.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tim Kern, Talking Sense

My Photo
Location: Anderson, IN, United States

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Social Security Newspeak

Talk of “privatizing” Social Security is a modern application of George Orwell’s “newspeak,” where words (in his novel, 1984) conveyed their opposite meanings.

The idea is simple, and will temporarily mask the real problems in the system.

Some in D.C. purport to have the ideas and ability to keep Social Security from going broke, which is now scheduled to happen about the time baby boomers start retiring.

The idea is that funds collected for Social Security should be invested in the equity market. Some of our rulers call for a degree of individually-directed investment; others look to a new agency to provide investment direction. What they all advocate is our mandated investment in the stock market.

The amount of money is significant, possibly 10% of the value of the publicly-traded equities. Ignoring the Constitutional problems surrounding such a plan (and those of Social Security itself), there are several practical dangers here.

Stock prices are again rebounding and are historically high, whether measured by their price/earnings or -/dividends ratios, return on assets, or any other reasonable (though superficial) analysis.

Congress sees future problems for re-electability. Today’s indices are unlikely to climb forever, particularly as foreign investment slows. A new supply of money will be needed to have stock prices continue to rise, or even hold steady at these inflated levels. That’s how the idea of putting Social Security money into the market became so appealing to those fat cats and speculators who are already heavily invested (and who run the country).

Think of what Congress could say to us little people: “We’re giving you a piece of this great expanding pie. Your Social Security fund will now appreciate faster than ever before. The companies where you work will be adequately capitalized, giving you job security. Stockholders will use their earnings to buy your products, leading to more prosperity for all.”

What such a scheme would really be doing is something different. First, by introducing so much more money into competition for buying a limited supply of stocks, it would raise or support stock prices at high levels for a while, subsidizing the bailout of over-invested big shots. Second, whoever approved the investments for us little people would have heavy influence on Wall Street, because of the size of the “portfolio” he managed.

Firms and lobbyists would divert their efforts away from productivity, and towards influencing the governmental overseers, because the stocks the Social Security fund would buy (or would allow us to buy) would necessarily outperform others in the industry, a windfall for those investors on the inside track. By extension, the fund manager could greatly influence the decisions of the boards of their portfolio or target companies, or even those companies’ competitors. Even the largest companies’ boards would show little resistance to the wishes of the SSA fund manager.

Even better for short-thinking politicians, the influx of social security money will buoy stock prices for a while; but after those initial investments have been made, the best we could hope for would be moderate gains, which would again be based on productivity gains (rather than lots of new Social Security dollars’ chasing relatively few investments)… and that’s if we don’t have a repeat of what happened to the market in 2000.

When Social Security needs to start making withdrawals to pay the Boomers, this will trigger a radical, long-term sell-off, which will constantly bleed profits from the entire market. Timing and targeting SSA stock sales could become a gigantic political football game. Power would naturally consolidate in Washington. There, would-be demigods will play a high-risk game with other peoples’ retirements.

Sociologically, the outright ownership of so much stock by government, and therefore control of so many shares by bureaucrats, would have predictable effects. Yet powermongers, greedy professionals, and myopic amateurs still somehow want to introduce a high degree of state control (if not outright ownership) into one of the most-free areas of our economic society, the stock market.

Earlier, I said the government is involved in “newspeak,” calling something its opposite, to keep the aware members of the public confused, and the rest, contented. They call their baby, “privatizing the Social Security system,” while more accurately they’re setting out to control the stock market. Will we be fooled? Will we allow it? Will we deserve it? Will the economy survive it?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

An Abortion Position on Which We Can All Agree

...and Which Will Never Be Embraced

When I taught "the study of choices" (Economics), I often made note that there are seldom issues that have just "two sides." When I asked students for an issue where "both sides" would cover all possibilities, they invariably came back with "abortion."

There are more than two sides to that issue, too, and I believe I've found one facet of the issue that should be supported by all intellectually-honest proponents, from "either side" of the main issue.

State-funded abortions are limited by a watered-down Hyde Amendment, which allows for state funding of abortions in the case of the endangerment of the life of the mother; or in cases or rape or incest.

The first condition, while possibly a topic for lawyers and doctors, is not part of this discussion. For the purpose of this discussion, I'll simply assume the requisite medical knowledge and judgment are available, and infallible. That's admittedly unrealistic; but it's the only way to stay on-topic.

Criteria for state-funded abortions come through the Social Security Administration. The criteria for determining whether taxpayers should pay, put the doctor in an automatic conflict of interest.

What does it take to get taxpayers to pay?

What determines, for the purposes of state funding, if a mother were a victim of rape or incest? A conviction would likely take longer than nine months. An arrest and indictment would often be quick enough for action; but there is no guarantee that the rapist's apprehension, or even identification, could be made in time.

At least in the case of incest, identification of the perpetrator would be less-problematic, but other factors (would this be fair to those who committed incest, if rapists got a better deal?) could make indictment an impossible roadblock.

What, then, is required, to have the tax dollars flow to the abortion clinics?

