Why economic growth is better than “equality”

Amity Shlaes:

Free marketeers may sometimes win elections, but they are not winning U.S. history. In recent years, the consensus regarding the American past has slipped leftward, and then leftward again. No longer is American history a story of opportunity, or of military or domestic triumph. Ours has become, rather, a story of wrongs, racial and social. Today, any historical figure who failed at any time to support abolition, or, worse, took the Confederate side in the Civil War, must be expunged from history. Wrongs must be righted, and equality of result enforced.

The equality campaign spills over into a less obvious field, one that might otherwise provide a useful check upon the nonempirical claims of the humanities: economics. In a discipline that once showcased the power of markets, an axiom is taking hold: equal incomes lead to general prosperity and point toward utopia. Teachers, book review editors, and especially professors withhold any evidence to the contrary. Universities lead the shift, and the population follows. Today, millennials, those born between 1981 and 2000, outnumber baby boomers by the millions, and polls suggest that they support redistribution specifically, and government action generally, more than their predecessors do. A 2014 Reason/Rupe poll found 48 percent of millennials agreeing that government should “do more” to solve problems, whereas 37 percent said that government was doing “too many things.” A full 58 percent of the youngest of millennials, those 18–24 when surveyed, held a “positive” view of socialism, in dramatic contrast with their parents: only 23 percent of those aged 55 to 64 viewed socialism positively.

At least for now, most progressives acknowledge that markets and economic growth are necessary. But progressives in academia contend that growth has proved itself secondary to equality efforts—something to be exploited, rather than appreciated. Not just nationally, but worldwide, policymakers and the press regard the subordination of growth to equality to be a benign practice, as in the recent line in the Indian periodical Mint: a policy aimed at “reducing inequality need not hurt growth.”

The redistributionist impulse has brought to the fore metrics such as the Gini coefficient, named after the ur-redistributor, Corrado Gini, an Italian social scientist who developed an early statistical measure of income distribution a century ago. A society where a single plutocrat earns all the income ranks a pure “1” on the Gini scale; one in which all earnings are perfectly equally distributed, the old Scandinavian ideal, scores a “0” by the Gini test. The Gini Index has been renamed or updated numerous times, but the principle remains the same. Income distribution and redistribution seem so crucial to progressives that French economist Thomas Piketty built an international bestseller around it, the wildly lauded Capital.

Through Gini’s lens, we now rank past eras. Decades in which policy endeavored or managed to even out and equalize earnings—the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt, the 1960s under Lyndon Johnson—score high. Decades where policymakers focused on growth before equality, such as the 1920s, fare poorly. Decades about which social-justice advocates aren’t sure what to say—the 1970s, say—simply drop from the discussion. In the same hierarchy, federal debt moves down as a concern because austerity to reduce debt could hinder redistribution. Lately, advocates of economically progressive history have made taking any position other than theirs a dangerous practice. Academic culture longs to topple the idols of markets, just as it longs to topple statutes of Robert E. Lee.

But progressives have their metrics wrong and their story backward. The geeky Gini metric fails to capture the American economic dynamic: in our country, innovative bursts lead to great wealth, which then moves to the rest of the population. Equality campaigns don’t lead automatically to prosperity; instead, prosperity leads to a higher standard of living and, eventually, in democracies, to greater equality. The late Simon Kuznets, who posited that societies that grow economically eventually become more equal, was right: growth cannot be assumed. Prioritizing equality over markets and growth hurts markets and growth and, most important, the low earners for whom social-justice advocates claim to fight. Government debt matters as well. Those who ring the equality theme so loudly deprive their own constituents, whose goals are usually much more concrete: educational opportunity, homes, better electronics, and, most of all, jobs. Translated into policy, the equality impulse takes our future hostage.

Touring American history with an eye on growth, not equality, has become so unusual that doing so almost feels like driving on the wrong side of the road. Nonetheless, a review trip through the decades is useful because the evidence for growth is right there, in our own American past. Four decades, especially, warrant examination: the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1960s, and the 1970s.


Presty the DJ for Feb. 14

On Valentine’s Day, this song, tied to no anniversary or birthday I’m aware of, nonetheless seems appropriate:

The number one British single today in 1968 was written by Bob Dylan:

The number one British album today in 1970 was “Motown Chartbusters Volume 3”:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Feb. 14”

Moron, fascist, or smarter than you?

