When I was Nevada controller, my deputy James Smack had an inspired idea.
On the Transparent Nevada web site of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, he searched pay levels of state employees with “controller” in their job titles. After eliminating air traffic controllers, he found he was ninth and I was tenth.
We knew his pay was higher than mine because our salaries were dictated by statute. What was surprising was that eight state employees with a controller job title made more than us. They were all employed in the colleges, universities and Desert Research Institute.
This illustrated that non-academic pay in Nevada higher education is above market levels, as we already knew. Full-time academic pay is also high because it competes with only the bloated levels at other colleges. Throughout academe, full-time faculty and administrative compensation is very high, while that for part-time (adjunct) faculty is very low.
I don’t raise this matter to complain that our pay was too low. Even if it should be higher, no one forced me to run or James to take his job.
However, Nevada local government pay, especially in the two large counties and in public safety, is unduly high due to very powerful unions. In higher education, the problem is the board of regents is as weak as local governments. Thus, costs – and taxes – continue to rise due to ever-increasing staffing, especially in administrative areas, and very high compensation.
Total compensation for Nevada state employees is closer to private market levels and in the mid-range for state employees around the country.
Now, however, state employees can bargain collectively for compensation. So, we can expect their compensation and staffing levels to soar too – unless governor Steve Sisolak and his successors make good use of their statutory power to restrain the results of collective bargaining. I commend my former regent colleague the Governor for insisting that a gubernatorial veto be included in the legislation allowing state employee collective bargaining.
I also commend his two other recent thoughtful actions on related fronts. First, reining in the excesses, overreach and illegal actions of state boards and commissions, especially those regulating occupations. Second, taking on the use by such agencies and others of outside lobbyists to get more funding from the legislature, often contrary to the governor’s proposed budget and usually at very high fees. (They also spend too much staff time lobbying an d on public relations.)
All these costs contribute to raising our taxes.
And to making state government ever more opaque and less accountable.
Government at state and local levels, just as much as the federal government, has shifted from limited and enumerated powers, spending restraint, and resulting accountability to unlimited powers, wanton spending and tax increases, and an uncontrollable administrative state.
While state and local governments may not yet have developed the really sinister Deep State “intelligence,” spying and police powers now being exposed in Washington, they are working on creating such a nationwide swamp with extensive police powers.
None of this should be surprising, because it’s all in the nature of government and public employee unions.
The people who run and staff public agencies, just like those in the private sector, want more pay, power, perks and prestige. And less work for each of them to do, less accountability and fewer restraints on their actions and prerogatives. They’re only human.
This leads them to seek ever higher pay rates and benefits, more people to work with and for them, and higher expenses and capital budgets. And especially less accountability to voters, taxpayers, governors and legislatures.
People in the private sector have the same instincts. This isn’t a matter of better or lesser folks in either sector.
The difference is that in the private sector there are inherent restraints, especially on spending, pay and staffing levels. Businesses can’t just raise their prices willy-nilly, as governments do taxes, because they’ll lose sales, customers and revenues. And their powers are restrained by law and government.
That’s why, in general, the private sector works better than government, which keeps metastasizing and burdening us further. Government and public employee unions are, by their very natures, predatory upon the public, interest and taxpayers. And little restrained.
Thanksgiving dinner is always a big event at the Knecht home, but it will be delayed this year. Ron will be in the hospital recovering from major back surgery.
When folks have heard about this, they have given the normal and appreciated expressions of concern and support. Ron’s response has been to thank them and say that, really, it’s a great event, a source of joy and real thanksgiving.
For, if anyone had the conditions that require this surgery 100 years ago, it was not then available. So, by this point in life or fairly soon the person would have been in a wheel chair or bed for the rest of his life.
Instead, while it is a major event today, it is something that can be scheduled for minimum time away from the job and when it’s convenient in a person’s life. Soon, Ron expects to be free of pain he has experienced for years, then fully recovered and restored to what he was able to do before the back problems began to seriously crimp his life.
