Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Scholar and the Adventurer

“Hey Curmudge, in your postings about people, are you trying to be some sort of psychologist?”  It certainly doesn’t fit your résumé.”

“No way, Julie.  I’m just a storyteller—sort of a Caucasian Uncle Remus.  Our posting on Companion Qualities was just common sense, and the one on Brain Health for Young and Old was based on a hyperlink to great research by Barbara Fredrickson on the characteristics of love.”

“Okay Uncle Curmudge, what’s today’s story?”

“Well, Swifty, if you had taken a moment to read the title, you would know that it’s about two very different people, a scholar and an adventurer.  And by the story’s conclusion we’ll realize that these people aren’t as different as we originally believed.”

“Sit there in your rocking chair, Old Guy, and tell your story.  If it stops rocking I’ll know that your peripheral neuropathy is no longer just peripheral.”

“Mary was attractive and intelligent, and even in high school, was devoted to her profession, her family, and her church.  In college she joined one of the best sororities and dated guys from the right fraternities, one of whom characterized her as ‘spoiled.’  Nevertheless, her profession dominated her activities.”

“I trust that Mary was not the adventurer in our story.”

“Right.  That was Joe.  He canoed in bad weather; ice skated on a big lake in view of open water, and ran rapids—alone—in a small, inflatable boat.  When he saw a mountain, his first thought was, ‘How can I get to the summit?’ “

“In my opinion, some of that approached the extreme side of adventure.”

“To get to the point, ma chère, Mary and Joe attended the same college and were married the week after she graduated.  Somehow, Mary and Joe knew intuitively about Barbara Fredrickson’s characteristics of love before she wrote them.  By the time their children were in high school and college, Mary had become sufficiently daring to travel alone to Paris to study for a month.  And she didn’t speak any French.”

“Wow!  She had really moved up on the ‘adventurous’ scale.” 

“And while she was there she successfully discouraged an attempt at seduction by a Frenchman who spoke excellent English.”

“I perceive, Curmudge, that adventure can be fun when you initiate it but not when you attract it.”

“In subsequent years, Mary and Joe took many separate vacations.  She went to Europe, and he went hiking and even technical climbing in the Rockies.  His adventures were low key with excellent guides, and he learned that one must climb on good rock and with good people and good rope.”

“I’ve got it, Professor.  Mary and Joe’s scholarly and adventurous spirits converged, possibly because they learned to trust one another to do the right thing.”

“In later years they went to Europe together where she looked into every cathedral they encountered and he practiced foreign languages and took day hikes in the Alps.  And as Mary and Joe aged they took cruises on most of the rivers in Western Europe.”

“You can’t kid me, Old Guy.  This time I’ve really got it.  You, Curmudge, are Joe, and Mrs. Curmudgeon was Mary.  You gave it away when you mentioned foreign languages and river cruises.  And you proved that some differences can converge and stay converged for 52 years.  But some differences are so great as to be nonreconcilable.  For example, I’d bet that Mrs. Curmudgeon wouldn’t have stayed married to a septic tank cleaner or a pig farmer.”

“Well, she kept me even when I lived 2,000 miles away and only came home once a month.”

“Sure, but if she had been married to a septic tank cleaner, it would have been on the condition that he lived 2,000 miles away and never came home.”

“Julie, you win.  You always win.  But that’s because we reconciled our differences over 300 postings ago.”

Kaizen Curmudgeon

Link to posting from blog archives: Sepsis 2—diagnosis, management—9/07/11

Sunday, January 11, 2015


“Golly, Curmudge, I haven’t seen you for a long time.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s have come and gone.  I was afraid that Santa had run over you with his sleigh.”

“No such luck, Julie.  I just got tired of writing about serious stuff, like Curmudgeonocracy.  Let’s talk about something lighter which has, however, a serious ending.”

“Have at it, Old Guy.”

“Remember long ago when even in the comic strip, married people—like Blondie and Dagwood—slept in twin beds?”

“And now, married or not, it’s one bed.”

“Right.  But in real life, such as my 52 years married to the late Mrs. Curmudgeon, we slept every which way.  When we were first married and I was a graduate student, we moved the single beds in our apartment together and rotated the mattresses 90 degrees.  Then 31 years later we were back in single beds that were 2,000 miles apart (between Wisconsin and Washington).”

“Wow, Curmudge, that lasted for seven years with reunions in Appleton, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and even Paris.  And in Appleton you had single beds with a common headboard.”

