Monday, July 21, 2014

Postlude for organ: O God of Every Nation

On July 13 I premiered my  new organ piece,  playing it as the postlude at the Corvallis (Oregon) First Congregational Church (UCC). 

For a video of this,  click here.

The music for this piece,  which is not copyrighted and can be freely used,  can be seen and printed from my website.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Declaration of Independence Was A Mistake


This op-ed was published by the Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon) on June 30, 2004.  I am posting it here because that website may no longer be accessible by non-subscribers.
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The Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-Tung once observed that, "There is nothing as practical as a good theory." Unfortunately for China, he didn't have one. Even more unfortunately, Americans don't have one, either. (Just because we correctly disagreed with Mao's perverse principles doesn't mean that ours are correct. It is possible for both sides of a disagreement to be wrong.)

The fundamental error in U.S. political doctrine is our assumption¸ never adequately examined, that nations and "peoples" ought to have a right to independence and "self-determination." Although this principle was best articulated by President Woodrow Wilson during World War I, its roots go clear back to the Declaration of Independence and the subsequent war by which we tore ourselves loose from British rule.

The problem with a claimed right of self-determination is that government isn't like that. Political philosophers have long understood that the essence of government is its power to impose sanctions on people, the power in the inspired language of the Constitution to deprive people of life, liberty or property. Since nobody will consent to a transaction in which they are to be executed, imprisoned, or fined, our basic relationship with government is an involuntary association, not a voluntary one.

St. Thomas Aquinas was pointing out this unpleasant fact about government when he noted that "Taking away justice, then, what is government but a great robber band?" Everybody understands that the relationship between a robber and his victim is an involuntary association. Even Mao Tse-tung, who being merely human could not always manage to be wrong, got something right when he observed that "All political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."

It is perverse to claim a right to voluntarily select the people with whom we are going to be involuntarily associated. Any foreign policy based on such a belief cannot help but confuse and disorient us and our leaders. And it throws us seriously off-balance when we are dealing with terrorists.

It is often said that organizations like the PLO, the ETA (Basque separatists in Spain), the IRA (Catholic separatists in Northern Ireland), the Chechen separatists in Russia, etc., are pursuing legitimate goals with illegitimate means. This is incorrect. These organizations are pursuing illegitimate goals - national independence - with illegitimate means - terrorism.

The people for whom these organizations claim to speak may indeed have legitimate grievances. But if they are being singled out for unjust treatment by the governments they are currently under, the proper remedy is to demand that they be treated equally under the law along with everyone else in their country, not that they be allowed to go their own way.

Americans have seen how well this reformist approach works. Black people in America historically suffered from intolerable injustices, but mainstream black leaders correctly resisted the bad precedent set by the Declaration of Independence and demanded equality before the law rather than separation.

It may take Americans some time to recognize that my argument is a correct one. Understanding this will not be easy for people whose principal political holiday is Independence Day!

Of course, it is too late now to repudiate the Declaration of Independence and submit once again to British rule. But the vigor with which the United States stomped on the attempt by its southern states to secede implicitly admitted that we recognize no right to self-determination when it is directed against our own government. It is high time that we explicitly admit that our revolution was a mistake, and stop condoning efforts to secede from other countries, too.

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Paul F. deLespinasse of Corvallis is a retired professor of political science from Adrian College in Michigan. His e-mail address is pdeles@proaxis.com

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How to increase the real minimum wage


Proposals to increase the minimum wage are being debated again, with both sides treating us to the usual arguments. Those favoring increases note the impossibility of supporting a family on the current minimum:  $7.25 an hour federally up to around $10 in some states.  This is obviously true. Opponents say increasing labor costs will reduce the number of workers hired, increasing unemployment.  This also is true, though the extent of the damage is unclear. 

We need a policy that would increase the prevailing minimum wage to a decent level selected by the government,  perhaps $15 hourly,  without increasing unemployment.

Of all places,  North Dakota may suggest the way.  The oil boom there has produced such a labor shortage that some McDonalds are paying rank and file workers $15 to $20 per hour. Some even offer signing bonuses.

North Dakota undermines claims that increasing the legal minimum would drive fast food establishments out of business.  McDonalds pays less in the rest of the country, not because it can’t afford to pay more,  but because conditions allow it to get workers for much less.  Most places the supply of low-skill workers is greater than the demand for them, and employers are not in business for their health.

We seem to be in a trap:  Unemployment could be reduced by reducing the minimum wage,  but this would aggravate already intolerable economic inequality.  A higher floor under wages could reduce economic inequality (for those with jobs) but reduce the number of jobs. 

We can avoid this trap by make the whole country more like North Dakota.  This would require a federal program offering full time jobs for everyone over 18  for (say) $15 an hour plus legally-required fringe benefits like health insurance.   Those hired would do things that need doing but are not getting done—helping old people,  maintaining parks,  picking up litter,  tutoring kids,  keeping an eye out for vandals, taking care of invalids,  comforting the dying,  you name it. 

