Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

"Observe that the 'haves' are those who have freedom, and that it is freedom that the 'have-nots' have not." Ayn Rand

"The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not 'selflessness' or 'sacrifice', but integrity." Ayn Rand

For "a human being, the question 'to be or not to be,' is the question 'to think or not to think.'" Ayn Rand

23 February 2008

The Convenience of Not Thinking in Politics

Thomas Sowell, in Applied Economics, points out that people generally think only about the immediate intended result of any political issue they think about. When thinking that it would be nice if there were less violence, it seems so easy to wish that the elimination of gun ownership will eliminate violence. The fact that criminals will still acquire guns, while law-abiding citizens will be the ones disarmed, does not come to mind unless one takes the thought process a step further. Certainly thinking about the studies that show that there is more violence and that more homes are robbed when occupied when gun ownership is limited to the criminals, is still another step down the road of thought that is not followed.

Here in Maryland, the electric utilities have not been allowed to charge residential home owners enough for their power that the electric utilities could properly maintain and modernize their power distribution systems. In the BG&E area, residential owners were paying one-third less for power than were commercial users. In effect, commercial users were subsidizing the residential power users, since their additional payments were providing a disproportionate share of the power system maintenance costs and for the upgrades to the system. These commercial users were getting only a portion of the benefits in reliable power that they should have been getting. There is a very unreliable transformer near my laboratory which has long needed to be replaced and it has not been. This is likely a direct result of the residential home power subsidy. In addition to the many power failures experienced at my lab, we have nightly brown-outs, which I suspect are due to BG&E intentionally reducing the line voltage in the middle of the night in a desperate attempt to reduce their operational costs a bit. This may not affect many residential users of power, but my laboratory often runs experiments through the night. These brown-outs only rarely kill the computers, but they add to uncertainty about the quality of some of the data acquired by our spectrometers. Of course, those businesses which place a premium value on reliable power do not have as many concerned voters on their side as does the side which wishes for lower home power costs. It is simply assumed that we commercial users will be able to continue to provide jobs whether we have reliable power or not. It is not rocket science to understand what the effects of state power commission interference in rational power rates will be, but most of the voters will not allow themselves to think past the idea that it would be nice if the state government arranged for their power costs to be lower.

I talked to my mother tonight and she remarked that many of her elderly friends refuse to think about the effects of social programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and further proposed socialized medicine schemes. My Mom points out that medical care will suffer and that the costs of Medicare are too high because it is in no one's immediate interest to control costs. My Mom has often questioned why she or my Dad were charged so much for a procedure, a doctor walking through and asking "How are you?", or the cost of a medical product. The reply is usually, "Why do you care? You are not paying for it." Commonly, this response is an angry one. She asks her elderly friends why they do not care that the programs they want come at the expense of higher taxes on their children and grandchildren. They respond that that is depressing to think about, so why think about it? It seems to me that this is a clear case of parental and grandparental abuse of children and grandchildren, but it is apparently widely accepted practice. The AARP institutionalizes it and works mightily to lobby for this abuse. For this reason, I immediately throw away their invitations to join their organization. I love my three daughters and my nieces and nephews. I do not want to smother their life options in oppressive taxes. I will not join AARP in their crusade of intergenerational warfare. But most elderly people apparently do. They are only too happy to hurt their children. It is good not to think about this painful consequence of thinking only about their immediate convenience.

In the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC such as Montgomery County and Howard County, about half of each county has been set aside to remain farmland or to be developed in 3 acre lots. The cost of land is so great in these counties that hardly anyone can afford to buy 3 acres and put a home on them. These land-use restrictions are intended to provide plenty of open green areas. This is the wished for result and it works. This is the claimed sole intent. However, a great many of the voters have an ulterior motive. Their monetary stake in their homes is great, so they do think a bit further down the road on this issue. They are generally very aware that they are choosing a course of action here which will drive up the cost of housing in their area and increase the value of their home in particular. On this kind of political issue they have an incentive to think about the consequences of their green area restrictions and they like the result. Yes, given a money incentive, people will think about what they are doing politically, at least a bit further down the road. But, do they admit that this is the real reason they are so green? No, never. They are very happy to pull the mantle of being an environmentally friendly good guy over their shoulders. But, that is not their primary reason for wanting land-use restrictions. The primary reason is to make housing more expensive. There is little remorse that this hurts others.

So, what do the politicians think of these usually unthinking voters? That it is very easy to present ideas for legislation which have wished for intentions. This legislation always gives the politicians more power. It improves their chances of re-election. By the time the problems come home to roost, they will be in a higher office or already retired from politics. If they serve in the US House of Representatives or the Senate, they will be enjoying a retirement with more than $1,000,000 a year income from a Fedeal government pension and further income for lobbying. Far from wishing to provide leadership in the quest for good government, our politicians see only gravy in the micro-thoughts of their electors. They are intelligent enough to manipulate the voters into giving them power, but never intelligent enough to think about the consequences of their actions on future generations of Americans. You see, they do their own wishing. They wish for power and a conscience free of concern for the ill they have done the country. In my correspondence with Maryland Senators and Representatives, I have found them all to be simple-minded in their espoused thinking, but very nimble in manipulating the voters. They are clearly practiced at selective thinking. They specialize in only that thought directed at being re-elected and increasing their own power over others.