“Then after I was transferred back to Appleton, Mrs. Curmudgeon contracted sleep apnea, and her CPAP machine kept me awake.  Dave was in the Army, so I moved to the single bed in his room.  I slept with the window open but had the bedroom door closed to avoid cooling off the rest of the house.”

“And you lived happily ever after, right?”

“With the exception of one of the most frightening events of my life.  Over the years Mrs. Curmudgeon had knee, hip, and shoulder surgery that robbed her of a lot of dexterity and the strength in her right arm.  Taking prednisone for interstitial lung disease produced her inevitable weight gain.”

“You are building up to something bad, Old Man, but I can’t envision what it might be.”

“One night in the fall of 2010 I went to bed (in Dave’s room) and inexplicably left the bedroom door open.  And I must have been sleeping with my good ear up.  Sometime during the night I heard a weak, repeated ‘Help! Help!’  A frantic search and there Mrs. Curmudgeon was, draped across a jumbo bale of Depends®  head-first into a closet.  Because her arm couldn’t move the sliding closet door, she was unable to slide sideways off the bale; and her arms and legs weren’t strong enough to move her backward off the giant package.  If I hadn’t heard ‘Help!’ she would have been immobilized until morning with her weight against the pack opposing her efforts to breathe.”

“So, Curmudge, you fetched her out of the closet, and everyone went back to bed.  So what was the big deal?”

“The ‘big deal,’ Julie, was fetching her out of the closet.  I could grab her, but bent over, I couldn’t lift her.  Fortunately there was an exercise bicycle in the room, and I moved it close to Mrs. Curmudgeon.  Then I kneeled behind her, put my right arm around her waist, and used my left hand to climb up the bicycle frame until we were both standing.  It was exhausting.  We then both staggered off to our respective beds.”

“I presume that you never again slept with the bedroom door closed.”

“True, and we never speculated regarding what might have happened that night if my bedroom door hadn’t been left open.”

“I guess you both were just too busy.”

“The events of late autumn and the holiday season, as we described in The Last Christmas, proceeded as planned.  Regrettably, the menacing shadows (white on the x-rays) of pulmonary fibrosis and pneumonia also proceeded across Mrs. Curmudgeon’s lungs, and she died on January 18.”

“And that, Curmudge, is why at this time of the year we remember those special—and sometimes frightening—occasions of her life.”

Kaizen Curmudgeon
Link to posting from blog archives: Sepsis—8/26/11

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Kaizen Curmudgeon—300

“I hope you realize, Curmudge, that we breezed past our 300th posting as if it were nothing special.”

“I was aware of it, Julie, but I wanted first to wrap up our series on Curmudgeonocracy.”

“So what’s next?  More on government or perhaps health care?”

“However the spirit moves me, chère collègue.  But at the moment, this spirit is discouraged.”

“How so, Old Guy?”

“Consider the topics we have dealt with at length—government and health care—and how they have changed since my childhood in the 1930’s and 40’s.  The world is still full of hate, and now there are small wars inspired by religious fanatics instead of one big one inspired by totalitarian fanatics.  However, our leadership is clearly poorer.  Let me give you an example from just this week.  My friend’s son is a battle-hardened Marine NCO, yet our government won’t allow him to re-enlist to continue his Marine career.  Just because someone said ‘no boots on the ground.’  Never?  Maybe our leadership can’t see any further into the future than the six o’clock news broadcast.”

“What about health care?  Advances certainly have been dramatic since you were a kid.”

“You are right there, Julie, but one can easily find bad as well as good examples.  Last night I attended a party given by a woman my age who has been treating very serious cancer for the past three years.  She looked well and has been living a full life.  On the other hand, earlier in the week I visited a much younger friend in hospice.  Her oncologist told her there was no hope.  She is dying not from her cancer but from her chemotherapy!”  (Written before her death on 10/04/14.)

“I share your distress, Old Guy, and so does Doc Mack.  But nevertheless, on our Kaizen Curmudgeon anniversaries in the past we have provided a look back to fairly recent postings for our readers.  I trust that we will celebrate ‘300’ in a similar fashion.”