We can all be thankful for the doctors, physical therapists and other medical professionals who do the remarkable things to provide such services and otherwise restore us to good health and function. And, of course, to the incredible people and businesses that developed and commercialized these near miracles.
In the words of the Founding Fathers, we also thank Divine Providence.
But we also see something else that’s essential and for which we are thankful. None of this would be possible without rapid economic growth and the limited government, individual liberty and economic freedom that foster such growth.
What’s the connection between those three factors, rapid economic growth and modern medical wonders?
For almost all human history, people did not have limited government, individual liberty and economic freedom. So, for thousands of years, economic growth was glacially slow. Thus, it could truly be said that one’s lot in life for almost everyone was that of their parents. From this fact, philosophy, religion and people’s approach to life tended to be quite fatalistic. The modern American ideas of opportunity, self determination and Horatio Alger tales was unknown and would have seemed strange, or even heretical, to most people.
But about 350 years ago, Britain began to develop the political and economic institutions, practices and policies that flowered even further in its colonies and became the framework for American government and society, as well as that of Britain. So, in the 19th Century, the US and Britain came to dominate the world economically and otherwise. Other countries followed, and to the extent they adopted those institutions, etc. that economists have identified, they also prospered.
Economic growth means people’s lives are not wholly consumed with providing the basics of food, shelter, warm clothing, etc. Instead, they have time and extra resources remaining after taking care of those needs to devote to other matters.
For example, they can gain education and indulge music and the arts. They can build the big businesses that make cities possible. And they can create institutions that take care of the poor, conduct research and ultimately create the medical, communications, transportation, industrial and other wonders that make modern life so rich.
Thus, today’s poor people enjoy goods and services that would have been unthinkable even for the richest nobles a century ago.
This is how rapid economic growth, fed by limited government, individual liberty and economic freedom produced the remarkable services and goods that will give Ron and millions of others a new lease on life instead of ending their productive times and joy of life. Without the rapid economic growth we have enjoyed the last 200 years, those things would not be possible for people even a millennium from now.
So, we invite you to join us this year in giving thanks for the limited government, individual liberty and economic freedom that produced rapid economic growth and these tangible blessings.
We’ve noted before that rapid growth has disintegrated in the last decade because those three factors have eroded over many decades and especially recently. Let’s work to restore all parts of this equation to yield even greater miracles for our children.
Last week I presented basic facts and issues around family income inequality in America, a hot political issue in the last decade. Today, let’s turn to the related matter of wealth inequality.
First, the distinction between them. Income refers to the net money or benefits we receive each period of time – typically, a week or month. It includes pay for work; earnings from savings and investments; “transfer payments” such as social security, welfare, food stamps, health care subsidies, etc. The sum of all those items, less the taxes folks pay directly or indirectly, constitutes income.
Wealth is the net value of all we own. The value of our homes, bank and investment accounts, vehicles, personal property, businesses and real estate, etc., less the amounts we owe in mortgages, auto, consumer and student credit, etc. Economists call income a “flow” variable and wealth a “stock” variable.
Two outstanding analysts at Washington’s Cato Institute, Chris Edwards and Ryan Bourne, assisted by David Kemp, produced a 74-page in-depth analysis this month titled, “Exploring Wealth Inequality.” To best fit their findings into this column, below I quote from their summary, which has stated them far beyond my poor power to add or subtract (as Lincoln said at Gettysburg).
“Many political leaders and pundits consider wealth inequality to be a major economic and social problem. They complain about a shift of wealth to the top at everyone else’s expense and about plutocrats dominating policymaking in Washington.
“Is wealth inequality the crisis that some people believe? This study examines six aspects of wealth inequality and discusses the evidence for the claims being made.
“Section 1 describes how wealth inequality has risen in recent years but by less than is often asserted in the media. Indeed, wealth inequality has changed surprisingly little given the large economic changes in recent decades from technology and globalization. Furthermore, most estimates overstate wealth inequality because they do not include the effects of social programs.
