and their elaborate schemes, are wrong frequently brings their wrath down on your head because you've greatly increased their psychological discomfort. Whether branded a heretic by one group or ignorant and intolerant by another (or both, on a good day) the reason has less to do with the nature of your belief than it does the threat perceived by the other person's subconscious.  For the believer, specifically, he finds himself surrounded by an ever increasing wall of rules that he not only cannot keep perfectly, but that he frequently finds himself tempted to break.  This produces its own psychological discomfort, but it's not as great as the one produced by contemplating freedom.  Please note, I'm not arguing for the truth of Christianity here.  Rather, I'm addressing a mindset regarding freedom.  
When we turn back to the secular realm we see the same thing.  A huge mass of laws provides a feeling of security for some people, but they are accompanied by this urge to violate them at times.  "I know the sign says 65 mph.  Still, I bet I can get away with driving just a little bit faster" is a normal human response to rules.  "I wonder if I can get away with not reporting this $100.00 in income?" is equally normal.  The number of examples is endless, but the point remains the same.  Laws produce within us the urge to break them.  So, here I am, surrounded by laws which I sometimes want to break for no good reason (on a 10 mile trip 75 mph doesn't get me there significantly faster than 65 mph and for most people $100.00 doesn't make a huge difference in taxes), uncomfortable and sometimes irritated by the intrusion of government into my life, but willing to put up with it to avoid the greater discomfort of freedom.
The people who truly have the opportunity to experience freedom and the benefits it can bring usually come to love it.  In fact, they get really annoyed when someone suggests they should accept more externally imposed restrictions on their freedom.  Instead of being willing to tolerate less freedom, they actually want more.  They don't want it just for themselves.  This is my experience: The people I know who enjoy the greatest amounts of personal freedom desperately want the same for other people.  I've noticed that they frequently want it for others more than others want it for themselves.  They don't want to take advantage of other people or abuse them.  They don't want to violate the rights of others.  They want to be free and they want others to at least have the opportunity to do the same.  Sometimes they are viewed as cold, heartless and uncaring because they frequently refuse to do things that enable others to continue to live in bondage.  That's not the case.  It's just that they're willing for others to experience some hardship if it offers any hope of moving them even a tiny bit toward freedom and independence.
Freedom is real.  It's not simply an abstract idea.  It's something that can be experienced in the "real world" of everyday life by those who want it badly enough.  The question, of course, is how badly do you want it?
I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A long time...

I haven't posted anything here in weeks. In fact, it's been over a month.  There are some reasons for that.

  • Running a business takes a lot of time.  I spent decades working for other people.  Now that I have my own business, doing what I love to do, I have to work harder on it than I ever did at my military or civilian jobs.  Hey, I like to eat, okay?
  • Disgust was, and remains, a factor.  As much as I like to discuss a lot of social, economic, political and religious issues, I've rediscovered something I learned long ago.  There are people, including some who agree with me and some who disagree, who are toxic.  After a while I become weary of debating instead of discussing, arguing instead of debating and fighting instead of arguing.  I also noticed that the nasty and negative attitudes of some others were beginning to affect me in a negative way.  As a result, there are sites I just refuse to visit, anymore.  Some of you may still go to some of those places.  I wish you well.  I simply do not have the time or energy to spend debating those who to all appearances, lie, deceive and malign.  My time and energy are far better spent, I believe, educating and helping those who wish to be educated.  As I've said before, I don't insist you agree with me, but I do insist that you be honest if we're going to talk.
I'll be back.  I'm not done.  To those who have taken the time to read this blog and to comment both publicly and privately I say "thank you."  Stand by, there's more to come.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I can't stand it, anymore!

Where shall I begin with this rant?

Civil liberties

 I don't care if  you are a pro-rights person or an anti-rights person. Okay. That's a little unfair. I don't care if you advocate for more and increasing freedom or if you think current and increasing restrictions on liberty are okay, I am pretty much done discussing things with people who lie, impugn the motives of others and call names in the name of "truth."  Here's a newsflash: The truth does not need that kind of help. It has always done quite well on its own and there is every reason to believe it will continue to do so. It might take a while, but that's okay. If you believe, that since truth is found in the encounter between a hearer/reader and the narrative, it's okay to twist the facts in the interest of a "greater truth" (the one endorsed by your narrative), it doesn't matter what position you occupy on any issue. You are a liar. It doesn't matter if I agree with your basic position or not. You're still a liar. Got that? You...are...a...liar. Calling other people liars does not make you less of one. If you are convinced someone else is a liar, though your only evidence is that he or she doesn't agree with your position or analysis, you are also an idiot appear to be frightfully unaware of what constitutes evidence, proof, sound logic or awareness of your own bias.