“That shouldn’t be difficult.  In our Happy Seventh Birthday posting on 5/22/14 we listed all of the postings in 2014 up to that date.  Since then we have published 13 postings, all on Curmudgeonocracy.  Readers who might want to explore some of our historical stuff can go to the Blog Archives in the right margin of each posting.  They might find these of interest:

Kaizen Curmudgeon Blog Title—Date Posted

Kaizen Curmudgeon for Seniors, posted 5/27/13.
Health Effects of Low Doses of Radiation (Title: Unconventional Wisdom), six postings starting on 2/28/13.

Global Warming (Title: Climate Science), five postings starting on 7/23/13.
Mourning (Various titles), three postings starting on 9/03/13; 9/11/13, and 9/20/13.
Alternative Medicine, eight postings starting on 9/27/13.”

“A final question, Professor.  Do you believe that we will ever reach 400 postings?”

“The probability is low, Julie.  I may find other activities to exercise my mind.  But unlike several of my neighbors here in the ‘old folks home,’ it will never be jigsaw puzzles.”

Kaizen Curmudgeon

Link to posting from blog archives: The Old Men’s Table—4/18/11

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Curmudgeonocracy 13—Conclusion

An Impossible Dream

“That’s it, Curmudge.  That’s what Curmudgeonocracy is—it’s an impossible dream.  You seem to have been on a quest, like Don Quixote in ‘Man of La Mancha.’ “

“Impossible in the near term Julie, but hopefully not in the future.  However, it will be this way as long as those who believe in American exceptionalism are outnumbered by those who want America to become as morally and fiscally bankrupt as much of Europe.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a federal government that is smaller, effective, and respected?”

“C’mon, Old Guy, you are seeking Camelot.”

“You may be right, Julie.  I try to reach the unreachable star, but it may prove to be as elusive as Camelot.  Those writers of a couple hundred years ago who took a dim view of human nature were basically right.  There will always be some selfish blokes—in and out of government—who try to rip off their neighbor.”

“ ‘Camelot’ and ‘Man of La Mancha’ may have played on Broadway, but they are unlikely to ever exist in Washington.  Old Man, you and I just spent the past several months chasing an apparition.”

“We shouldn’t allow our desire for perfection to deter us from advocating continuous improvement, chère collègue.  Let’s list some do’s and don’ts for people in government.  Adoption of even a few of our suggestions might make Washington ‘a more congenial spot,’ but regrettably it’ll never be Camelot.

Curmudgeonocracy for Those in the Administration

Take the oath of office seriously, especially the part about ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’
Do not lie to Americans.  If necessary, lie to our enemies.
Be a friend to our friends and a threat to our enemies.  Do not get the preceding sentence reversed.
Seek advice from the best minds in the nation regarding the issues of the day.
Study and understand the significance of world history.
Demonstrate leadership that is commensurate with your elected or appointed position.  (Doc Mack says, ‘Be able to pass Army ROTC Advanced Camp.’)
Understand and appreciate ‘American exceptionalism.’
Do not blindly follow diktats of ‘base’ or major supporters.
Don’t make empty threats.
Possess the judgment to discern between real, imminent threats (Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea) and unproven, long-term threats (global warming); and possess the resolve to reverse America’s current image of no longer being trusted by our friends and feared by our enemies. (1) 

Curmudgeonocracy for Members of Congress

Those listed above for Administration.
Do not blindly follow diktats of party leadership.  Think for yourself.
Read proposed legislation before voting on it.  If it’s too long to be read, vote against it.
Establish term limits for members of Congress.
Put a ‘sunset clause’ in every regulation.
Change Senate rules to require the Majority Leader to allow a vote on legislation that has bipartisan support.
Revisit and revise laws that have been found to depress the economy and that  require the federal government to be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent;  examples: Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act.
Provide a safety net for those who are unable to work.  Include relocation assistance to aid citizens to move to where jobs are available.
Enact policies that aim for 4% growth: lower, flatter and simpler taxes; sensible regulations based on cost/benefit analysis; stable currency; entitlement reform; and a true health care revolution based on technical progress, entrepreneurial energy, and market pricing. (2)

Curmudgeonocracy for Voters

Do not be a single-issue voter.
Do not vote for or against a candidate on the basis of his/her race or gender.
Study candidates and issues and vote on the basis of your own political philosophy.”

“Your lists could go on forever, Quixote, and we’ve been doing Curmudgeonocracy postings since June.  Is there one main lesson that all of this has taught you?”

