Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lay Down a Life

Less politics today, more philosophy.

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. - John Stewart Mill

A man who won't die for something is not fit to live. - Martin Luther King Jr.

What do these quotes have in common? One is from a pacifist while the other is a justification for violent conflict, so how could they possibly say the same thing to me? They both firmly advocate a willingness to put one's life on the line for the defense of ideals or country. The main difference I can see is that Mill argues for the willingness to put a life on the line, be it mine or that of those who oppose me.

I think that contrasting Mill's statement with Dr. King's nonviolent approach reveals less of a logical difference than one might expect. They both advocate a willingness to lay down a life for the advancement of something larger than the individual; in both cases, that something larger happens to be the illusive concept of Liberty. The only difference is that the pacifist is constrained by ideology to that life only being his own, whereas Mill would argue that the choice to take a life includes that of the life of any who threaten the collective liberty of the people, not just one's own.

I'm not trying to advocate anything today. I just think that people need to be reminded that hardship is not the same as sacrifice and that allowing one's liberty to be infringed, even if one is kicking and screaming about it, is still capitulation.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Profitable Point of View

So, I caught snippets of Obama's press conference last night pushing his health care plan. Obviously, something about it got me thinking and this isn't going to be a post about health care law and reform. When the President made a comment about how insurance premiums are rising at the same time as the insurance companies are making "record profits" I thought about the complaints of a year ago about oil companies posting record sales and profit numbers. So, I have to ask of those who think that the companies are making too much money: what is too much profit?

I'm serious. What do people mean by saying that someone is making too much money? What makes it evil to be making money during a down economy? At what amount do you decide that someone is making more money than is fair? I rarely hear anyone make the argument that people should be paid the same amount for a job that requires a lot of training and skill as for a job that requires far less training or is involved with less risky situations. For example, I don't think I know anyone who will say that I should be paid as well as a heart surgeon.

I think the idea that someone is making "more than their fair share" comes from one of two things, or a combination of them. First, their is the common mistake that the economy is a zero-sum game. If they are making that much money, there must be less money left for me, the argument goes. While budgets are (or should be, in my opinion) operated on finite amounts, the economy as a whole is much more flexible due to lending and commodities trading and more. Second, is envy. It's a simplistic explanation, but true whether we want to admit it or not. Those who cannot see how to elevate themselves are quick to think that others must be doing something wrong or unethical to have such gains in their own lives. Therefore, the playing field must be leveled, that way there is a more equitable division of assets. As I've said before, leveling the playing field only leads to lowering everyone to a common denominator, rather than raising the masses up.

Another issue I have with complaining about company profits, especially true in the case of complaints leveled against the oil companies, is that no one seems to care if the company is also at record levels of expenditures. Costs go up to the consumer, profits go up at the company, obviously the company is just pocketing the whole enchilada. Wrong. If a company is making a constant 7% on the sale price of a commodity, do you think people will complain about how much money the company is making? 7 cents on the dollar is still 7 cents, whether that's coming from a $4 gallon of gas or a $2 gallon of gas. Of course they are making twice the profit on the $4 gallon, but they are also spending twice the money to make it. Let's check my math: 28 cents from the 4 dollar gallon leaves $3.72 and 14 cents from the 2 dollar gallon leaves $1.86. Yep, twice the cost and twice the profit and still a 7% margin.

The discussion on the economic repercussions of profit/salary caps and punitive taxation on production and innovation will be left for another day. I think most readers can figure out what my opinion on that will be. So, I leave you to think about my initial question, in a rephrased format: at what point will you claim that you are making too much money?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Best Defense....

On September 30, 1980 a pair of Iranian fighters attacked a French-built nuclear research reactor in Iraq, near Baghdad, at the urging of Israel's Chief of Army Intelligence. The bombing damaged the reactor some, but not enough to delay it's use. Israel determined that the still-functional reactor would be instrumental in Iraq's attempts at developing a nuclear arsenal and on June 7, 1981 the Israeli Air Force destroyed the reactor before it ever was made operational.

Iran and Israel have a less cordial relationship today. Back in April, The Times reported that Israel is prepared to strike at Iranian sites in a move similar to the aforementioned Osirak incident. The three month old report was made more relevant over the weekend by Vice President Biden muddying the waters by opening his mouth. As reported by the AP: "Vice President Joe Biden signaled that the Obama administration would not stand in the way if Israel chose to attack Iran's nuclear facilities." I say he muddied the waters because a few days later, the Jerusalem Post reported Obama has felt the need to clarify the position of his administration. Obama reiterated that Biden had only been referring to the fact that one state cannot dictate to another what the state's national interests are. However, also according the The Times, Saudi Arabia has given tacit approval of any possible Israeli plans to bomb Iranian military sites.

This web of who approves of whose actions is enough to make my head hurt, so I will end with my main amusement over Obama's clarification of Biden's remarks: the administration seems to have had no problem dictating to Israel what it's national interests "should be" in the not-so-distant past.