The latest Donald Trump-generated outrage is his proposal for a military parade in Washington on Independence Day.

The rule, of course, for Republican presidents dating back to Ronald Reagan is that, according to liberals, they are either idiots or evil, hence two-thirds of this headline.

Choice number three is the opinion of Jake Novak:

President Donald Trump wants a parade, and it’s setting off yet another angry debate.

That’s because the president wants a military parade, reportedly inspired by the Bastille Day festivities he witnessed in Paris in July. That feeds into some persistent criticisms from the staunch anti-Trump side that he is a fascist looking to appeal to red state America’s nascent militarism.

Everybody calm down.

This parade actually makes sense in the most non-fascist and democratic terms possible. Unlike fascist regimes, Trump needs voter support. That sometimes means winning over new voters here and there. But the real imperative for an incumbent is to keep and acknowledge the voters who got you in office in the first place.

By contrast, the anti-Trump types triggered by this move sure seem like a lost cause. People jumping at the chance to frequently compare the president to Adolf Hitler aren’t going to be won over, anyway. But as they go before the more moderate public and show such an extreme opposition to a parade, they make Trump look much more reasonable in comparison.

Take a good look at the Bastille Day parade from last year, and it’s not hard to see why such an event appeals to Trump. That’s because the Bastille Day parade isn’t exactly like the Nazi or Soviet military parades of the past. The stars of the French parade aren’t the politicians or even the weapons, but the actual troops and military veterans. They dominate the parade route at every turn.

That’s the key to what makes copying such a spectacle such a positive for Trump. Polls show that America’s troops continue to be stronger supporters of this president than the public at large. U.S. military veterans are much more pro-Trump than almost any other group, with data showing they chose him over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election by a large 60 percent-to-34 percent margin.

There’s a geographic aspect to this as well. It’s not so much that blue state America doesn’t support the troops. The bigger issue is that most of blue state America seems to be generally disconnected from the military. The Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and New England regions where Trump tends to poll poorly send a significantly smaller portion of enlistees to the military than the national average. Trump strongholds in the South and rural America send a much higher proportion than the national average of their populations to the armed forces.

Active duty troops tell only part of the story. Veterans are more likely to support Trump than non-veterans and those still serving in the armed forces. It was those veterans in the key swing states who likely made the difference in the 2016 election for the Trump campaign.

Now the picture should be getting clearer: The Trump team wants to put his strongest and largest source of support in the spotlight and reward it with national attention on the July 4 holiday. It’s really a political no-brainer.

Of course, there are right ways and wrong ways to do it. Americans will be rightly spooked if the parade includes massive missiles and artillery rolling along Constitution Avenue. Tanks are probably okay, but only as long as there are troops visibly sticking out of them and being acknowledged as they are in the Bastille Day event.

But imagine a parade dominated by some of the elite military bands, Medal of Honor recipients marching together, and those awesome B-2 stealth bomber and F-35 fighter jet flyovers. These are the exact same kinds of imagery America rolls out during every Super Bowl Sunday, but all too briefly when you consider there are so many other troops and veterans who never get acknowledged on a stage anywhere near that big.

That imagery also works well for Trump. Appearing with the troops with big American flags providing the backdrop is almost never a negative for any president.

A famous story in veteran media circles proves that point. After then-CBS News correspondent Leslie Stahl aired that was highly critical of President Ronald Reagan’s policies, top White House advisor Michael Deaver actually thanked Stahl because the video in the piece was dominated with Reagan standing proudly at patriotic events. Deaver said: “In the competition between the ear and the eye, the eye always wins.”

It’s that image of Trump as the ultimate cheerleader and defender of the troops and the military that seems to be working for him right now. Last month, he framed the government shutdown as the Democrats choosing the so-called “Dreamer” illegal immigrants over paying the troops. The polls seem to show the president won the shutdown battlethanks to that argument.

Now, he’s pushing support for the recent budget agreement in Congress solely on the argument that it boosts defense spending and helps the troops.