“There is, my dear Rocinante.  The early progressives had a noble plan; intelligent people in the federal government would help the citizens of the nation have a better life.  However, history has shown (and our postings have documented) that their efforts did not succeed because it is not possible to micromanage a complex system like a large, diverse country.  Nevertheless, once a zealot has lost sight of his goal, he plows ahead with increased enthusiasm.  That has happened with the progressives.  The result is our present intrusive, overreaching, ineffective, and unaffordable administrative state.”

“Get with it, Sir Don; I’m Dulcinea (or maybe Sancho Panza).  Rocinante was your horse.  I too have perceived something that may simply suggest that I’m the opposite kind of zealot. The population of today’s progressives seems to follow a bimodal (dumbbell-shaped) economic distribution.  At the low end are those who outsource their thinking.  At the high end are those whose only goal is accumulation of power and whose only thoughts are impractical delusions.  The ends of the dumbbell would probably never connect socially with one another.”

“Julie, if we were an organization, the feds might put us on a list.  Let’s call a halt—at least temporarily—to our efforts to define Curmudgeonocracy.  This may not be Camelot, but Appleton is a pretty congenial spot for ‘happily-ever-aftering.’ “

Kaizen Curmudgeon

(1)  Barrasso, John  Six Threats Bigger Than Climate Change  The Wall Street Journal, 8/29/14, p. A11.
(2)  Karlgaard, Rich  Growth is not an option.   Forbes p. 32, June 10, 2013.

Link to posting from blog archives: Way to go! 2—The end is near—2/24/11

Monday, September 29, 2014

Curmudgeonocracy 12—Discussion

“It appears, Curmudge, that conservatives and progressives agree on something.  They both want Americans to live well, and in addition, to have a safety net for those who are unable to support themselves.”

“Sounds good so far, Julie, but then they diverge.  Conservatives want ‘living well’ to be based on economic growth such that everyone who is able to work can find a job.  And ‘living well’ means having the freedom to live as he/she wishes and as prosperously as he/she can afford.”

“Based on our readings, progressives see it differently.  They feel that an all-powerful central government can make better decisions than individuals.  This reduces inequalities, but as Churchill said, provides for ‘equal sharing of miseries.’  Nevertheless, in the U.S. in recent years the administrative state has forged ahead with ‘over-regulation, cronyism, institutional sclerosis, and mounting public debt’ (Levin in preceding posting).  Despite this sorry record, the progressives portray themselves as helping the middle class.”

“As I see it, chère etudiante, the more people they can get feeding at the public trough, the more people will be depending on and supporting the progressives.  Here are some data: ‘In 1960, According to the Office of Management and Budget, social welfare programs accounted for less than a third of all federal spending.  Today (2013) entitlement programs account for nearly two-thirds of federal spending.’  ‘Welfare spending is nearly twice as much as defense, justice and everything else Washington does—combined.’  ‘The Department of Health and Human Services reports that more than 12.4 million working-age Americans obtained income disability support from government programs in 2011.  That’s more than the total number of employees in the manufacturing sector of the economy.’ (1)  Yet after spending several years in a corporate Environment, Safety & Health Department, I know personally that the American workplace is becoming increasingly safety-conscious.”

“Another way that the progressives hope to gain support is to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.  But the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the change would eliminate 500,000 jobs.  Gosh, Curmudge, it seems that progressives care more about catchy themes that attract votes than they care about people.  More facts from research: 25% of hourly employees in poverty already earn $12 per hour or more.  Only 18% of the benefits from the proposed increase would go to minimum-wage earners living in poor families. (2)  And for young people hoping to climb the ladder of success, a higher minimum wage makes the first rung harder to reach.”

“To neutralize the voter appeal of a higher minimum wage, Wilcox in Room to Grow and Saltsman in The Wall Street Journal (2) have proposed modifying the earned income tax credit (EITC).  The EITC is a refundable tax credit for low-income households.  The modified plan would increase the credit received by childless adults.  Other approaches to fighting poverty are the block grants described by Winship in RtG, termed federal opportunity grants by Paul Ryan. (3)”         

“I think I know where you are heading, Old Guy.  Although middle class Americans are aware of the miseries of socialism, they—like many Europeans—have been seduced by big government’s handouts.  They will be reluctant to break the ‘big government’ habit ‘cold turkey.’  That’s why several of the YG Network’s proposals in Room to Grow are less rigorous than desired by other conservatives.  YG Network people want to gently wean middle class people away from big government.  To be even-handed, let’s consider what dyed-in-the-wool conservatives favor.”

