Archive for December 2017

Culture of Denial   Leave a comment

To address a problem requires the admission of a problem. That’s an AA maxim that has broad application in the world. Rick, my cousin who is a doctor, says you can’t really treat an illness until you’ve diagnosed it.

A second AA maxim is that if you keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, you’re making yourself crazy.

Image result for image of the regulatory stateStarting about 100 years ago – a little longer in Europe – western democracies bought into the idea that the private sector was bad. Left to its own devices, it would pillage the population – creating a privileged few who could set prices and wages for everyone else. The liberal order – whereby elected officials ran the government with the assistance of workers who left office when they did – made this all the more probable. What was needed, they insisted, was a professional bureaucracy of experts in various fields who were sheltered from political upheaval and would remain in place from one administration to the next. These enlightened nonpartisans could assure the health, safety, economic prosperity and general order of society and leave the private individual free to do whatever they could conceive … so long as what they conceived didn’t interfere with the functioning of the government bureaucracy, of course.

And, for a while, that worked. It took 50 years or so for budgets and work forces to grow to the place where they began to eat the private sector and leave us all frustrated with the size, scope and generally ineffectualness of the government.

Now, populists on both side of the political divide have grown frustrated with the political, economic and cultural status quo, frustrated with the policy choices that have made their lives less prosperous and less secure. The establishment keeps insisting that these people are wrong … just look at all the great government benefits you can apply for. Don’t worry that there are no jobs. You don’t need to even get out of bed in the morning.

And, the establishment wonders why people don’t want to listen to them? Really?

While that might sound like a great life style to a few people raised in a life of leisure, for most people that sounds like torture. There is nothing quite so undignified as an adult whose bills are being paid by someone else and we instinctively know that, which is why the most self-sufficient of us — rural dwellers — rail so loudly against welfare even when they qualify for it … because they don’t want to have their dignity stripped from them. They’d rather work hard for less money than sit on their butts waiting for their government check.

Plus, it turns out that being hard working actually improves our life expectancy.

The populists on both sides of the political divide are demanding change, but after a century of being educated to believe the private sector is bad and the public sector can fix that, they suffer from cognitive dissonance. They want to upend the elitist structure that doesn’t listen to them (noble goal), but then they demand programs that assure that government will continue growing and failing as it grows.

Under the progressive elite, the democratic countries asked too much of government while crowding out civil society and constraining market forces. Now we find ourselves in the inevitable doldrums inherent in a centrally planned society and we demand government “fix” that which it caused.

Unfortunately, while the populists have the right diagnosis, they believe the public school rhetoric that the private sector is bad and must be controlled by the public sector. So, upon finding they have been poisoned, they ask for more poison to counteract its effects.

The solution?

There are no easy answers for uprooting a Siberian pea hedge and, make no mistake, the US government is well-entrenched. To some degree, this can be addressed by us all engaging in rigorous comparative institutional analysis with a willingness to make substantive changes. The world won’t end if we go from 15 bureaucracies to oversee the “environment” that are all Congressionally-created non-Executive branch agencies that receive almost zero oversight to a single agency answerable to the President and cabinet. Yeah, some people will lose their jobs and budgets might be reduced … why is that a problem? I fail to see a downside for ordinary Americans.

Maybe we can look at the labyrinthine mess that is medical-care regulation and see if reducing some of the burden on providers might result in lower prices in the marketplace. No, people probably won’t die if they can buy insurance from Connecticut that is useable in Alaska … kind of like we do with car insurance now. I have better coverage now than I did 30 years ago for slightly less than my premium was in 1981 when Alaska had only two authorized car insurance dealers.

If someone with more time than I have was willing to go through the regulatory state and demand that each and every agency justify its existence and the efficacy of every one of its regulations, we might find that we could shrink government considerably with absolutely no loss of life quality.

So what are we afraid of? Oh, yeah — ourselves and the idea that we are the solutions we’ve been seeking.


