Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Santa Claus Economics

I thought I was going to take a break until 2013.  Silly me...

As we inch closer to that day where a mythical fat man rides around Earth giving away free stuff, I wanted to share with you some parenting advice (if you have little kids or plan on creating some) and a video that shows Santa Claus economic philosophy that existed decades ago in our country.

First, the parenting stuff...

When my oldest son was a little fellow he came to me one day and said, "Dad, my friend __________ told me that there is some guy named Santa Claus who rides around in the sky on Christmas and gives us presents under our tree."

I looked down at this cute little dude and replied, "Boy, let me tell you something.  There is nobody flying around giving you anything.  Every gift you will see under our tree came from my getting up and going to work to make the money to buy them."

He seemed appreciative and relieved that his dad is generous and that he would not be woken up by reindeer stomping on our roof.

Which brings me to Santa Claus as politician. 

Say what you want about President Obama.  He fails miserably as the "Great Provider" when his openly stated beliefs are matched up with Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Take a look at this brief clip from a speech FDR gave in 1944.

There you have it.  The Founders said we have a God-given right to life, liberty and property.  They could not add a fourth right without abrogating the rights of one person to give the fourth right to another.

FDR then and Mr. Obama now are of the grander view - the Santa Claus view - that we all deserve so much more - even if someone else has to pay for it.

Sometimes I wish Santa Claus was real.  At least he wouldn't tax me for my toys...


  1. I swore that I wasn't going to get into this again with you, Jack. But I can't help myself. How depressing it must be to live like that--constantly looking over one's shoulder at all those people who want to get their hands in your wallet. "It's my money! Mine, all mine..."

    Your argument is always based on principles of liberty and economics, but it sure comes across as selfishness and even bitterness sometimes--the very thought that someone unable to find work or to physically work should be helped along the way via taxes that came from your paycheck. When my wife and I give to the food bank or some other charity (admittedly not much in the grand scheme of things)it feels like opportunity, and I have the same outlook about taxes on my pay going to help those who legitimately need help. I guess that all sounds holier than thou. Sorry about that.

  2. Russ

    I think you would be surprised by the amount (it is very large) that I give to charity every year and some of the things I am involved in that take time and money to help people in need.

    Please understand my perspective. Charity, by its very definition is a voluntary act. If any force, threats or coercion leads to "giving" it is not charity.

    Taking the fruits of my labor by force and giving it away to others is no different than robbing people on the side of the road for the purpose of buying food for the poor.

    I am not greedy. I do not say, "Mine, mine." I give - gladly so - but do not want force to be the basis for "giving".

    By the way, if you do not mind paying taxes for those who "legitimately" need it...

    1. How do you define legitimate?
    2. Do you mind the lazy getting your money?
    3. Are you concerned that people might quit trying to help themselves if welfare is available?


  3. 1. I mean people with medical or mental needs who can't provide for themselves, and women who've been abused and need shelter, and people who are looking for work or who are working two jobs w/out insurance and still not providing for their families and on and on. It is a depressingly large definition in this country--a huge irony, considering our GDP and overall resources. It's mostly about priorities. The money that went to fund two completely unnecessary wars could have gone a long way toward paying down the deficit and helping folks who need it.
    2. Yes I mind but inevitably there will be some of those who find ways to cheat, just as there are many rich folks who find ways to cheat on paying what they owe to the government or even to some who work for them. I can't say, stop all social aid programs because a few people find ways to cheat.
    3. I'm not a sociologist and can't begin to answer that. Again--it's plain that there are cheats out there who game the system. But again, the actual need is huge, and the government has the resources to offer help. My god, here locally there's the scandal of the charter school principal and her husband who walked away with almost a million county and state bucks when the gov. closed the school. Do you then advocate closing all charter schools because someone used the system unfairly to their advantage?

    It's great that you are charitable (and I apologize for the tone of my earlier message about that), but a whole lot of people who could afford to be probably aren't. I don't take it as coercion when some of my tax money goes to social programs. I guess I'm a panty-waist liberal in that regard. I just don't have the time or inclination to get my shorts in a twist about that.

    Anyway. Thanks for the conversation, and I hope you and your family have a good Christmas and holiday season.


  4. Benjamin Franklin was a wise man:

    “I am for doing good to the poor, but...I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed...that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

    Interesting to see signs at parks telling people to not feed the animals because this will encourage them to become dependent and diminish their ability to survive on their own. Does being human automatically disqualify us from this effect?

    Also, who truly "needs" financial support from the government? What is their need? Do people need luxuries or is this simply a want?

    If those receiving taxpayers' money truly "need" it, why are they statistically fatter than those that don't. Is this not a sign of abundance?

    I believe that among those that receive taxpayer funds, the truly needy are outnumbered by those that are greedy.

  5. Lot's of rights but no mention of any responsibilities. It's all take and no give. What Roosevelt started has become class envy and entitlement to everything without being expected to do anything.
    Sure, I agree to help those who need help. But I don't believe in taking more and more from people who work to get ahead and giving it to those whose only job is finding ways to get something without working. There are a lot of those people. You academic types live in a strange world. You don't always see what happens with the true working class and the increasing number of people manipulating the world to get benefits.

    1. I wish I could get a clearer picture of this "strange world" we "academic types" live in (and by the way, is Prof. Chambless also an "academic type?"). I don't know why it would be much different from the "real world." Many of my students work--some full-time--to be able to afford college classes. Is our world strange because we make money primarily with our intellects rather than with our hands? I was a stonemason for ten years before I went to graduate school, and what I do now doesn't necessarily feel any more satisfying than putting up those walls of stone.