It seems more than a coincidence that this is also the time that the president’s support for a military parade leaks out to the news media. Trump can now take a page out of his shutdown strategy and make the point that the parade would really be a celebration of the troops and ask why any American would oppose that.

Trump knows he won the election largely due to active duty troops and veterans. That’s why this parade idea works for him and fighting and ridiculing it could be a dangerous trap for those who oppose him.


Tom Still knows more about Wisconsin business than those campaigning against Foxconn:

There are still plenty of people in Wisconsin who think the Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group is giving the state a giant head fake.

Skeptics think the company has no intention to put down roots in Wisconsin, and is simply waiting for the chance to abscond with our tax dollars and scamper home.

The latest company announcement rammed home the fact that nothing could be further from the truth.

Foxconn is buying a seven-story building in downtown Milwaukee from Northwestern Mutual, Wisconsin’s 161-year-old insurance giant. It will be the company’s North American headquarters and a center for activities outside its planned manufacturing plant in Racine County.

Those activities will include innovation, incubation, venture capital investment possibilities and other commercial dealings. The building has the capacity to hold 650 people and will be renamed Foxconn Place.

The move was praised by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Gov. Scott Walker, who joined in the Feb. 5 announcement.

“Foxconn is putting a stake in the ground,” said Abele, once touted as a Democratic candidate for governor. “This is an extraordinary opportunity…”

At the same news conference, Foxconn executive Louis Woo pledged the company will “work for the next 161 years to not only witness but actively participate in the transformation and growth of Wisconsin.”

If that’s a head fake, it beats anything we just saw in the Super Bowl.

People may continue to debate whether Foxconn’s 13,000 direct jobs and its predicted supply-chain effects are worth the state tax credits, but they need to remember Foxconn won’t get those credits unless the company meets specific job and capital goals over time.

The contract between the state and Foxconn is tightly written, as it should be, and lays down job and capital investment markers over a 15-year schedule. It’s a “pay-as-you-grow” strategy that can throttle up or down depending on the company’s performance.

In the meantime, skeptics should at least acknowledge that Foxconn is working hard to be a permanent and active corporate citizen of Wisconsin.

It shows not only in the Milwaukee headquarters announcement, but in job fairs, research and development relationships, supply chain spadework, land acquisition, transportation planning and more across the state.

In Milwaukee, the Regional Talent Partnership organized through the Milwaukee 7 economic development group is trying to meet the area’s workforce attraction and retention demands – including those tied to Foxconn.

UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone is leading that partnership, which involves other universities and technical colleges. The group includes UW-Parkside and Gateway Technical College, which is knee-deep in Foxconn workforce planning in Racine and Kenosha counties. Mone will speak at the March 19 Wisconsin Tech Summit in Waukesha, where Foxconn representatives will meet with emerging companies.

Marquette University and the Milwaukee School of Engineering are examples of colleges where Foxconn representatives have met with students and faculty; MSOE has announced plans for a gift-funded $34 million computational science and artificial science center to keep up with growing talent and R&D demands.

The city of Milwaukee is examining the possibility of expanded Amtrak service in the Milwaukee-to-Chicago rail route, in part to accommodate anticipated Foxconn workers traffic from the city to Racine County and back.

Meanwhile, reconstruction of I-94 south of Milwaukee is set to begin in earnest in 2019.

The highway will be widened from six lanes to eight from College Avenue in Milwaukee south to Highway 142 in Kenosha County. Interchanges will be rebuilt, as will frontage roads between Highway 20 and Highway KR, the stretch of interstate closest to the planned Foxconn campus.

While it’s a bittersweet experience for many farmers in the Racine town of Mount Pleasant, Foxconn is paying about five times per acre — about $50,000 — what land sold for before the company decided to build there.

Many people still have their doubts about the size of the Foxconn deal and remain concerned about environmental effects. At this point, however, those who still believe Foxconn is giving a giant head fake are only faking themselves.

Ask not for whom the tolls toll …

The specter of Wisconsin toll roads rears itself again in this Badger Institute news release:

The Badger Institute and the Reason Foundation said Thursday the state should pursue tolling and offered a solution to concerns expressed by Gov. Scott Walker.