Taking the Long View   Leave a comment

So, I ran into my extremely liberal former coworker in the grocery store last night. She was all in a tizzy about corporate tax reform and how it was going to “harm” her financially. Wasn’t I worried about how much more I would pay? When I said my sister-in-law (a CPA with tax experience) had checked my math and assured me we would be saving money not losing it, Michelle asked if my husband’s business had finally taken off. No, Brad is still keeping it small and enjoying being able to take time off to go fishing and hiking when he wants. We’re not rich and current tax reform should save us at least $800 and maybe as much as $2000. And, no, Brad’s business is a sole-proprietorship, not a corporation.

Image result for image of tax cuts helping the economyMichelle is a social worker, not an economist, but that’s really no excuse for ignoring the inconvenient fact that voluntary economic arrangements benefit all participants … else individuals could refuse to participate. In the absence of fraud (government’s failure to protect citizens from criminals) or coercion (government’s invasion on citizens’ rights), self-interest will guarantee a benefit to all parties, regardless of what Congressional Democrats may say at the moment.

The progressive strategy going forward will be to ignore many clear mechanisms by which the rest of us gain from improved incentives for capitalists to use their resources for others.

Corporate tax reform improves after-tax rewards for capital investments, providing tools for increased worker productivity and earnings. It further stimulates innovation, advancing techniques and improving technology, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship. This doesn’t just help company owners, but benefits workers and consumers.

Of course, there is a commonsense caveat here. It takes time for owners of capital to fully respond to improved incentives, meaning the positive effects on workers’ circumstances will appear only with time. The whole strategy of tax-reform opponents will be to focus people’s attention on the short run, before the positive labor effects appear in the data. The hope is that voters will overlook these benefits, which may not be fully realized, in fall of 2018 when they go to the polls to elect Representatives and Senators.

It might be a useful strategy because the benefits to capitalists appear immediately in the data. By comparing the limited benefits to workers in the present to both the present and future benefits to capitalists, opponents of corporate tax rate reductions can cast tax reforms as essentially just “tax cuts for the rich,” even if the vast majority of benefits actually accrue to workers over time.

This is how it works. When the tax burden on a class of assets, say corporate stock, is reduced, it will lead to an immediate increase in those assets’ prices. The asset price increase will not only reflect current gains to their owners, but also capitalize the expected increased after-tax profits that can be expected in the foreseeable future. The more durable the improvements are likely to be, due to future effects, the greater the asset price surge will be.

Additionally, most financial resources are owned by people who have greater wealth and income. Often these are older middle-class households who have had more time to convert unmeasured earning capacity into measured financial wealth, but that still leaves their middle-aged offspring not quite certain they’re seeing a benefit in the first year of tax reform. So, by focusing only on the short run (fall 2018), the results can be made to appear as huge asset gains for “the rich,” with almost no effect on American workers’ financial well-being. That lag lets tax-reform opponents assert that their claim has been “proven”. Of course, the main benefit of these short-term results accrues to older households that have had more time to convert unmeasured earning capacity into measured financial wealth.

Unfortunately for opponents’ supposed “proof”, the improved incentives of higher after-tax returns are the mechanism which produces increased worker productivity and real earnings over time. Those cumulative effects are very large, even when their immediate effect is small. But unlike financial market assets, there is no marketplace in which the higher real earnings of workers in the future (economists call that “human capital”) get capitalized into an easily-observed wage and/or benefit increase.

January’s investor- and owner- class begin to benefit workers later in the year or in January of 2019, but by emphasizing the short-run, the opponents basically just ignore that economic fact.

Michelle insisted that they should have implemented the tax reform starting in 2019 to allow people to adjust. I was stunned at first that anyone would want to delay getting to keep more of their money, but then I remembered, there’s an election in November 2018. She was probably just parroting some talking points she’d heard and taken as gospel. By implementing tax reform staring in January, the GOP gives some hope for businesses to see the benefits of tax relief immediately and to begin to pass those benefits onto their workers and consumers by late summer. As proponents of “taxing the rich” see their prospects for a political win evaporate, they will focus attention on the short-run. “Your wages haven’t gone up spectacularly yet, have they?” Banging that drum throughout the year will make excellent electoral ammunition … unless workers see an increase in their paychecks in late summer.