Given such a program, places like McDonalds would have to pay staff at least as well as the federal program does to get enough workers.  And if employers reduce staffing because of increased costs, it wouldn’t increase unemployment; the government program would pick up the slack.  There would in fact be no unemployment.  None! 

The biggest disadvantage of this program is that it would visibly cost taxpayers something.  But it is more honest than minimum wage laws which promote noble objectives without apparently costing anybody anything and which do not guarantee a job,  just  minimum hourly pay if you can find a job.    

Benefits like improved personal security against unemployment would be an offset against the costs. The services provided by people working under the program would also be a plus.  And the program could partly be paid for by eliminating or reducing the Earned Income Tax Credit,  food stamps,  unemployment compensation, and other federal benefits.  Minimum wage laws could be repealed, eliminating the costs of enforcing them,  and no one would notice. 

It is time to put a real floor under wages and eliminate the scourge of unemployment once and for all.  North Dakota proves that this is not impossible as a matter of economics.  Now all we need is leaders who will make it politically possible.

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This piece has run in the Grand Forks Herald.  


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Catching up on postings to this blog

I have just posted a number of op-ed articles and 3 published letters to the Wall Street Journal that I have written during the last year but not gotten around to posting.  

Obamacare and Part-Time Work----letter to the Wall Street Journal

To the editor:

Andrew Puzder argues correctly that Obamacare encourages employers to add more part-time and fewer full-time workers.  But he pushes his argument too far. 

When the mandate finally kicks in,  employers who must start providing insurance for their higher-paid workers can reduce cash wages by the amount of their premiums and thus incur no increase in their total cost of labor, as those who already supply insurance are doing now.    

Employers with low-paid workers cannot reduce wages below the legal minimum and will therefore reduce them to part-time.  These are the businesses for which Puzder’s analysis is correct.

Employers with higher-paid workers would not save money by making them all part-time.  Such a strategy would ignore the value placed by workers on insurance. To be equally attractive to newly part-time workers,  such employers would have to increase wages by more than their decreased insurance costs since individually purchased insurance costs more and would not be tax-sheltered.  And their management expenses would increase because of the need to supervise more workers.    

Mr. Puzder is chief executive of a restaurant chain, and restaurants do employ large numbers of  low-wage workers,  but his analysis cannot be extended to  the economy in general.

Paul deLespinasse

CorvallisOregon

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A version of this letter was published by the Wall Street Journal

Don't Encourage Violent Overthrow of Iranian Government----letter to Wall Street Journal

To the editor:

In reviewing Kenneth M. Pollack’s The Ayatollah Puzzle, Sohrab Ahmari says “The book’s most compelling section contends, convincingly, that the West should attempt to foment revolution inside Iran by supporting dissidents . . .” 

This is a terrible idea.  It is much easier to overthrow a regime we regard as bad than it is to replace it with something that is better, as we have seen in Iraq, AfghanistanLibya, and (prospectively) Syria.  This is true whether the overthrow is brought about by the U.S. military or by armed insurgents.

Such overthrows have not furthered  U.S. interests and cannot be justified as “humanitarian” on behalf of the local populations.   Saddam Hussein’s regime was horrible,  and Husssein killed a lot of “his own” people to preserve his rule.  But now that he is gone life in Iraq is even more precarious as various factions that he had been able to repress are now free to bomb weddings,  funerals,  and everywhere else innocent civilians gather. 

The U.S. should refrain from encouraging violent overthrows of existing regimes,  no matter how bad.  We should instead root for reformers.   Even very bad regimes can be reformed from within, as we saw in the U.S.S.R. and South Africa.
 
Given our bad image in Iran,  we should not handicap dissidents who are seeking peaceful reforms by “supporting” them.  With friends like us,  they would not need enemies. 

Paul deLespinasse
Corvallis, Oregon

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A version of this letter was published by the Wall Street Journal.



Robots and Unemployment--letter to Wall Street Journal

To the editor:

Holmon W Jenkins [“Robots to the Rescue?”, Jan. 9, 2013]  worries about a future labor shortage caused by an aging population with fewer people producing what “idle oldsters” would like to consume. 

As one who is far from idle and who has been receiving Social Security for ten years,  I take umbrage at the snide generalization “idle oldsters.”  And I can’t understand how it will improve the consumer-producer ratio if people “save [more] for their retirement and depend less on Uncle Sam.”   If you are retired,  you are retired,  no matter what the source of  your income.  

Perhaps Jenkins should spend more time worrying about actual, current problems, and less time extrapolating dubious hypothetical problems into the future.  At the moment, as some of us have noticed,  not only is there no labor shortage, but there is a terrible surplus.  We call that surplus unemployment. 

As the numbers of young producers decrease, perhaps the chronically unemployed will be able to get jobs.   And if an actual shortage threatens to develop,   remember that shortages exist only at a given prevailing price.  Any shortage will evaporate once wages rise to the level where the amount of labor demanded equals the amount supplied. 

Paul deLespinasse
Corvallis, Oregon


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A version of this letter was published by the Wall Street Journal.