“As you wish, Julie.  The title of Daniel J. Mitchell’s paper is the same as his conclusion, Tax Credits Won’t Lift Economic Growth. (4)   He said there is no evidence of a positive economic outcome.  ‘And since tax credits have little or no effect on incentives to work, save and invest, conservatives won’t be able to make an argument about the less fortunate benefitting from faster growth.’  ‘The more effective policy is to boost economic growth so that families have more income in the first place.’  Mitchell’s conclusion is to ‘focus on reforms that boost savings and investment, such as lowering the corporate tax rate, reducing the double taxation of dividends and capital gains, and allowing immediate expensing of business investment.’ “

“Somehow, Professor, I doubt that Mitchell’s last sentence will strike a chord with a mother on welfare.”

“Let’s end this posting with a few suggestions from George P. Shultz on How to Get America Moving Again (5): Cleanse the personal income tax of deductions.  Lower the corporate tax rate to be competitive with the rest of the world.  Overhaul the complexity of the regulatory octopus.  Have a robust military capability.  Get control of spending, especially entitlement spending.  Index the normal retirement age to longevity.  Shultz had several suggestions on health care; we’ll revisit them when we next write about that subject.  But here they are briefly: Have high-deductible catastrophic insurance available across state lines.  Encourage health-savings accounts to be used in paying for routine medical services.  Have price transparency for medical services.”

“I read, Curmudge, where someone said in a subsequent letter to the editor, ‘Shultz’s ideas are great, but we need the right leader to make them happen.’ “

“Agreed!  A dynamic communicator.  As Margaret Thatcher said, ‘First you win the argument; then you win the vote.’ ”

Kaizen Curmudgeon
(1)  Eberstadt, Nicholas  Yes, Mr. President, We Are a Nation of
Takers The Wall Street Journal, 1/25/13.
(2)  Saltsman, Michael            A Better Poverty Fighter Than Raising the Minimum Wage The Wall Street Journal, 8/12/14, p. A13.
(3)  Ryan, Paul  A Better Way Up From Poverty The Wall Street Journal, 8/16/14, p. A11.
(4)  Mitchell, Daniel J. Tax Credits Won’t Lift Economic Growth The Wall Street Journal, 8/21/14, p. A13.
(5)  Shultz, George P. How to Get America Moving Again The Wall Street Journal, 8/09/14, p. A11.   

Link to posting from blog archives: Way to go!—The value of an advance directive.2/17/11

Friday, September 19, 2014

Curmudgeonocracy 11—“Room to Grow”

“Promises, promises, promises.  So, Curmudge, we’re finally going to say something about Room to Grow.  It’s about time.”

“Actually, Julie, we don’t have to say very much.  The complete e-book is available, free of charge, to anyone with a computer.  Nevertheless, I’ll provide a brief overview.  The authors—one for each chapter—are members of the YG Network (YG stands for ‘Young Guns’).  They consider themselves to be moderate conservatives, and they have been considering ways by which our government might be modified to better meet the needs of middle-class Americans.  The chapters of the book contain their individual recommendations.”

“I understand that you have found several articles about Room to Grow and the YG Network.  Reading these as well as chapter summaries will save the busy person from having to read the whole book.  Perhaps, Old Grey Fox, you should write your own book on ‘How to Succeed in Writing Without Really Reading.’  So here are the equivalents of SparkNotes or Cliffsnotes on Room to Grow: an article by Mona Charen in the 6/05/14 Chicago Sun-Times; and a longer article on the YG Network by Sam Tanenhaus in the 7/02/14 NY Times Magazine.”

“Although health care is addressed in Room to Grow (RtG), we discussed that topic in several postings two years ago.  In the near future we’ll revisit it and include RtG’s insights.  So here are some other subjects—and their authors—covered in RtG:

The Anxieties of Middle America—Peter Wehner: ‘The chief fear of middle-class
Americans is that just as it is getting harder for poor people to climb into the middle class, a stagnant economy is making it all too easy for those who have achieved middle class status to fall out of it.’  ‘Conservatives must offer a concrete conservative agenda that tackles the barriers to upward mobility, and that renews faith in free enterprise and our constitutional system.’