By the way, we’ve been here before with the Reagan tax reform. There are still people (Michelle is one of them) who will insist that the Reagan reforms had no positive effect for ordinary people. It was just “a tax cut for the wealthy.” Unless you were a worker who say a benefit before the next election, you probably thought your own experience was “proof” that Reagan’s tax reform didn’t work. A short term focus is a massive misrepresentation which diverts attention from the fact that improved incentives reveal themselves in the economy and for workers and consumers over time. If we take a longer-term view of economics, we aren’t fooled by the sleight-of-hand, but most progressive have difficulty with the concept that it can take six to 18 months for a tax cut to be reflected in the growth of real wages. I think that’s the effect generated by a bailout mentality.

Now, here’s the thing – ultimately, tax reform is only part of the picture for a healthy economy. The US economy is burdened by many things in addition to a high corporate tax rate. Unacceptably high levels of debt, private and governmental, also drag on the economy. The evisceration of the manufacturing sector doesn’t help. President Trump is making great progress on the rollback of regulations that was encouraging manufacturers to move overseas and a better tax rate might also help to protect and improve manufacturing in the US, but tax reform alone is not a magic pill. It’s just part of a compound strategy that is essential if any other parts of the strategy are going to work. At some point, government is going to have to cut spending in order to eliminate deficits and address the debt, but that only works if the economy is growing.

Unfortunately, politicians tend to see things in 2-6-year cycles, so don’t often take a long-view approach to the economy. Which begs the question –

Why do we think they should be in charge of the economy?

Posted December 21, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in economics

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Abuse of Law   1 comment

Did you know it is against federal law to share your Netflix password with a friend? Netflix doesn’t really care so long as you’re not selling the password, but the federal government does. They haven’t prosecuted anyone for it, but … similar to the law that makes it illegal to ride a horse drunk in Fairbanks, Alaska … you could be the test case for it. It doesn’t matter if Netflix has an issue with it.

Related image“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

Really? That’s a pretty troubling statement when you’re standing in a country with so many laws that it is impossible to count them all. Forget about reading them and knowing the fine print. When was the last time you even looked at a complete set of federal, state, and local codes setting forth tens of thousands of criminal violation that could send you to jail? There’s a whole room in the State courthouse to house it. It’s enormous and I’m am told by the curator that it is already out of date within days of it being fully stocked with the latest documents.

Very few Americans — not even lawyers — know all the laws and regulations that could send people to jail. Yet, America’s judges don’t let that stop them. They’re perfectly fine with lock people up for doing something they had no idea was illegal.

That’s unfair and flies in the face of the rule of law.  A couple of weeks ago, I was someplace where I could get cell phone reception, but not Internet and I really needed lunch. The problem was I had no money in my checking account and I couldn’t go to my bank in the time allotted for lunch. So, I called my son, who is one of the most honest people in the world and asked him to log into my bank accounts using my password and transfer $30. I told him to destroy the information when he was done with it. Then I ate lunch. The problem is that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 bans intentionally accessing a computer “without authorization,” and the Supreme Court has recently declined to hear a case from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Nosal, that held that password sharing could be prohibited by the Act. Although the majority opinion did not explicitly mention innocent password sharing, the dissent noted that the lack of any limiting principle meant that the majority’s reasoning could easily be used to criminalize a host of innocent conduct … including my son acting as my proxy so I could eat lunch.

At sometime in the past, the rationale for the maxim that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” was to give people an incentive to educate themselves about legal requirements. That was fine when there were few laws and they were mostly discoverable by using common sense, but any law student can tell you that to study all the laws in the United States would take years and barely scratch the surface, which is why lawyers specialize in areas of the law rather than in the whole thing.

Another rationale was to prevent people from escaping criminal penalties by claiming ignorance, even when they actually knew they were breaking the law. Again, that might have made sense in ancient times when there were only a few dozen crimes on the books and all of them involved morally blameworthy conduct like murder, arson, or rape. Today, the law has grown so complicated, and the relationship between law and morality so attenuated, that these supporting rationales no longer make sense. There have been multiple attempts to count the number of federal crimes, including by the Department of Justice, and no one has yet succeeded. Title 18 of the US Code, which governs crimes and criminal procedure, has over 6,000 sections, and it is estimated that there are more than 4,500 federal crimes and over 300,000 agency regulations containing criminal penalties. That doesn’t include the dizzying array of state and local criminal codes. Ignorance without excuse is pretty much assured.