“The stars seem to be aligned for Wisconsin to join the ranks of states deciding to rebuild and modernize their Interstate highways using the revenues from all-electronic tolling,” said Robert W. Poole Jr., director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation and author of the Badger Institute report Rebuilding and Modernizing Wisconsin’s Interstates with Toll Financing.

“Leaders in both houses of the Legislature representing both parties are favorable to the idea. The Trump Administration’s new infrastructure plan promises to remove federal restrictions on Interstate tolling and encourage states to use toll revenue to match new federal support.”

The Badger Institute has long advocated for toll roads. Leaders of the state Senate and Assembly have now embraced tolling as a long-term solution to Wisconsin’s road funding dilemma as well. Gov. Walker expressed concerns about effectively raising taxes on Wisconsin drivers, but Poole noted that Value-Added Tolling would alleviate that problem.

“Value-Added Tolling means only charging tolls once highway customers get improved infrastructure to use,” said Poole. “And it also means not charging both tolls and fuel taxes for the same stretch of roadway.”

For Wisconsin, that would mean the following:

  • Implement electronic tolling to pay for rebuilding specific Interstates and interchanges;
  • Begin tolling only after the new pavement and bridges are ready to open; and,
  • Provide rebates of state fuel taxes to those who pay tolls in the rebuilt corridors.

“Rebates of fuel taxes are simple to calculate via the electronic tolling system,” Poole said. “This should satisfy Gov. Walker’s legitimate concerns about double-charging users.”

A policy study released today by the Reason Foundation ranked each state’s highway system by 11 different categories. Ranking the Best, Worst, Safest, and Most Expensive State Highway Systems — The 23rd Annual Highway Report gave Wisconsin an overall rank of 38th in highway performance and cost-effectiveness.

Badger Institute President Mike Nichols pointed out that there are no other realistic, long-term solutions to the state’s transportation dilemma.

“We need more revenue to prevent widespread deterioration of our roads,” said Nichols. “More debt is not the answer. Over 20 percent of all transportation fund revenues are already used for debt service rather than improving our roads. All told, we spend over half a billion per year just servicing transportation-related debt.”

“Raising gas taxes on everybody isn’t fair or logical either,” Nichols added. “Fuel-efficient cars already burn less gas and soon enough – when the price of electric vehicles plummets – many of us won’t be buying much gas at all. We need to wean ourselves off gas taxes, not increase them.

“All-electronic tolling is a free-market, logical, fair, modern solution. No toll plazas. No toll booths. No lines. Just better roads that get us to our jobs and back home to our families on time.”

Poole also noted that the national board of AAA (America’s largest highway user group) has endorsed Value-Added Tolling, and should be supportive of such an effort in Wisconsin.

Poole participated in a Badger Institute webinar last year on the topic of Interstate Tolling for Wisconsin: Why and How? The webinar, Poole’s slide presentation and other tolling resources can be found here.

All of that flies in the face of other states’ toll experiences. The number of states that have former toll roads that became non-toll roads can be counted on one hand. The actual history is that once toll roads are established, they never go away. The Illinois Tollway Authority is one of the most corrupt features of the corrupt state of Illinois.

That’s one prediction. Another is that drivers will refamiliarize themselves with whatever the parallel road is to the new toll road — U.S. 18 between Madison and Milwaukee, U.S. 12 from the Dells northward, Wisconsin 16 from Tomah to La Crosse, and so on. They will be inconvenienced by slower traffic and driving through towns, but they won’t have to pay tolls.

The proposal includes a fuel tax rebate presumably to address Walker’s wish for this to be revenue-neutral, except that it would take revenues away from fuel taxes that pay for other road work. Ask the road lobby, and it will claim that the bigger issue isn’t Interstate projects, but local roads.

What has not been considered by anyone is that if fixing roads is a priority, then spending needs to decrease in other areas of state government. Walker’s nearly eight years as governor have included no cuts in state employment. Decreasing the annual increase in state spending beats the Democratic alternative, but it is not preferable to actual spending cuts, including transportation areas that don’t benefit most Wisconsinites (i.e. mass transit).

I think this trial balloon will sink in flames like the Hindenburg anyway because the prospects of a politician proposing tolls in an election year is as unlikely as turkeys being able to fly.