“Section 2 argues that wealth inequality data tell us nothing about levels of poverty or prosperity and thus are not useful for guiding public policy. Wealth inequality may reflect innovation in a growing economy that is raising overall living standards, or it may reflect cronyism that causes economic damage.
“Section 3 examines the sources of wealth for the richest Americans. Most of today’s wealthy are business people who built their fortunes by adding to economic growth, and some have created major innovations that benefit all of us. The share of the wealthy who inherited their fortunes has sharply declined in recent decades.
“Section 4 looks at cronyism, which refers to insiders and businesses securing narrow tax, spending, and regulatory advantages. Cronyism is one cause of wealth inequality, and it has likely increased over time as the government has grown.
“Section 5 explains how the growing welfare state has increased wealth inequality. Government programs for retirement, healthcare, and other benefits have reduced the incentives and the ability of non wealthy households to accumulate savings and thus have increased wealth inequality.
“Section 6 examines whether wealth inequality undermines democracy, which is a frequent claim of the political left. Research shows that wealthy people do not have homogeneous views on policy and do not have an outsized ability to get their goals enacted in Washington.
“In sum, wealth inequality has increased modestly but mainly because of general economic growth and entrepreneurs creating innovations that are broadly beneficial. Nonetheless, policymakers should aim to reduce inequality by ending cronyist programs and reducing barriers to wealth-building by moderate-income households.”
The authors title their second section, “Poverty Matters, Not Inequality,” and they show that poverty has greatly decreased domestically and around the world in recent decades – greatly due to the creation of wealth by those at the top.
As I noted last week, recent research shows that when transfer payments and taxes are included, the average yearly income of American families in the lowest income quintile (20 percent) is $50,901 and that of top-quintile families is $194,906. That’s a ratio of 3.8:1, not the erroneous much higher figures often quoted by liberals, progressives, class warriors and mainstream media.
As my friend Joe Morabito notes: “The poor are not poor because the rich are rich.”
Income inequality among Americans has been a major subject of debate for a decade, and ever more so with leftwing extremists now dominating the ranks of Democratic presidential aspirants. So, let’s get the basic facts and issues straight.
A salient claim in this area comes from the French economist Thomas Piketty in his 2014 book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, a 700-page tome. His starting point is that the rate of return on capital investment is generally significantly greater than the growth rate of a market economy (or, r>>g). This is generally uncontested.
So, Piketty concludes that the rich, whose incomes derive greatly from their ownership of capital, will get ever greatly richer. On the other hand, the middle and lower classes, whose incomes derive mainly from their labor, will see those incomes increase only at the growth rate of the economy. Hence, they will fall ever farther behind the upper-income people.
If that were the full story, why didn’t income inequality spiral up long ago? In part, it’s because taxes burden upper classes very disproportionately and government transfer payments (mainly welfare, food stamps and health-care subsidies) are concentrated on the lower classes. Piketty’s comparisons are based on pre-tax income, not including transfer payments, as are almost all the data advanced by those obsessing about income inequality.
These folks also fail to adjust for declining household size in recent decades when they allege falsely that middle and lower family income levels have not increased. And Piketty’s analysis overlooks that the wealthy usually divide their estates among charities and various heirs and other folks when they pass it on, thus counteracting the fast growth of family incomes based on capital.
But the important point is that taxes and transfer payments have continued to grow relative to our economy. So, they now overwhelm every other factor, as shown by recent research by Phil Gramm, former economics professor and chairman of the Senate Banking Committee; and John F. Early, twice assistant commissioner at the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When we consider family incomes after taxes and public and private transfer payments, the story is very different from that based on the pre-tax and -transfers data. That’s because 80 percent of all taxes are paid by the top two income quintiles (that is, the top 40 percent) and 70 percent of all transfer payments are received by the bottom two quintiles. Aggregate taxes paid and transfers received by the middle quintile are almost exactly equal.