The increasing criminalization of morally blameless conduct makes the punishment of innocent mistakes even more likely. For example, federal law makes it illegal to possess the feather of any native migratory bird even if one just picks it up off the ground. The potential penalties for doing so include fines and even time in prison. Think federal prosecutors would exercise their discretion to prevent miscarriages of justice under such obscure laws? Yeah, right!

Former Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Unser was convicted of illegally driving his snowmobile in a National Forest Wilderness Area in 1996 after he and a friend were stranded in the mountains during a blizzard, and forced to take shelter in a barn while suffering from hypothermia. Reconstructing their meandering path in whiteout conditions, prosecutors concluded they had strayed onto federal land and convicted Unser of the misdemeanor crime of operating a snowmobile in a national wilderness area. While that probably didn’t affect his racing career, if he had a job that was more sensitive to misdemeanors, he might have been unemployed immediately upon his conviction … for taking shelter from a storm in whiteout conditions so as to avoid death.

Even people attempting to perform virtuous acts have been persecuted by overzealous regulators. In 2009, Robert Eldridge, a fisherman from West Chatham, Massachusetts, faced up to a $100,000 fine and a year in prison for interference with a protected marine animal after he freed a humpback whale that had been caught in his fishing gear. He escaped with a comparatively small $500 fine after pleading guilty, but his altruism could have cost him his livelihood and prison time.

Image result for image of ignorance of the law is no excuseMore recently, Alison Capo also faced a year in prison after her daughter rescued a federally protected woodpecker from the family cat. The two were apprehended by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officer who overheard them talking about the bird while shopping for a suitable container at a Lowe’s home improvement store (Her initial fine of $535 was ultimately rescinded by the agency, claiming it was a “clerical error.”).

And it gets worse than that because now people are supposed to know the laws in other countries and assure that whatever they purchase online was in compliance with those laws.

Subjecting well-meaning homeowners, desperate snowmobilers, innocent password sharers, and countless other blameless Americans to prosecution for conduct that no reasonable person would know was illegal doesn’t advance the cause of justice. It undermines it. If the government cannot even count all of the criminal laws it has enacted, how on earth can citizens be expected to obey them?

Posted December 21, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Common sense

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Scandal for the Ages   1 comment

I almost made it through the season without encountering any Jesus resistance and that would have been such a nice accomplishment. Unfortunately, I had two incidents since Thanksgiving and the second one, last night, just made me feel the need to respond without yelling at someone in a parking lot.

Image result for image of nativityThe first, which is a repeat, is the neighbor who brings a petition around every year to ask people to protest another neighbor who puts out a lighted Nativity scene every Christmas. It is large and lighted, but they turn it off at 10 pm and it isn’t even on my block, so … “it neither picks my pocket or breaks my leg.” I never sign the petition and I think not many others do because the homeowner is still putting the Nativity scene out. If I ever see someone outside of the house when I’m out walking, I’ll ask them, but … “it neither picks my pocket or breaks my leg”, so I don’t really care.

Then last night in the grocery store parking lot (dang the unusually warm weather that made this possible) a group of people were accosting shoppers and trying to talk them out of the whole idea of Christmas. I was trying to buy ingredients for a birthday dinner. Get out of my way, please!

There is something about Christmas that provokes dissent from people who don’t want Christian symbols displayed where they can see them, particularly not on public property or … (gasp) … sung by children in public schools. While I find the overlording of their beliefs on those of us who do not agree annoying, I don’t think it rises to the level of a “hate” crime against Christians … despite the fact that, if it were directed at people of color, it would indeed be considered a “hate” crime. Some conservative commentators disagree with me, but I will point out that there are many parts of the world (Syria, Iran, Sudan, China, and others) Christians really are being persecuted and sometimes even killed for their beliefs. What is going on in America’s symbolic opposition to Christianity is something different.

