Opinionated @ CFE

Libertarianism and Localism

May
25

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of libertarianism. I generally like government to take as light as hand as is necessary to get things done. I’m also a fan of government decisions being made as close as possible to those being affected. This ensures that bad decisions are contained and many potential good solutions can be tried and tweaked. I think these two ideologies go hand-in-hand, but it seems that all too many, at least in practice, disagree.

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Balanced Budget Pitfalls

May
20

Since long before I was on this earth, politicos of all stripes have frequently talked about balanced budgets, both at the state and federal levels. Many states have adopted laws or even constitutional amendments to ensure that, unlike the feds, expenditures do not exceed revenues. In many cases, these help keep states from going gorging on debt spending. There are, however, a number of pitfalls lurking just around the corner that can thwart the intention of such laws and even serve as an impediment to sound government finances.

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Has the Internet Made Professional Licensing Obsolete?

May
17

Odds are good that if you want to practice a particular profession or trade, the state requires that you complete a specific course of training, pass some exams, and renew a license with them, sometimes requiring additional training. This is often sold as a way to ensure that everyone in a profession is competent to perform the job and helps protect the public from rank amateurs. The reality, however, is a much uglier thing revealing that industries often seek to be regulated and licensed as a way to cut down on competition and set up barriers to entry. It could be said that despite this, we still get a valuable service in weeding out those few bad actors. But with the Internet available to quickly spread both positive and negative feedback on businesses and individuals, is licensing even worth it anymore?

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The Unsustainability of Pensions

Feb
27

There aren’t a lot of cases where I find myself in agreement with Ezra Klein on economic issues, but on pensions, I think he may have nailed it. For those unfamiliar, pensions are little more than a way to say “I’ll gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today”. Employees often take a smaller paycheck now so that they can collect income after they retire or leave their position. Unfortunately, the arrangement allows for a lot of lying and number fudging along the way.

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The College Degree Isn’t the Problem; the High School Diploma is

Feb
04

Sen. Howard Stephenson, with whom I often disagree, made some waves when he declared that college might be a waste of time. On the surface, it seems like a silly argument. College graduates still earn more than non-graduates and many skilled job positions still require a degree. That said, the return on investment has been getting much longer and many skilled professional without degrees often have just as much earning potential. I think this opens up a broader discussion on the real value of a college degree and a high school diploma.

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How Socialist Is Your Transportation?

Jan
20

One of the loudest screams you’ll hear from so-called “conservatives” (whatever that label means anymore) is that mass transit is a wasteful hole of socialism and should be first on the chopping block. The complaint is that a mass transit trip often requires twice as much money as is collected in fares, effectively a 50% subsidy. That would hold some water, except that here in Utah, highways are receiving a scant 33% of their maintenance and construction costs from user fees. Even the much-maligned Amtrak is managing to collect 46% of its costs in fares. Nationally, highways are mustering 51% of their costs from user fees.

So apparently the difference between the “proper role of government” and “wasteful socialist boondoggle” is, at best, around 5% of costs. Just so you know.

Local Government Websites Suck (And They Don't Have To!)

Jan
13

Local government is the most important level of government there is. No level has more power to directly impact your day-to-day life with services such as police, fire, garbage pick-up, and plowing. Because of this impact, it’s important to try and keep up with what they’re doing. It can often be really hard, though, to show up to meetings from 2-4 times a month and sit through lengthy discussions about zoning, business permits, and other mundane but necessary minutiae of running a city or county. Because I’m at home every evening with a toddler while my wife goes to school, it’s near-impossible for me to make the trek of almost 90 blocks to keep tabs on the Salt Lake County Council. I thought I could find an easy way to keep up on them via the county website; I thought wrong.

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On Civility

Jan
10

There’s been a lot of talk about civility, but most of it is so much well-intentioned non-specific background noise. Civility is one of those things like mom, apple pie, and America that you can profess belief in and yet know nothing about. I think only a few steps are needed to truly achieve those lofty and nebulous goals.

First off, you should generally be operating under the assumption that your political opponent on an issue has as much of a deep desire to do what’s best for the country/state/county/city as you do. This isn’t to say that those who seek to use power either for their personal gain or for its own sake do not exist, but they are very much a minority. Most of the people I’ve dealt with on the opposite side of the table truly believe that their way is best; insulting them by ascribing some kind of deep, Machiavellian malice to them is likely to get you nowhere but a screaming match.