The average bottom-quintile household earns $4,908 annually while the average top-quintile household earns $295,904, or 60 times as much. But when we consider the $45,993 additional income the lowest-quintile homes get from public and private transfer payments, less taxes they pay, their average incomes rise to $50,901. For the top quintile, the net of taxes and transfers is a reduction of $100,998, leaving them with $194,906.
So, the real ratio between the top and bottom quintiles is only 3.8 times, not 60 times.
And government and the private sector shift enough net income to the lowest quintile to raise their net income to middle-class levels at $50,901.
So, is a 3.8:1 ratio fair and reasonable?
One important fact is that income mobility is higher in America than in most other countries.
Also, 50 years of increasing transfer payments and rising and progressive taxes have had another effect. When the War on Poverty transfers began in 1967, nearly 70 percent of bottom quintile prime-working-age adults were employed. Today, that figure is only 36 percent. For all the top three quintiles, however, labor-force participation has increased.
Ultimately, though, the question depends on what fairness is, as much as it does on data. Progressives, populists and class warriors erroneously claim it means equal outcomes for everyone. They forget that in market systems income flows to people roughly in proportion to the value they deliver to others – that is, proportionately to their contribution to human wellbeing and the public interest. Not so for systems that politically allocate resources.
Finally, recent research shows that three-quarters of the high incomes made by entrepreneurs flows from their own “human capital” contributions, not from the financial capital they employ. So, yes, 3.8:1 seems quite fair.
What are the main social, political and economic problems we face today?
I think they fall into two groups, economic-political and cultural.
The economic-political issues are the continuing and still growing over-reach of government, both domestically and in international affairs. Domestically, this means excess spending, taxing and borrowing by government at all levels since about 1960 – an excess that keeps growing every decade. These fiscal problems are enabled to some extent by the federal monetary policy of printing excess dollars and thus inflating the currency.
It also includes the ever-growing excess in regulation of all kinds – health, safety, environmental and economic. Plus government expansion into ever more sectors of the economy as a direct provider of services that would better be served by private markets.
The growing regulatory and intervention excess together make up the bulk of the modern administrative state; combined with excess government spending, it depresses economic growth. Slowing economic growth means people on average are less well-off than they would be without these excesses. That is, government excess diminishes aggregate human wellbeing – and also fairness.
Thus, from the 1960s to the Great Recession, we had real per-person growth in incomes of about 2 to 2.5 percent per year. During that time, the growing government excess was offset by favorable trends in population growth, labor force participation, debt both public and private, foreign trade and international economic growth. These trends are somewhat organic, but also greatly influenced by public policy.
In this century, all those favorable trends have reversed or slowed, and growth in government spending, regulation, etc. has continued. So, for the last decade, our per-person income growth has been less than half of what we all grew up with.
Per person real growth at 2 to 2.5 percent per year means that incomes, wealth and overall wellbeing double each generation. That’s a recipe for real progress – new medical cures, better diets, living standards of all kinds – and for general human happiness.
Growth at less than half those rates is a recipe for unhappiness, economic stagnation, political polarization and social upheaval such as we’ve seen in recent years. It will continue for as long as we have slow growth. And with continued government excess and the other problems driven by public policy, these problems may last for a long time.
A particular aspect will exacerbate these problems in the future. Generous payouts for social security, Medicare, and pension and benefits systems constitute a transfer of income from young people to older folks. These Ponzi schemes are, like all such schemes, unsustainable. They will breakdown or blow up in the future, damaging many people, families and businesses, and producing more social and political upheaval.
What’s the government excess in foreign affairs?
With the collapse of the Soviet evil empire – which, thank goodness, we helped precipitate – our foreign and intelligence Deep State looked for new adventures to keep its numbers employed and growing. The Deep State is the illegitimate child of the modern administrative state.
Certainly, Islamic-fascism is a major problem, but it doesn’t justify our continuous involvement in war in the Mideast and elsewhere, as favored by the Deep State.
It’s also promoting more strategic responses to our next major international problem, the ever-aggressive Chinese state. However, despite Chinese theft of intellectual property and similar aggressions, a trade war and tariffs are not the answer. They diminish overall human wellbeing here and in China.