Can we be honest about Christ and Christianity for a moment, please?

Jesus Christ was and remains a controversial figure. The natural reaction to Christ is to reject Him. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. He said people would reject Him — and reject us because of our association with Him.  In fact, when Jesus was taken to the Temple as an infant, Simeon prophesied that He would be a center of contention. Later Jesus predicted His own death and told His followers they must expect persecution too.

Let’s remember, His bitterest enemies weren’t atheists. They were the most religious men of His age, the Pharisees, who considered His claims blasphemous.

Our mistake in modern Western culture is to boil the gospel down to preaching on the need to be nice. Jesus wasn’t all that nice, folks. While He performed miracles of love and mercy, He also warned of eternal damnation, attacked and insulted the Pharisees, and could rebuke even people who adored Him in words that would make most of us today cringe if it weren’t in the Bible. At every step of His ministry, He made enemies and brought His crucifixion closer.

To many in His day, Jesus was a threat and He remains one today in many circles. We honor Him more by acknowledging His explosive presence than by making Him a mere symbol of nice manners. The Romans used crucifixion only against people they considered to be dangerous and society-disrupting. People weren’t crucified for being nice.

Jesus understood what He was doing when He said “I and the Father are one” and “Nobody comes to the Father except through Me.” Nobody had ever made such claims before. It enraged pious Pharisees and baffled His own disciples at the same time. After feeding thousands with the miraculous loaves and fishes, He announced that He Himself was “the bread of life” and unless you ate His flesh and drank His blood, you have no life in you.

That audacious teaching was too much. It cost Him many of His disciples on the spot. He didn’t try to coax them back by explaining that He was only speaking figuratively. There was nothing figurative about His language. He was foretelling the Lord’s Supper.

At virtually every step of His ministry, Jesus accompanied His words with miracles. Remarkably, His enemies disputed the words rather than the miracles. There was no doubt about the wonders He performed. He often performed them in front of large crowds. It was the meaning of His miracles that was controversial.

The blind saw, the deaf heard, cripples walked, lepers were healed. Where did He get the power to do these things? From God or the devil? He used the miracles to certify His power to forgive sins, the claim His critics first found outrageous.

His claims still reverberate. The Gospels attest the total coherence of His mission, the perfect harmony between His words and His deeds, even the careful order of His progressive self-disclosure. Few historians of any note argue that Jesus didn’t exist in history or even that the Resurrection didn’t happen. Too many people saw Jesus after He resurrected for it to be hoax. The honest historians admit that while the less honest ones try to develop theories of explanation that make no sense.

Jesus’ modern enemies, many of them claiming to be Christians, don’t try to disprove the miracles either. They simply assume He never performed them. Some of them assume He never spoke many of the words the Gospels record Him as saying.

I’ve never been able to get my mind around that skepticism. I believed it only until I actually read the gospels. The poet Tennyson remarked that Christ’s greatest miracle was His personality. Could anyone else — the four authors of the Gospels, for example — have made Him up, and put such resonant words in His mouth?

Such a strong and unique personality could only meet with a powerful resistance. This is why Christians shouldn’t resent the natural resistance of those who refuse to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Yeah, they’re attempting to prove Christ didn’t exist or has no power over them. Yet, in their own confused way, those people are upholding Jesus’ very testimony that He would be a scandal to those who thought themselves wise. Their resistance would prove how foolish they really were.

So, in a way, the anti-Christians are acting as servants of God.

Posted December 21, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Ivanka Derangement Syndrome   Leave a comment

So did you hear the latest political kerfuffle? Ivanka Trump visited a highschool in Connecticut and spoke about … (gasp) getting an education!

OMG! That’s so controversial!

Parents of students at Norwalk Early College Academy were upset, so upset that one parent pulled their kid out of school. For security reasons, the announcement of Trump’s visit came at the last minute and that parent objected.

'This should have been brought to our attention, although I do understand security reasons,' said parent Karey Fitzgerald. 'I think we should have had the choice to send our child to school or keep them home'“This should have been brought to our attention, although I do understand security reasons. I think we should have had the choice to send our child to school or keep them home,” Karey Fitzgerald, a Norwalk Early College Academy parent, told News 12 Connecticut Monday following Ivanka Trump’s appearance.