Governing Vision—Yuval Levin: ‘America’s families face stagnating wages, excessive tax burdens, rising health and higher education costs, barriers to mobility and work, disincentives to marriage and childbearing, and an economy increasingly held back by over-regulation, cronyism, institutional sclerosis, and mounting public debt. And each of these problems has been greatly exacerbated by a federal government that is overreaching, hyperactive, unwieldy, and immensely expensive.’  ‘The conservative reform agenda aims to replace a failing liberal welfare state with a lean and responsive 21st century government worthy of a free, diverse, and innovative society.’

Tax Reform—Robert Stein: ‘Conservatives should offer tax cuts to reduce the cost of raising children.’  ‘By supporting tax relief for parents when they need it most, conservatives could do more than correct a distortion in the tax code.’
K-12 Education Reform—Frederick Hess: ‘The Right should take the lead in liberating teachers from regulations that make it extremely difficult to do their jobs well -- a step that will help demonstrate that while conservatives often oppose teachers unions, they are not opposed to the interests of teachers.’

Higher Education Reform—Andrew Kelly: ‘We must support occupational opportunities, like high-quality apprenticeship programs that provide the
non-college-bound with real-world skills.’

 Safety-Net Reforms—Scott Winship: ‘Though federal and state spending on anti-poverty programs is in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars a year, millions of Americans remain stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder.’  ‘Conservatives have advanced a number of poverty-fighting ideas in recent years, including a unified anti-poverty block grant to the states or a universal credit that would consolidate various anti-poverty programs. Conservatives would do well to couple welfare reforms with a robust economic-growth agenda.’

Employment Policies—Michael Strain: ‘Roll back licensing requirements; offer relocation assistance in place of continued unemployment benefits; temporarily lower minimum wages for the long- term unemployed with a temporary subsidy; offer tax credits for those hiring long-term unemployed; promote worksharing programs to prevent layoffs; and expand the earned-income tax credit to make work more attractive to childless workers.’

Energy Reforms—Adam J. White: ‘Congress must undertake serious oversight of regulatory agencies, to deter officials from misusing their power and improperly administering the laws.’  ‘Americans must finally be given a voice charting the
nation’s energy future, instead of having radical new energy policies imposed upon them by regulators and ideologues.’

Reforms to Help Parents Balance Work and Family—Carrie Lukas: ‘When greater flexibility and more options are what most women crave, one-size-fits-all government solutions can take society in the wrong direction.’  ‘Policymakers should focus on creating an environment so that women can pursue their vision for happiness and raise their children as they see fit.’

Combat Cronyism—James Pethokoukis: ‘The federal government must cease to offer protections to politically influential businesses that shield them from the upstart rivals that, if given half a chance, could make America’s economy more innovative and productive.’  ‘Innovators should be given the room they need to experiment with new business models without fear of running afoul of incumbent-protecting regulations.’

Pro-Family Policies to Strengthen Marriage—W. Bradford Wilcox: ‘Ending the marriage penalty associated with means-tested public benefits would be a good first step toward reversing the decline of marriage. Reforming the earned-income tax credit by tying it to individuals rather than households would ensure that when one low-wage worker marries another, neither would experience a loss of income. Expanding the child tax credit to $4,000 would give a boost to married couples further up the income scale.’

Recovering the Wisdom of the Constitution—Ramesh Ponnuru: ‘The federal government has taken on more and more responsibilities, inserting itself into every nook and cranny of American life, yet it seems incapable of performing even the most basic tasks competently. Corporations face multiple regulators. Presidents revise laws without bothering to consult Congress. Federal agencies wield massive authority while facing little in the way of accountability. The limited but effective government envisioned by the Founders bears almost no resemblance to the chaos that now reigns.’  ‘Restoring something like constitutional government is a task that will take generations, and it will have to be undertaken by citizens and legislators as well as by courts.’ “

“Wow, Curmudge! elp Herlp Parents Balance Work and Family That’s a bunch of stuff to think about.  In our next posting we’ll bring in some additional thoughts about Room to Grow and then try to summarize curmudgeonocracy.  After that, we may be due for a vacation.”