Participation trophies, trigger warnings, safe spaces, etc. get more attention than they deserve. But they are the tip of the spear, reflecting a softening of society, a cult celebrating victim status, corrosive identity politics, and a deep sense of entitlement. These, coupled with government over-reach in social and political matters, are leading to an inversion of fundamental historic values and rights such as freedom of speech and religion, due process and the presumption of innocence, and Second Amendment self-defense.
What to do?
First, live a good life as a spouse, parent, friend, neighbor and citizen. Second, stay politically active to leave all our children and heirs a better legacy and life. For their sake, don’t give up.
United States Attorney General Bill Barr recently spoke at Notre Dame University. Last week I quoted from the first half of that speech. Today, from the second half. I add no commentary because he says it all so well:
“The call comes for more and more social programs to deal with the wreckage. While we think we are solving problems, we are underwriting them.
“Interestingly, this idea of the State as the alleviator of bad consequences has given rise to a new moral system that goes hand-in-hand with the secularization of society. It can be called the system of “macro-morality.” It is in some ways an inversion of Christian morality.
“Christianity teaches a micro-morality. We transform the world by focusing on our own personal morality and transformation.
“The new secular religion teaches macro-morality. One’s morality is not gauged by their private conduct, but rather on their commitment to political causes and collective action to address social problems.
“This system allows us to not worry so much about the strictures on our private lives, while we find salvation on the picket-line. We can signal our finely-tuned moral sensibilities by demonstrating for this cause or that.
“Something happened recently that crystalized the difference between these moral systems. I was attending Mass at a parish I did not usually go to in Washington, D.C. At the end of the Mass, the Chairman of the Social Justice Committee got up to give his report to the parish. He pointed to the growing homeless problem in D.C. and explained that more mobile soup kitchens were needed to feed them.
“This being a Catholic church, I expected him to call for volunteers to go out and provide this need. Instead, he recounted all the visits that the Committee had made to the D.C. government to lobby for higher taxes and more spending to fund mobile soup kitchen.
“A third phenomenon … is the way law is being used as a battering ram to break down traditional moral values and to establish moral relativism as a new orthodoxy.
“First, either through legislation but more frequently through judicial interpretation, secularists have been continually seeking to eliminate laws that reflect traditional moral norms.
“More recently, we have seen the law used aggressively to force religious people and entities to subscribe to practices and policies that are antithetical to their faith.
“The problem is not that religion is being forced on others. The problem is that irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith.
“[M]ilitant secularists today do not have a live and let live spirit – they are not content to leave religious people alone to practice their faith. Instead, they seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience.
“For example, the last Administration sought to force religious employers, including Catholic religious orders, to violate their sincerely held religious views by funding contraceptive and abortifacient coverage in their health plans.
“This refusal to accommodate the free exercise of religion is relatively recent. Just 25 years ago, there was broad consensus in our society that our laws should accommodate religious belief.
“Ground zero for these attacks on religion are the schools.
“The first front relates to the content of public school curriculum. Many states are adopting curriculum that is incompatible with traditional religious principles according to which parents are attempting to raise their children. They often do so without any opt out for religious families … [or] even warn[ing] parents about the lessons they plan to teach on controversial subjects relating to sexual behavior and relationships.
“A second axis of attack in the realm of education are state policies designed to starve religious schools of generally-available funds and encouraging students to choose secular options. [Cites Montana action based on anti-Catholic Blaine provision in its constitution.]
“A third kind of assault on religious freedom in education have been recent efforts to use state laws to force religious schools to adhere to secular orthodoxy. [Cites suit to force Catholic schools to employ teachers in same-sex marriages.]
“[A]s long as I am Attorney General, the Department of Justice will … fight for the most cherished of our liberties: the freedom to live according to our faith.”
United States Attorney General Bill Barr recently addressed some important issues at the University of Notre Dame. Excerpts follow (edited for space).
From the Founding Era onward, there was strong consensus about the centrality of religious liberty in the United States.