This reaction reminded me of the national reaction to Sarah Palin. You cannot deny Sarah Palin did an excellent job as governor of Alaska. Until Bill Walker got the Chinese to agree to help finance it, no governor got as close to building the Alaska gas pipeline as Sarah did. She refused to inflate the budget during times of high oil prices, redlining increases by the legislators. Instead, she filled up the state savings accounts in anticipation of a rainy day. Had her successor Sean Parnell done the same thing, the State of Alaska would not be talking about an income tax today. When the price of oil collapsed during the Parnell administration, the State had savings to tide us over, but almost none of that savings was put there by Parnell, who allowed the legislature to balloon the budget by 30%, chasing the high oil prices.

But when Sarah hit the national stage, people either loved her way too much and thought she could do no wrong or they hated her on a visceral level. Those of us who had met her personally and knew her to be neither a saint nor Satan were told we didn’t know what we were talking about.

That dichotomy of sentiment spilled over onto Sarah’s kids, particularly Bristol Palin. She had her fans, but if you didn’t like Sarah, you probably hated Bristol. And, if you thought Sarah was a human being who makes mistakes, you probably saw Bristol as a human being who makes mistakes.

But those with Palin Derangement Syndrome will see every incident involving the Palins as something evil and not common to mankind. No, Track Palin couldn’t just be a young adult, probably genetically prone to alcoholism like many Alaskan Natives and American Indians, who came back from war with his head a little messed up and is self-medicating. No, he couldn’t possibly be like thousands of other young former soldiers. Instead, commenters on the Anchorage Daily News feel comfortable calling him and the entire Palin family “poor white trash”, even though Todd Palin is an Alaska Native (Aleut). The commenter was incensed when I told him he was a racist bigot (I don’t usually get that heated, but the comment deserved it). But if I were to take the inventory of Obama’s eldest daughter, probably even with acknowledging the stress of growing up in a political fishbowl, I’d get lots of folks calling me a racist. What is the difference?

The vast majority of the students at the Norwalk Early College Academy say they enjoyed the visit and were honored to meet the first daughter. She didn’t say anything controversial.

So, I don’t know Karen Fitzgerald, angry parent, but I’m going to assume she felt the need to shield her kid from a Trump. Why? Is she afraid her child will learn that Mom’s Trump Derangement Syndrome is over the top, that Ivanka Trump is a normal human being?

There are times when I look back on my child-raising years and wish I could have kept my kids in private school until they graduated. I hear them espousing opinions that I know are based on propaganda they picked up in the public high school. My daughter was a mild fan of Sarah when she was governor, but now thinks she’s an idiot who is somehow responsible for Alaska’s current financial problems. I try to correct that occasionally and have learned that SDS is a really hard obsession to break. Could I have sheltered her from those extremely liberal propaganda positions? Probably not. Maybe she wouldn’t have heard them in the classroom, but she would have encountered them on the Internet. And, I hold out hope that she will eventually remember what she was raised to believe. I see the same dynamic going on with her brother now, except he is naturally a more conservative person, so he will at least have a conversation with me on the topic.

I didn’t care for Barack Obama (pretty much from the point in Dreams from My Father when he wrote about admiring Robert Mugabe), but the admirer of genocidal Marxist dictators did a few things right as president and I generally acknowledged it when I discovered them. I wish the best for he and his family as they exit Stage Left (Please, the door is right there! Just go through it and close it on your way out!). I am glad he’s no longer in charge of the government, but I don’t hate him. I just think his policies unnecessarily strangled the economy and infringed on the liberty of the American people. I encouraged my kids to listen to his speeches and to note his drone bombing campaigns in Syria and Yemen.

I don’t love Donald Trump. I don’t hate him either. I think he’s had a pretty good first year with a phenomenal headwind of media negativity. His regulatory rollback is particularly applause-worthy. Consumer confidence may or may not be sane, but the economic indicators are looking good. Obama never had economic growth higher than 2%. This year’s economic growth was 3% and, with tax reform, it may well be 4% next year. I don’t like his tweets, but I do like the idea of keeping more of my money in my bank account and opening ANWR to limited development.