Kaizen Curmudgeon

Link to posting from blog archives: The Middle Years2/09/11

Friday, September 12, 2014

Curmudgeonocracy 10—“The Fourth Revolution”

Scandinavia as Discussed by Micklethwait and Wooldridge

“In The Fourth Revolution, M&W view Sweden in a more positive light than we (actually, the Swedish think tank, Captus) did in our 6/27/14 posting on socialism.  ‘Sweden just put its pension system on a sound foundation, replacing a defined-benefit system with a defined-contribution one and making automatic adjustments for longer life expectancy.  It has reinvented its state as well as reduced its size.’ “

“You’ll like this, Curmudge.  They have introduced Lean, the Toyota production system, in St. Gören’s Hospital in Stockholm.  That’s the same Lean that we wrote about for five years.  ‘The focus at St. Gören’s is on reducing waiting times and increasing throughput.’  That seems consistent with a recent article (1) that states, ‘Months-long waiting times for treatment routinely available in the U.S. have been widely documented.’  Nevertheless, according to M&W, ‘Sweden has done most of the things that politicians know they ought to do but seldom have the courage to attempt.’  They also point out that (all) ‘the Nordic countries provide strong evidence that it is possible to contain government while improving its performance.’  Let’s hope that that is not limited to small, relatively monolithic societies.”

America’s Problems As Seen by M&W

“Julie, a few days ago I mentioned to an acquaintance that I had written about the achievements of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and he walked away in apparent disgust.  That suggests that there are some highly educated people who must be oblivious to the mess that our government has become.”

“Your acquaintance is probably not a fan of our blog, and he certainly wouldn’t like Micklethwait & Wooldridge’s book.  Like them or not, here are some of the problems noted by M&W:

The national debt: ‘The declared national debt is around $13 trillion, but the federal government’s off-balance-sheet commitments in 2012 came to $70 trillion.’

The tax code: ‘Four million words, containing subsidies, exemptions, and complications that favor the rich, such as the deduction for interest on a home mortgage.’  (Think of a person who can afford a multi-million dollar home deducting his mortgage interest.)  ‘Tax loopholes and exemptions are collectively worth $1.3 trillion.’

Entitlements: ‘Equality of opportunity has become equality of results.  Fraternity has become about entitlements that we are all due, not responsibilities that we all have.’  ‘The more the state fails to meet its impossible targets, the more it resorts to micromanagement to make up for its failures.’

Crony capitalism: Well-connected industries receive mammoth subsidies.  ‘The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), with 100,000 employees, provides $10-$30 billion in cash subsidies to farmers each year.  The largest 10% of farmers received 68% of all commodity subsidies in 2010.’ “

“And the list can go on and on, Julie.  Our government has become bloated and inefficient, yet voters seem to want more services with lower taxes.  The authors are concerned that the state will keep expanding and reducing liberty and that it will surrender more power to special interests.  Plato’s two criticisms of democracy remain valid: Voters will put short-term satisfaction above long-term prudence and that politicians will try to bribe their way to power—as they have done by promising entitlements that future generations will have to pay for.  And as stated by M&W, ‘Reform is as much about changing mentality as about redesigning structures.’ “

Micklethwait & Wooldridge’s Thoughts on Improvement

“According to the book, Old Guy, M&W’s starting point is classical liberalism.  ‘We want the state to be smaller and individuals to be freer.’  They list ‘three areas for unburdening the state: (a) selling things that the state has no business owning, (b) cutting the subsidies that go to the rich and well connected, and (c) reforming entitlements to make sure that they are targeted to people who need them and sustainable in the long term.’  The Department of the Interior oversees 260 million acres; the agricultural land (but not national parks) could be sold.  The government owns more than 900,000 buildings, many of which are underused or unneeded.  The need to reform entitlements is widely recognized, but actually doing something faces a lot of inertia.  This situation was described by the former prime minister of Luxembourg: ‘We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.’  So, Professor, how do M&W wrap up their story?”

“They remind us what John Adams said about democracy 200 years ago: ‘It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy.’  ‘These passions are the same in all men…and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.’  With that as history, M&W observe that ‘the welfare state has sprawled and democracy has become self-indulgent, tawdry, and, too often, corrupt.’  It will be difficult to convince people that the state will become stronger by being leaner and offering fewer benefits, but the survival of our democracy may depend upon it.  ‘Any state that harnesses the most powerful innovative forces in society will pull ahead of its peers.’  That has been shown by history.  ‘The West has been the world’s most creative region because it has repeatedly reinvented the state.’ “

“I hope that state is us, Curmudge.  Presumably we’ll defer our discussion of the e-book, Room to Grow, to our next posting."

Kaizen Curmudgeon      

(1)  Atlas, Scott W.  The Wall Street Journal 8/14/14, p. A13.

Link to posting from blog archives: Stan’s Story Redux12/29/10