The imperative of protecting religious freedom was not just a nod in the direction of piety. It reflects the Framers’ belief that religion was indispensable to sustaining our free system of government.
They crafted a magnificent charter of freedom – the United States Constitution – which provides for limited government, while leaving “the People” broadly at liberty to pursue our lives both as individuals and through free associations.
This quantum leap in liberty has been the mainspring of unprecedented human progress, not only for Americans, but for people around the world.
In the 20th century, our form of free society has faced a severe test.
Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.
No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.
But, if you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with no liberty, just tyranny.
So, the Founders decided to take a gamble. They called it a great experiment.
They would leave “the People” broad liberty, limit the coercive power of government, and place their trust in self-discipline and the virtue of the American people.
[I]n the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people.
Modern secularists dismiss this idea of morality as other-worldly superstition imposed by a kill-joy clergy. In fact, Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct.
They reflect the rules that are best for man, not in the by and by, but in the here and now.
I think we all recognize that over the past 50 years religion has been under increasing attack.
On the other hand, we see the growing ascendency of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism.
By any honest assessment, the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim.
Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.
Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in sense less violence, and a deadly drug epidemic.
[T]he campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has brought with it immense suffering, wreckage, and misery. And yet, the forces of secularism, ignoring these tragic results, press on with even greater militancy.
First is the force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today. This is not decay: it is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the “progressives,” have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.
These instruments are used not only to affirmatively promote secular orthodoxy, but also to drown out and silence opposing voices, and to attack viciously and hold up to ridicule any dissenters.
One of the ironies … is that the secular project has itself become a religion, pursued with religious fervor. It is taking on the trappings of a religion, including inquisitions and excommunication.
But today – in the face of all the increasing pathologies – instead of addressing the underlying cause, we have the State in the role of alleviator of bad consequences. We call on the State to mitigate the social costs of personal misconduct and irresponsibility.
So, the reaction to growing illegitimacy is not sexual responsibility, but abortion.
The reaction to drug addiction is safe injection sites.
The solution to the breakdown of the family is for the State to set itself up as the ersatz husband for single mothers and the ersatz father to their children.
The call comes for more and more social programs to deal with the wreckage. While we think we are solving problems, we are underwriting them.
More next week.
Monday, April 4, 2016, the greatest sportscaster ever began his 67th and final season.
Don’t take the word of two life-long Dodger fans that 88-yearold Vin Scully, the Voice of Da Bums since 1950, is the best. His awards and recognitions are way too numerous to list, so here are the greatest highlights. The American Sportscasters Association named him Sportscaster of the Century in 2000 and first on its all-time Top- 50 list later. Numerous halls of fame, a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, etc.
The reasons for that extend from his encyclopedic knowledge of the game and technical broadcasting skills to his modesty, casual friendly manner, and personal warmth, all conveyed in a lyrically descriptive style via a dulcet voice. His vivid yet simple description of a game has thrilled fans for years.
It all starts with his signature introduction: “It’s time for Dodger baseball! Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good day/evening to you, wherever you may be.”
When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, fans began bringing their transistor radios to the ballgame because he added so much to what they saw. Part of his charm is his mastery of baseball history and anecdote, which makes fans feel a special connection to him and the game.
He learned early on to be objective and understated, not a home-team shill and loud. And he always kept in mind that sportscasting is about the players and the game, not about him.
He’s witnessed more spectacular sports history moments than anyone. He was there (but not calling the action) for baseball’s most famous moment ever, Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning “shot heard ‘round the world” homerun in 1951 for the Giants that broke Dodger hearts forever.
Four years later, he called the seventh game of the Dodgers’ first World Series championship ever, which Scully recalls as his favorite moment. On the last out, he said simply, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world.” Then he turned the mic to the cheering crowd for an extended time in what became another signature move.
He explains that as an eighty year-old boy, he used to lay his head on a pillow under the large radio counsel in his parents’ home and let the sounds of the crowd and the game wash over him as ate crackers and drank milk. That memory comes back at every good baseball moment, and that’s what he shares with fans.