A police report, at a minimum, would be expected, to at least allege that a serious crime had been committed; but it's not a requirement. Even so much as a private statement, sworn-to by the mother, alleging the rape or incestuous act, is not required (although it is sufficient).

All that is required, for the doctor to insure his payment, is to himself allege that the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. That judgment, as nearly as I have been able to determine from numerous calls and questions, is not reviewed by Social Security: thus the doctor's obvious conflict of interest.

What could be done?

To remove this unfair temptation from doctors, and to prevent fraudulent claims, I propose that, before payment for Hyde Amendment abortions is made, the mother must file an official police report. That way, a case will be opened. If the perpetrator is eventually caught and convicted, he could reimburse the state for the cost of the abortion, as part of his sentencing. If the victim withdraws the charge, she must reimburse the state.

Many victims of rape do not want to make any charges; police and social workers all tell me that. But it's not about the mother's feelings -- it's about taxation, money, and fraud. The taxpayers have a right to expect fiscally responsible treatment of their money, and putting someone who stands to benefit from the tax money, in charge of it -- even a doctor -- that's irresponsible.

If the victim wants to participate in taxpayer-funded benefits, she will need to fill out the forms; that's how it's done in every other case, and it's the price of doing business with government. For government to merely give away money with no evidence, other than the signature of a person who is in an obvious conflict, is irresponsible, and invites fraud.

Why it won't happen:

Nobody wants to look at this. "Pro choice" advocates see this proposal as an attack on the viability of abortion as a business, as it reduces the abortion industry's power and money. "Pro life" advocates generally believe that anything that even recognizes the possibility of abortion is satanic. Abortion doctors get huffy, saying that their ethics and judgment are beyond reproach, or even review. Police don't like it, because they don't want to increase their caseload, and because they see these rapes as very different from the rapes they already have on their blotters. City bosses don't like it, because their communities' serious crime statistics would rise. District attorneys don't like it, because they don't want to add a bunch of losses to their records; or on the other hand, they don't want to dismiss these cases, and be seen as "soft on rape." Social workers don't want the beneficiary of the tax money to be "re-victimized;" that is, to do anything to help prevent their rapist from raping another, especially while increasing the social workers' paperwork-load.

All I'd like to do is get rid of the conflicts of interest, reduce the potential for fraud, and maybe help catch a rapist.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Pit Bulls or Camels' Noses

Here's an exchange from December 9, with WFLA AM540 radio host Bud Hedinger, arranged chronologically. Bud replied almost immediately (and that was nice), with an emotional answer. It's too bad his fine voice isn't matched by an ability to think.
From: Tim Kern [mailto:info@timkern.com]Sent: Thu 12/9/2004 2:40 PMTo: Hedinger, Bud (Orlando)Subject: Pit bulls

Hi, Bud.

I share your opinion of pit bulls, but I don’t like your whiney solution: having Big Brother ban them. Consider: if your arguments against these critters are so good (and they’re pretty good), why not try educating people about these dogs? Approach owners, and urge them to at least spay and neuter. Talk especially to prospective owners, and warn them of the ‘ticking time bombs.’

If you’d like to have a “safe” neighborhood, organize your neighbors, and go (en masse) to pay a visit on local pit bull owners on your street. Urge them to get rid of their dogs, or leave. Convince locals (who feel as strongly as you) to refuse service to pit bull owners, to put up anti-pit bull signs in their store windows – to demonize pit bull owners as if they were pedophiles or gun owners.

Too much trouble? You’re saying it isn’t important enough to do it yourself, because it’s too hard to make a good argument -- so you want the taxpayers’ hired guns to do it for you.
Having Big Brother force people to carry your water diminishes the power of communication, reduces the effect of neighborhood and community, and shows the elitist streak you harbor: YOU know what’s good for everybody… you just can’t convince them, so you want Momma to take their toys away.

Freedom: it isn’t free, ya know!

Tim KernWinter Haven, FL

"...error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." --Thomas Jefferson, first inaugural address, March 4, 1801

-----From: Hedinger, Bud (Orlando) [mailto:bud@540wfla.com] Sent: Thursday, December 09, 2004 4:02 PMTo: Tim KernSubject: RE: Pit bulls

Tim, A four year old boy is dead.

How many more have to die at the jaws of these killer dogs? The boy is dead, Tim!

If you want to save the most lives in the future, the solution is elimination...not education!

Best regards,


You’re right. 4-year-olds can’t protect themselves… not from pit bulls, not from car accidents, not from swimming pools, not from stupid parents. We need to first eliminate pit bulls, and then go after cars, swimming pools, and stupid parents, just for starters.

Your argument against pit bulls is the same argument “the liberals” use, when they want to eliminate something. The only difference is, this time, you feel strongly… so you’re right. It’s your method – sic Big Brother on them – that I find unconvincing, whiney, and cowardly.

That having been said…

a pit bull is a LOT more dangerous than a revolver that’s left around the house. You can leave a revolver alone, and be perfectly safe. You can’t do that with a pit bull. On that, at least, we agree.

Thanks for the speedy reply.


"It's true that one person can make a difference... but in most cases, I'm not really sure she should." --Marge Simpson