I kind of think of Ivanka Trump as a socialite businesswoman. She’s Ariana Huffington or Teresa Heinz. She dabbles in cosmetics, clothing and fragrances, but her real job is being rich. That would be true if her daddy hadn’t become president. I’m okay with that. Ariana Huffington and Teresa Heinz have spoken at schools too. I wonder if any parents have ever pulled their kids out of class so they couldn’t hear what they had to say.

Ultimately, I guess the question is – why are liberals so afraid their children might hear something they don’t want them to hear? If you’ve raised your kids in the right way (whatever you think that might be), then you shouldn’t be worried that they will be exposed to ideas that will challenge the way of thinking you raised them in. But that’s not really what has them scared I think. They’re worried their kid might learn that Ivanka Trump is not an evil person and then their kid might come back to challenge Mom on her Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Farm Subsidies Hurt Us All   1 comment

Putting myself into the community of Emmaus required that I study up on agriculture in the United States and I discovered some ugly truths about farming in America that really pissed me off. While the web of farm regulations and subsidies will mean my characters go hungry as they face a Midwestern winter, in real life if means that the poor of the world go hungry.

Image result for image of new zealand farming

For example, in the EU, agricultural protectionism has resulted in European consumers paying as much as 17% more on agricultural goods than the rest of the world. The distortion caused by protectionism are also evidence in the US. In both cases, it really hurts the poor.


We all purchase and consume food. Rich or poor, we all have to eat. How we spend our food budget is impacted by our income.

Low-income folks statistically spend around 4% more of their incomes on food than do the wealthy. A $100 food budget represents a greater amount to a person with $1,000 than to someone with $10,000, even if they’re consuming the same amount of calories. While richer families are able to spend the bulk of their income on luxury goods or on savings, every penny counts when half of your income goes on food. Thus, the poor are hit especially hard by increasing food costs. An increase in the cost of bread can be devastating when your budget is tight, even if it’s only by a small amount.

So, it would seem like the major question is “how do we keep food prices down?” The most selected answer in the US and EU is “government programs.” But these programs actually drive up food prices, so are not effective anti-poverty programs.

As with most other goods and services, when left alone, market forces allow for the agriculture and food sector to diversify and flourish. This would result in readily available, cost-effective food for all … except the government got involved.


Agricultural protectionism itself comes in various forms. Farm subsidies are pretty common and are designed to guarantee farmers a fair wage. What they usually result in is overproduction and waste.


Tariff and nontariff barriers to foreign entry are also common and aim to prevent farmers from foreign countries from providing cheaper products and undercutting local producers (ironically almost exactly what subsidized farmers do after overproducing).

Blocking foreign competition results in higher prices for agricultural goods due to a lack of competition. As a result, consumers in protected economies usually wind up paying more for foodstuffs than if the market were free.

Image result for image of new zealand farming

There’s even evidence that subsidies contribute to obesity. In the United States, the majority of farm subsidies go to crops like corn, wheat, and soy — primarily used as food for livestock and as sweeteners — whereas subsidies for fruit fall far shorter. As a result, unhealthy foods have their prices artificially lowered while the healthy stuff stays expensive. Thus, poorer members of society are not only made to pay a greater percentage of their income, but they often have to forgo a healthy diet to do so.

Meanwhile, farmers and consumers south of the equator have a much better time of it.

In New Zealand, farms were liberated from state interference following an agricultural crisis back in the 1980s. Farmers were left without subsidies after the market reforms, ultimately resulting in Kiwi agriculture booming into one of the most diverse and efficient markets in the world.

Not only were prices decreased, but previously ignored sectors popped up as well — including the now-booming New Zealand wine industry.

Like New Zealand, Australian farmers are among the world’s least subsidizedwhile its agricultural economy is diverse and efficient, resulting in the gross value of production in that sector reaching record levels this year at AU$62.8 billion.

Seeing how unsubsidized farmers flourish down south, one is forced to question why we stick with protectionism in Europe and the US.