Second, name-calling, while sometimes fun, doesn’t help matters at all. Calling someone a “pinko commie bedwetter” or a “fascist goose-stepping thug” might seem like a good idea and be personally satisfying, but it’s the “adult” equivalent of calling someone a doody-head. That might score you points with your own crowd, but you will alienate both those on the other side and many who haven’t made up their mind on the issue with your blatant and obvious childishness.

Third, there is rarely any consensus among coalitions, so don’t assume that someone on the “other” side isn’t willing to work with you. All political parties, even the smaller ones, consist of coalitions and factions. They often have some kind of nebulous agreement on some broader topics, but rarely will they actually concur on specific details. The Republicans often fight between the libertarians, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, neo-conservatives, paleo-conservatives, moderates, and a host of other groups who all want their seat at the table. The Democrats fare no better with progressives, liberals, socialists, Blue Dogs, libertarians, greens, and many others who similarly want to steer the fate of the party. Even small parties like the Constitution Party have warring factions that fight over specific policy positions.

Which brings me to point four. Assuming that any individual has adopted all tenants of their chosen political label is overly simplistic. Any Republican or Democrat can likely cite at least a half-dozen things their party does that boils their blood. Most libertarians and minarchists have their limits as to how little government they are actually willing to accept. Also don’t forget that many independents are that way because both parties likely do things they’d rather not be associated with. It’s really easy to say “you call yourself a libertarian, so you must believe X” or “you believe X, so you’re obviously a Republican”, but it is rarely accurate and often just leads to off-topic shouting matches where people have to try and label themselves.

The fifth and final point is that we often all want the same goals, just with different means to attain it. I don’t know anyone who likes dirty air, unemployment, or people dying in the streets. Grandstanding by saying that your opponent likes and wants those things is flat-out lying any way you slice it. Sure, criticize a policy approach to your heart’s content and point out any flaws you see in it, but don’t forget Hanlon’s Razor while doing it. Also don’t be afraid to point out ideas you like; that small gesture doesn’t cede any ground, but rather gets your opponent to drop their defenses just a small bit and consider your solution.

Is all of this easy to do? Sure, in theory. The practice can sometimes be very, very difficult, especially if you’re the only one doing it. In the long term, I think it’s worth it.

Education Policy in a Nutshell

May
05

The attitude of the education establishment can be easily summarized: “Ask us to try something different and we’ll just call it a waste of time and money. In fact, just give us more money to do the same thing we’ve been doing with no kind of institutional change and expect better results. And if it doesn’t work, you didn’t give us enough money. Whatever you do, don’t base any part of our compensation upon results, just on how long we can outlast the others.”

Teachers unions always talk out of both sides of their mouths. They tell us that they are advocates for quality education, but their actions and primary function are all about the Benjamins. Individual teachers and administrators may care, but they are ground up like so much steak in the meat grinder of powerful interests more concerned with money than educating kids.

Legislators do the same thing. They talk a good game about local control and letting teachers excel. When it come down to it, most of them end up making a big pile of rules for teachers to follow that does nothing but soak up time and make it impossible to innovate. Many school boards are no better. They treat professional adults like small children who are incapable of making decent judgment calls.

Anyone who supports this kind of entrenchment is an enemy to both quality education and the taxpayer. Get rid of the grandstanding legislators, the overbearing administrators, and the money-hungry unions and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see some exciting things happen in education.

Constitutionalist is a Word without Meaning

May
04

A lot of people call themselves constitutionalists. Almost universally they claim a particular view of the US Constitution and what it means. And again, almost universally, that view is that of the anti-federalists. The implication is that federalists like Madison and Hamilton were heretics and can be conveniently forgotten when discussing the formation of this nation. That view is wrong.

I do not agree with the views of federalists. I do not subscribe to the notion that the balance of power should be tipped towards the federal government at the expense of the states. I do not support the idea that the Constitution is open to creative interpretations that turn it into a blank check for Congress. I do not think that Hamilton was even a particularly nice or honorable guy. And I do not think that their views can be written off since they were a very important part of the process of creating our nation’s founding document.

Constitutionalist and anti-federalist are not synonymous. To try and make them so it to try and re-write history.

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