      I'd appreciate hearing about the statistics on which you're basing your assertion that "there are a lot of" folks whose job is "to get something without working." Do you have those numbers? If so, please share them. You implicitly claim to be in better touch with "the true working class" than we academic types are, so I'd truly appreciate your sharing that wisdom.

    2. You and Jack are both academics, and surely tenured. You can be confident that the college will be around a long time. You have many benefits like retirement, medical, on-site services like a cafeteria, etc. Your job descriptions are well defined and you go to work each day feeling secure. The college is actually an institution as opposed to a company, so comparing your jobs to government workers is much closer than comparing your jobs to the private sector. The college exists on government funding. Your pay is tied more to the points earned from your degrees than your actual abilities so your job is more like a union worker’s than the private sector. Your daily work lives are not anything like the private sector’s. As a stonemason were you in a union? Unions only represent a small minority of private companies.
      As for statistics, I can only cite that in the many different companies I have worked for (about a dozen, varying from places like Proctor and Gamble to small unknowns, from construction to office work) the working class mentality is pretty much the same. The vast majority of the people at the bottom of the ladder are there for a reason. They like it there. They are the people who don’t have any drive to go back to school. They are nothing like your working students.
      When the break bell rings, they drop everything and if they can get away with it, they are quick to make a special trip to the restroom, coffee machine, drinking fountain or whatever no matter the time of day, workload, or machine status. They constantly require coaching, cajoling, praising, and correcting.
      When asked to do something special, they usually ask first if they get paid more. They seldom do more than what is required. If left unattended and they run out of work, they often sit and stare at the table.
      My company recently had a woman take maternity leave. Unmarried, this was her third child. Except for regular vacation and sick time, my company doesn’t continue paying salary but does continue paying medical for the employee. After 12 weeks off, the employee asked for more time off. And it wasn’t for medical reasons. It was because she was working elsewhere for the past two months while we paid her medical. This is typical of what people do. They take as long as they can get away with it.

    3. And when I worked at “union” companies it was the worst. At those times I was always in exempt jobs and not a member, but what I saw was a vast majority who were disgusting excuses for productivity. The worst experience was at a nuclear power plant where some workers slept, many smoked pot, and others drank on the job. They left broken glass and trash everywhere. It was a constant nightmare trying to make sure critical components weren’t damaged. When fired, they went to the “union pool” and then showed back up at work the next week because that is how their contract worked. The resulting moral made sure that no one worked harder than the least productive. It took a crew of six to do what two could do.
      I saw this when people were my co-workers and when they were my employees. From my work experiences over 40 years, I would estimate this type of worker to represent at least a fourth and maybe a third. In my mind, that is “a lot”.
      The other three quarters range in a grayscale from these worst to shining examples who quickly advance and leave the others behind. It seems to be getting more difficult to find those in the upper range. Even though we consider unemployment high now, I rarely find good candidates for employment today. Turnover is high for new hires, but the good ones stay on for many years. People do not want to work when they can stay home on unemployment, welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, and even get free phones. They can get a part time job paying cash under the table and they are set. Having a job requires a car and insurance, gasoline, tolls, health insurance deductions, and physical work all day.
      Frederic Bastiat is right. People live when they can at the expense of others. Roosevelt and Obama believe in a concept that encourages and rewards sloth while penalizing success.
      You “academic types” are a great asset to our economy, at least as long as you instill drive, desire, and understanding of what makes the world work successfully, along with the knowledge; and don’t give people the impression that they automatically get a certain salary based on a piece of paper before they prove themselves. From what I know, I rank Jack high on the scale.

    4. PS - I worked full time while going to night school to get my degree and I paid my way without government grants. My first real job paid so poorly that I qualified for (but did not accept) food stamps. I am now in upper management at a small high-tech manufacturing company that competes with, and sells most of our products in, the far-east markets.

  6. I agree with much of what you say, though in my case I'm an instructor, rather than being tenured, so I still have excellent benefits but not the "guarantee" that accompanies tenure. I'll have to bow to your superior knowledge of life in the private sector, since I don't have as much of that.

    While we do have a union that represents faculty at my institution, it is a pitifully weak excuse for one--we haven't been able to negotiate a raise in four years; the administration throws us a small "bonus" while some of our class sizes have almost doubled in the last five years. I say that not to complain, because as you say my job is, if not soft compared to many, more comfortable. This I know from a long string of labor jobs when I was young.

    However, I still believe that the reason unions exist is because people are at heart greedy, rather than philanthropic or altruistic. Time and again, people like Henry Ford and the Vanderbilts and dozens of others who employed people on a smaller scale took every advantage of those people that they could, including child labor and incredibly dangerous working conditions. There may be a lot of lazy people who game the system, but there are also many entrepeneurs who would, without some protection for workers, grind them up and spit them out, knowing that there are replacements for them who need to eat. The primary reason unions exist is because of people like that.

    As for my contributing to the system, you'd have to be the judge of that. Jack teaches economics, I teach writing courses. Both are potentially useful for people in many kinds of pursuits. It is a satisfying profession; I work almost exclusively with students who are working on their major degree, so they are often highly motivated. I hope that eventually some of the wonderful young people that I know will come your way.