Other highlights? Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series walk off homer that’s widely viewed as the second most memorable moment in baseball history. Hank Aaron’s 715th homer in 1974 that broke Babe Ruth’s most famous career record. Barry Bonds’ 71st, 72nd and 73rd home-runs in 2001 to capture the single-season record.
Did we mention that he called “The Catch” on TV in 1982, when the San Francisco 49ers’ Joe Montana and Dwight Clark beat the Dallas Cowboys and started a dynasty? Yes, he’s great at television, too, plus football, golf and tennis broadcasting.
He’s called five baseball perfect games – no one else has two – beginning with Don Larsen’s in the 1956 Series, the first perfect game in 34 years. And 18 no-hitters, including four by Sandy Koufax, culminating with his perfecto in 1965. Two more perfect games in 1988 and 1991. Then, in 1999 he played himself in arguably the best sports (and date) film ever, For Love of the Game. As the hero takes the mound for the ninth inning, seeking to finish his perfect game, Scully says: “Billy Chapel is 40 years old, arm weary and aching. And you know, Steve, you get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn’t pitching against left-handers, he isn’t pitching against pinch-hitters, he isn’t pitching against the Yankees. He’s pitching against time. He’s pitching against the future, against age, and even when you think about his career, against ending. And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer.”
Vin Scully used that dulcet voice to push the sun back up in the sky for one more summer for all of us.
In college 50 years ago, I took Introduction to Political Science from Stephan A. Douglas. Not the short, fat Little Giant who debated Abe Lincoln. But a very good tall and angular professor at Illinois.
The main thing I remember from his class is his explanation about a compelling revolution in political science and economics that began a decade earlier. Traditionally, he said, political scientists sought to explain how institutions, practices and people in political and economic processes worked to promote the public interest and the common good. It was Pollyanna-ish: All for the better.
Then some iconoclasts said that’s not how things work at all. Most folks in the political and economic spheres aren’t trying to promote the public interest. To the extent they can, they use institutions and practices to promote their own special interests. This insight, which today seems obvious, changed political science and helped foster a branch of economics known as public choice theory – which has produced a number of Nobel Prizes in economics.
Against the background of the Viet Nam war and the turmoil in American politics in the 1960s, it was a bracing idea, and it quickly became a formative part of my intellectual make-up. It has served me well in politics and public service.
Now come our corporate leaders with a perfect example of how political and economic behavior masquerades as public-spirited when it’s really completely self-serving. The Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of America’s largest companies, issued a new “Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation,” signed by 181 CEOs.
“While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” reads the key sentence. It names those stakeholders: customers, employees, diversity and inclusion, suppliers, the communities where they work, the environment and sustainability. Oh, yes, also “effective engagement with” company stockholders.
Since 1997, their periodic “Principles of Corporate Governance” statements have endorsed the notion of shareholder primacy: that corporations exist primarily to serve stockholders. In the New York Times Magazine on September 13, 1970, economist Milton Friedman, one of the intellectual giants of the 20th Century, said business executives who pursue a goal other than making money for their equity investors are wrong.
They are, he said, “unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.” They become “unelected government officials” who essentially tax employees and customers. They violate their legal and ethical fiduciary duties.
But the new diktat declares all “stakeholders” equal – leaving corporate moguls, our enlightened visionary betters, to decide how to balance their interests via corporate actions.
The concept of corporate stakeholders arose soon after the public choice revolution. Originally, it was descriptive: It described the groups that were affected by actions of corporations. But once the term was invented, it morphed into a normative concept suggesting the stakeholders have some kinds of claims on the actions of companies and their decision-makers that legitimately compete with the fiduciary duties owed to those who put their capital at risk by investing in the firm.
Now the CEOs have thrown in the towel and joined these predatory special-interest claimants. Why?