Most American politicians and certainly most regulators believe they’re doing the working man, including the farmer, a favor. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Implementing protectionist principles in the agricultural sector raises prices for consumers, promotes overproduction, damages developing economies, and lowers efficiency and innovation. Conversely, unregulated farming results in diversification, growth, and efficiency. Consumers pay less for better products, and healthier foods are more readily available. Diversification also leads to new markets and sectors, resulting in a higher availability of jobs.

Let’s stop pretending that agricultural protectionism helps anybody — especially the poor and working class and most especially the farmer. Europe and the US need to follow in our Southern Hemisphere cousins’ footsteps: Free the farms, and feed the poor.

Posted December 19, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Common sense

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December 18, 2017 – Research. Post an interesting fact or facts you’ve come across researching a book.

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One of the things I like best about being a writer is researching interesting topics that I wouldn’t ordinarily find the time to research.

Image result for image of libraryMy mother was a farm girl, but except for being forced to weed her garden when I was a kid, I didn’t know much about farming until I started writing books that involved farmers. Most of the population of Celdrya are farmers eking out a living with crude plows drawn by oxen. The town of Emmaus is surrounded by corn fields. I knew nothing about Medieval farming when I started Daermad Cycle and I knew nothing about corn farming when started Transformation Project. Now I know arcane knowledge like farmers try to save money by allowing corn to dry on the cob before harvesting. This will save some lives in the series.

In researching how the town would survive the apocalypse, I learned about silos and why so many of them are being converted to other uses today – my son tells me of an awesome bouldering club in a grain silo. I worked that into the story – what do you do with all that corn you’ve been sending to the mega silos for the last 30 years now that it is in your best interest to keep it local? You can’t just dig a hole in the ground and bury it because the damp of the ground will turn the corn into hominy. But there are silos that are built into the ground – they’re called bunker silos. You see a couple in the hillside during the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. So there is a way to do it right.

In Daermad Cycle, a king is poisoned and dies. I spent a fair amount of time studying up on poisons. Padraig, the central figure in an ensemble cast, is an herbman so I had to learn about herbal treatments. My main race are the descendants of Celts who stumbled into an alternative universe a thousand years ago (in their time line). They call things by familiar names, but these items are not necessarily exactly what exists in our world. The Kin are indigenous to the world of Daermad and they have some very different items because they have never lived in the world we know. I’ve spent a lot of time researching swords, knives, Medieval clothing and horses for Daermad Cycle.

In Transformation Project both my main character, Shane, and his grandfather Jacob are pilots. I grew up on the edge of the flying community – 80% of Alaskan communities cannot be reached by roads, so we fly a lot. I have even taken flight training. I could keep a single-engine plane in the air and theoretically know how to land one, though I have never gotten to practice that part. I thoroughly enjoyed studying about the planes that work their way into the story.

There are so many different things to learn, but I thought I’d go into detail on just one. Martial law plays a big part in Transformation Project. I wanted to have my facts straight before I played with them so I googled “martial law in the United States.” and learned about President Obama signing Executive Order 13603, titled “National Defense Resources Preparedness.” To be totally fair, President Obama was merely tweaking an existing Executive Order that goes back all the way to the Truman administration. So, it’s been about 60 years since the government gave itself the authority to seize all US resources and persons, including during peacetime, for self-declared “national defense”. The president is authorized to delegate authority to various federal departments and agencies identify, confiscate and reallocate food, gasoline, machinery, medicine, water, and even people.

A Threatening Fragility Front CoverOf course, no US president has actually done this, though it ought to make us nervous that they think they have such authority. Let’s hope it never comes to that. In Transformation Project, it’s a key big bad, because the people in charge weren’t elected by anyone and yet they feel they have the authority to take food, medicine, and crops and conscript people into a workforce to make this happen.

What do you do when what you need to survive conflicts with official policy?

The people of Emmaus think they know the answer, but are they willing to pay the price?

Are actual Americans willing to put themselves in that position? No, it can’t happen here … until maybe it does and then maybe it’s too late. Since I’m planning more books in the series, you can surmise that at least some of the people in Emmaus survive … but how well they survive depends on how much of their resources they were able to hang onto.


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