Presty the DJ for Feb. 11

Today in 1964 — one year to the day after recording their first album — the Beatles made their first U.S. concert appearance at the Washington Coliseum in D.C.:

The number one album today in 1969, “More of the Monkees,” jumped 121 positions in one week:

Today in 1972, Pink Floyd appeared at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England, during their Dark Side of the Moon tour.

The concert lasted 25 minutes until the power went out, leaving the hall as bright as the dark side of the moon.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Feb. 11”

Presty the DJ for Feb. 10

The first gold record — which was only a record spray-painted gold because the criteria for a gold record hadn’t been devised yet — was “awarded” today in 1942:

The number one British album today in 1968 was the Four Tops’ “Greatest Hits”:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Feb. 10”

The after-Sykes effect

Right now, Jerry Bader is supposed to go on the air on WTAQ in Green Bay, WSAU in Wausau and WHBL in Sheboygan.

But not today, and not anymore. WTAQ announced on its website:

WTAQ has announced that Jerry Bader will no longer host the Jerry Bader Show, which aired Monday through Friday from 9-11 am.

In addition to WTAQ in the Green Bay/Appleton market, Bader’s show aired on WHBL in Sheboygan and WSAU in Wausau/Stevens Point.

Bader joined parent company Midwest Communications, Inc. when it purchased WHBL in 2000, transferring to WTAQ four years later to become the station’s brand manager and mid-day talk host.

He transitioned to a part-time role in 2016, when he took a full-time position with MediaTrackers.org.

Operations Manager Jason Hillery says “we wish Jerry nothing but continued success with his career at MediaTrackers.org, and we are thankful for his years of service to the Northeast Wisconsin community and others in our state.”

Bader says “I appreciate all of the opportunities that Midwest Communications has given me, and I wish them all the best.”

WTAQ has begun its search for a replacement.

Interested applicants can apply via midwestcareers.com or jason.hillery@mwcradio.com.

The Green Bay Press–Gazette adds:

Conservative radio talk show host Jerry Bader was let go by Midwest Communications on Thursday. Bader said in a email it was because of his coverage of President Donald Trump.

Bader’s show was broadcast on WTAQ-AM from 8:40-11 a.m. daily in Green Bay. The station also carries conservative hosts Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Sean Hannity, none of whom are as critical of Trump as Bader sometimes was.

Bader recently changed the tagline of his program from “Close captioned for the reality impared” to “Truth over tribe.”

“Following my show today, management at Midwest Communications informed me that I was being let go. It was made clear to me that the reason was the manner in which I covered President Trump,” Bader said in his email.

“I have always tried to tell what I believed is the truth and more recently to comport my behavior, on and off the air, with my Christ-following faith, after I was saved in 2016. I’ve always known it was MWC’s microphone that I used each day. I have no regrets on how I’ve handled the show the past two and a half years.” …

Bader also is communications director for MediaTrackers.org, which its website says is “dedicated to media accountability, government transparency, and quality fact-based journalism.” He will continue in that role, which is not related to the radio job.

Charlie Sykes, who hosted a longtime conservative radio show in Milwaukee and who also has been critical of Trump and the far right, tweeted about Bader Thursday.

“Bader was a courageous, principled voice, who refused to join other talkers on Trump train despite threats from management. #Respect,” Sykes wrote.

Bader joined WTAQ in 2004 after Midwest Communications parted ways with Bill LuMaye, who joined the station in 1998. Bader’s show also was broadcast on Midwest Communications-owned stations in Sheboygan and Wausau. He worked in Sheboygan before coming to Green Bay.

Midwest Communications suspended Bader for two weeks in 2009 after an inaccurate report about Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton dropping out of the governor’s race. Bader took responsibility for the mistake and apologized. “One person is responsible for what happened here, and that is me,” he said when he returned to the air.

The WTAQ press release said the search for a replacement is underway.

No, it’s “under way.” And if you’re interested, this may be the position, though Bader’s time slot is not really “morning drive” in the radio world.

Bader and Sykes were two of four conservative talk hosts who committed flagrant acts of journalism by not treating Trump with kid gloves during the 2016 Wisconsin GOP primary. Thanks to those four (including Clear Channel’s Mark Belling and Vicki McKenna), Trump lost to Ted Cruz, though he won the state in November.