It's a conspiracy/plot

Chem trails. Stop. Please, just stop. You make my head hurt. We have ample evidence that wing tip vortices and other contrails are not only naturally occurring events, but that they also do last longer than a few seconds or minutes in the absence of any scheme or plot.

No. There is no individual or organization that has the ability to control your mind and thoughts with nanotechnology. Nor can they see through your eyes and hear through your ears. They cannot retrieve your thoughts.

Yes, we did (successfully) send men to the moon...and brought them home. I know it offends you. It happens to be true.

The world is not flat. Feel free to ignore the pictures taken from space. Ask the ancient Greeks. Ask the royal navigators of Columbus' day. Consider the Viking hoards that contain items from China.

The world, financial or otherwise, is not controlled by: the "Illuminati", Jews, Nazis, Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key, space aliens, George Soros, George Bush or any combination thereof. Incidentally, every American President has not been a member of Skull and Bones

Now, some people only embrace a few of these ideas. Some, however, because we know governments do lie, cheat and deceive citizens, seem to feel compelled to believe everything is evidence of one conspiracy or another. If that describes you, please try to remember that if all the things of which you accuse our government/business/religious institutions were true, there would be no need to hide them.


In spite of frequent comments to the contrary, you actually can prove a negative, universal or otherwise. People make a mistake and confuse data with logic. The scientific idea of functionality and the philosophical ability to prove something are not the same thing. Some things may be functionally difficult to prove but philosophically far easier. For instance, I can say there are no fish with fur. If your objection is that I can't prove it because I haven't collected every fish in the world, that's a functional difficulty. Philosophically, I can say there is no evidence of currently living fish with fur and that, therefore, fish do not have fur. In some cases, that is as close to proof as we can come. It's dependent, in part, upon the size of your universe.There are a lot of fish in the world, but relatively few people living in most houses. So, let me give another example. There are five people living in my house. No one in living in my house is a Muslim. Therefore, there are no Muslims living in my house. In this case, it is far easier to test all the members of the set.  However, the philosophical argument remains the same. To insist that for something to be proven we must know everything about every member of a set is to be content knowing and accepting very little at all.

"Common sense" is an adequate substitute for neither logic nor research. Is it easier? Much easier. Is it faster? It is faster by far, especially if we are talking about research that uses the scientific method. It's also far more prone to being influenced by our individual experiences and beliefs. For instance, as an RN I know a lot of other RNs, many of whom work in Labor and Delivery (L&D). Virtually every L&D nurse I know insists more babies are born on the full moon than on any other single day. The weight of the research, though, does not support such a belief. There are a number of reasons given for the persistence of the idea, but most of them come down to experience and belief. The same thing is true in other areas. A person who insists that he or she prefers common sense to logic and research is far more likely to be influenced by his experiences and pre-existing beliefs than he might be if he used logic and research. I am the last person to deny that research can be tedious, or that it can be biased or misinterpreted. But to reject research because all research isn't perfect, or because it is slow, painfully detailed and lumbering,  is silly. Such an attitude denies us the benefits of research and the possibility of learning something new (and possibly challenging, which I suspect gets to the heart of the matter).

"You can prove anything with statistics." Actually, not true. I've spoken with a number of statisticians. Every one of them has said statistics prove nothing. In fact, when used in properly designed research, they are designed to disprove the hypothesis being tested (the "null" hypothesis). What people often mean is "since statistics can be misused I don't like them and refuse to have anything to do with them." Statistics are a tool. Like any other tool they can be used properly and they can be misused. So can research. So can logic. And, yes, so too can common sense. If I am to be consistent, if I reject statistics because it can be misused, I must reject these other three as well.

"I don't care what you say." That may be true. If you spend a significant amount of time and energy reminding me of how little you care about what I say, allow me to suggest that Shakespeare was correct about someone protesting too much. Likewise, if you publish a blog and insist that you don't care if anyone reads it, your veracity is...suspect. If you don't care if anyone reads it, why not simply write a private journal?

"You're too stupid/foolish/uneducated/blind to understand the truth of my arguments and the foolishness of  yours." Socrates would have had this person for lunch. "You are correct" he might say. "How shall an old man such as I learn or see my way out of this darkness if one such as you will not teach me?" It's still a valid response. I like Socrates, at least when he argued. He played to win.