It’s something I’ve observed the last 40 years in regulation, politics and business. Essentially, executives are – surprise! – pursuing their own self-serving interests. They want to be lionized everywhere as great leaders, compassionate souls, visionary intellectuals. They want to use the resources their stockholders have entrusted to them to buy off everyone – unions, politicians, predatory special interests such as environmentalists, and the lamestream press.
Maximizing long-term discounted stockholder value within ethical norms crimps those aspirations.
This rot is clearest with regulated utilities, where executives can cut implicit (sometimes explicit) deals with regulators: We’ll do almost any foolish thing you want us to, as long as we can pass on the costs to ratepayers.
The problem started a century ago when large corporations were no longer managed by their primary owners, but instead by hired professional managers with their own self-serving agendas. Ironically, consumers, employees and the real public interest in economic growth and fairness suffer with stockholders in this scheme. Friedman was more right than he knew.
In last week’s column, I showed things really are much better now than in the past and said this week I’d provide some reasons for hope in the future.
Let’s start with: Our air and water are much cleaner now than 50 years ago. But we’ve not really observed the fundamental principal of regulation: We should implement such laws and regulations only if they are socially cost-effective and fair. That is, if the social benefits exceed the costs and minimize cross-subsidies. Fortunately, the Trump administration has stopped the rush to mindlessly promulgate ever more regulations and started to reconsider a few excessive ones now on the books. Maybe we can get policy right and all be better off.
Many children are indeed growing up in poor circumstances and face challenging futures. But that’s always been true, and some of them turn out surprisingly well anyway. Many other children are raised in very good circumstances, and some of them also do very well. Our daughter gives me much hope for the future. I hope your kids do so for you, too.
And some people are finally beginning to speak up about the need for two-parent families and the damage divorce and single parenting often do to children. We can’t reduce these problems until we openly acknowledge them.
Almost all significant dire things Al Gore predicted in his 2006 book An Inconvenient Truth have failed to materialize, especially the 20-foot rise in sea level. Good thing for him, too, because he bought an $8-million mansion on the coast. Probably even he didn’t believe that dreck.
Even though government excess and other basic trends have slowed economic growth, it seems to have settled at two percent annually in real terms, instead of slowing ever more. Economic growth is necessary to increase human wellbeing. Maybe we can turn our policies and other problems around and get back to long-term growth above three percent so each generation is about twice as well off on average as its parents.
A handful of high-tech companies have huge size and virtual monopolies in communications platforms. But just as IBM and others once ruled their sectors, only to be taken down by disruptive firms including the current leaders, so also will they eventually succumb to new technologies and business models, curing some of their current bad behavior.
A prominent futurist predicts artificial intelligence will blossom in the future, the way micro-electronics and the internet did before. And its benefits will exceed its risks. I think he’s right.
The rot of the Deep State is bringing it down fitfully and slowly. People are gaining consciousness of it and the problems it causes. All this likely will set off a round of reform that will benefit the public interest and ordinary folk.
Rumors of the death of the private auto are greatly exaggerated.
New technology has fostered a boom in creative arts and will continue to do so. You can make a video and post it to the world with your phone. Yes, most are forgettable, but not every play in Shakespeare’s time was a masterpiece, either. New tech gives us much new art and science.
Baseball is as much fun as ever to watch, especially the brilliant fielding plays. And the Dodgers are still the best team. Now, if only the Orioles could get back to their glory days …
If current film-makers won’t produce good movies (plot, character development, hope, inspiration, etc.) we can now watch classics on TCM, which we couldn’t decades ago. Thanks, Ted Turner.
There’s some hope biotech will help us live better, longer lives – and reduce the cost of medical care. No guarantees here, because health care and insurance costs continue to rise, but we can hope.
Technology and economic progress continue to improve our diets – quality, variety, nutrition, etc. Now we need to find ways to manage our intakes to fight obesity and promote overall wellness. A task for people, not governments.
We’ve been through crazy times like the present before and recovered. The Great Depression, the Sixties and various wars. We can do so again.
Thank you, President Trump, for considering the human lives lost before counter-attacking the evil empire of Iran.