I confess to not listening often to Bader largely because when I was living in Northeast Wisconsin I’d listen to Sykes when I was driving somewhere during their shows. I do recall Bader being criticized over his saying something complimentary over the Oneida Tribe of Indians or tribal gaming. (Bader’s predecessor, Bill LuMaye, previously had a rock morning show with his son on a Midwest FM station before the station (regrettably) started carrying Bob and Tom, which I have found funny exactly once.)

The radio industry fires people all the time for reasons that would not be acceptable in the non-media world — you do good work but we’re changing formats so goodbye — but it’s not clear that that’s the case here, though Midwest may plan on replacing Bader with a non-political show, though that would be illogical if they plan on keeping Limbaugh and Hannity.

I did a story on Midwest Communications 22 years ago in my previous life as a business magazine editor. I met CEO Duke Wright, and I’ve known some other people with that company, and it seemed like a good place to work for radio. (Media workplaces rarely make those Best Places to Work For lists.) Midwest also has expanded significantly since I did that story in 1996.

What if Bader was fired for being critical of Trump? That would mean, presumably, that Bader was having a negative effect on WTAQ’s ratings and/or advertising dollars. That is not the same thing as listeners being critical of Bader’s being critical of Trump. If listeners are listening to someone they disagree with, the point of radio is to get advertisers through listeners. If they aren’t listening because of that disagreement, that’s a problem.

Conservative talk radio dominates the talk radio world because it sells better than liberal talk. One might find liberal talk show hosts in specific markets, or a radio station in the case of Resistance Radio in Milwaukee. But consider that Sly lost one station (the late WTDY in Madison) when its owners changed formats, had his liberal talk show replaced with a non-liberal music show (WBGR-FM in Monroe), and now is back in Madison, but doing a non-liberal music show. Madison’s former liberal talk station at 92.1 FM now does oldies. If liberal talk can’t survive in the People’s Republic of Madison, what does that tell you?

One wonders if the conservative divide between Trump zealots and NeverTrumpers cost Bader his job. There is speculation over whether Sykes quit or was going to be fired and allowed his own exit over his anti-Trumpness. Belling and McKenna appear to have taken the position I hold, that Trump should be praised when warranted and criticized when warranted. (Oftentimes in the same day.) If Bader is right about why he was fired, he is another victim of the regrettable national trend of unwillingness to be exposed to viewpoints with which one does not agree.

It is also possible that conservative talk has less interest, paradoxically, when Republicans are in charge. Rush Limbaugh got to beat on Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for eight years each as did Sykes; it’s something else to have to defend your own side, particularly when your own side does something it shouldn’t have done.

One also wonders if a de-politicization of talk radio is under way, or if Midwest plans on, after looking for a replacement for Bader, to insert a national show. The latter would be a negative move, because the best radio is live and local. As for the former, Sykes was succeeded by Jeff Wagner, who previously followed Sykes on the air weekdays, but reportedly in Sykes’ spot now is rather unpolitical. The most recent Milwaukee radio ratings placed WTMJ fifth, which is subpar for a heritage AM station that carries the Packers, Bucks and Brewers. (Even more unbelievably, WTMJ and its FM WKTI, formerly linchpins of the Journal Communications broadcast empire, are for sale.)

Or, as long as we’re discussing theories, one wonders if talk radio is on the way out, given the ability of listeners to access podcasts whenever they want instead of on a radio station’s schedule. (Sly has a website, of course.)

I confess that from time to time this has seemed interesting to do, until I think about how much content one would need to do three or four hours on the air every day. A friend of mine did that (his show was nonpolitical, though I did occasionally make an appearance), and it can’t be easy. For one thing, one probably has to be inundated in the world of pop culture, which I generally deplore. (Do not get me started on NBC’s “This Is Us.”) I don’t even have time to do a podcast, let alone talk on the air for four hours outside of whatever sporting event I’m covering. (Basketball tonight, weather permitting, and wrestling Saturday, by the way.)

The good thing about this blog is that it represents my views, whether readers agree with those views or not. I have never written something I didn’t believe when I wrote it. I have never written or said anything for the sole purpose of generating outrage or clicks. That’s probably why, even though Sykes was correct when he called me a media ho, I wouldn’t do well in full-time radio talk.