This concludes this rant.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Trial by jury

I have no idea how the trial of George Zimmerman will turn out.  Meaning,  I don't know what the jury will decide.  I haven't been watching it that closely, but I have been somewhat deluged by comments from several people who have strong opinions regarding both Zimmerman and the trial.  It's those comments and the beliefs they seem to reflect that interest me far more than the Zimmerman trial.

At the start, let me be clear.  I don't know or pretend to know what happened the night Zimmerman killed Martin.  Nothing I say here should be construed as indicating my opinion as to whether Zimmerman is guilty or not guilty. The only living person who knows is Zimmerman.  The rest of us can only, at best, form opinions based on the facts.  For those of us not in the courtroom, those facts are, by definition, filtered and received secondhand if we're fortunate, or after passing through even more people and more individual filters if we're less fortunate.  This means that a majority of us, or a sizable minority of us, may form an opinion of Zimmerman's guilt or innocence that differs significantly from that of the jury.

I've read a lot lately about the right to a "trial by a jury of your peers."  This is a phrase found nowhere in the Constitution.  We do have a right to trial by jury.  We do not have a right, as expressed in the Constitution, to a trial by a jury of our peers. Article 3, Section 2 of the Constitution requires all criminal trials be heard by a jury and that the trial be heard in the state where the crime was committed.  The 6th Amendment adds the requirement that the jury be impartial.  The 7th Amendment requires that certain Federal civil trials be heard by a jury if the amount exceeds twenty dollars.

The right to a trial by a jury of one's peers comes from the Magna Carta, which gave nobles the right to be judged by their peers (the "peerage" referring to the nobility) rather than by the king.  A trial by a jury of one's peers, then, requires that there be a peerage.  Since we don't have a nobility, we have no peerage, at least not in the truest sense of the word.  The American ideal is that we are all equals regardless of our differences.  So, then, any voting citizen is my peer.  I say voting citizen because suffrage and jury service have always been closely tied.  The point of this is that a person need not be judged by a jury of people who are as much like him or her as possible for the jury to be impartial.

The right against self-incrimination is found in the 5th Amendment.  It's importance can't be overstated.  We cannot be compelled to incriminate ourselves.  Following from this basic civil liberty, we get the idea that refusing to incriminate oneself is not an admission of guilt and that it should not be viewed as an indicator of guilt.  It's disturbing to hear and read comments from people who clearly view the refusal to speak as evidence of guilt.  Frequently, the comments suggest that "an innocent person would have nothing to fear if he or she spoke."  This might be true, if history didn't provide us with examples of people wrongfully convicted based, in part, on their decision to speak.  Also, the burden of proof is placed squarely upon the shoulders of the prosecution.  It is their job to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  It is not the job of the defendant to prove otherwise.

Related to the above is a concept that we sometimes fail to understand.  When a jury finds a person "not guilty" that is not the same as "innocent."  It means that person's guilt has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  The prosecution has not made it's case.  In most cases we are simply unable to have access to nothing but perfectly clear, complete and unequivocal fact.  This means that juries must make a decision as to whether the prosecution has met its burden of proof based on the facts as they are presented.  As a result, "not guilty" is the best they can do.  Now, "not guilty" may mean the jury thinks the defendant is innocent, but remember, at some point a grand jury found sufficient cause to believe the same person was likely guilty.  A good example is the first OJ Simpson trial.  I had one defense attorney, two prosecutors and one LEO of almost twenty years experience all tell me, early on in the trial that (in the words of one of the prosecutors) "if that's the best the state can do, he will walk."  After the verdict I saw an interview with some of the jurors.  Each of them said they were concerned that they had released a murderer but that the state had not met its burden of proof.  Things were not made better by having the lead prosecutor disagree using the "I did too!' defense.  In the case of Zimmerman, if the jury finds him not guilty, that will not mean he is innocent.  Harvard Law professor and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz had this to say about both Zimmerman and the concept of "not guilty."

I think it likely, regardless of the verdict in the Zimmerman case, that there will be a significant number of people who find the verdict an example of a gross miscarriage of justice or even some sort of right wing/left wing plot.  You can, of course, believe whatever you want.  I prefer to believe juries really do the best job they can, often in difficult cases in which the evidence is less than clear.  While I may agree or disagree with the decision handed down by the jury, I think I'll stick with that belief.