Saturday, April 5, 2014

Looking Out for Number One

"Honesty is the best policy — when there is money in it."

Mark Twain

I'll be the first one to tell you that I was never very strong in certain subjects in school.

I knew a few people who got terrific grades in just about everything — there was one in particular who made it look stupefyingly easy, but she was such a sweet person that no one held it against her when she messed up the curve for the rest of us — but I'm sure they would tell you there were subjects at which they had to really work to keep that grade–point average up.

There may be some people in this world who do have a natural aptitude for just about every scholastic subject, but I have yet to meet one — just people who have successfully cultivated the appearance of brilliance.

And that is probably almost as good as if they really are brilliant. What people believe to be true tends to trump whatever is true.

That's what makes the art of spin so important in the world of politics. Even if they don't know much else, politicians do know a lot about the image–reality dynamic. When it is working in their favor, they ride the wave. But when the tide goes against them, they need the professional spinmeisters to turn things around.

In my experience, most politicians weren't the brightest bulbs in the box when they were in school. In fact, many might have been the polar opposite of that girl I mentioned earlier.

But the successful ones always seem to have known when it was time to trust their futures to the professional spinmeisters — who could, as I used to hear the adults in my world say from time to time, make chicken salad out of chicken s**t. In some circles — and depending upon what was being said — I guess that was/is called bluffing.

Sometimes, though, even spin won't work. That's when the strategy seems to be simply to change the subject.

And this year, with the party primaries in the midterm election campaigns now in full swing, a news event seems to have been made to order for changing the subject — the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It is a story that has been going on for nearly a month, much of it spent watching search parties fly over the Indian Ocean.

As I write this, the searchers apparently are no closer to learning the flight's fate than they have been in the last four weeks — but they continue to chase every lead, no matter how unlikely it may be. And news networks are lampooned for labeling a 4–week–old story breaking news.

But for politicians, particularly Democrats and most especially those in federal office, it means attention is taken away from the facts about Obamacare and the economy. For them, that is almost certainly a good thing.

Now, economics was one of those subjects I took in college because I was required to do so, not because I had any special understanding of the material. It was like a foreign language to me, and I never had much success learning a second language, either.

I have friends who were and still are fluent in economics. I have always freely admitted that I am not. I sure did try to be when I was in that class. I spent hours reading and re–reading the chapters of my ECON textbooks, hoping some of it would stick, but I regret to report that little, if any, of it did.

(Well, as Will Rogers used to say, we're all ignorant. We're just ignorant about different things.)

And today, most of my understanding of economics is based on my understanding of logic. That normally helps me in unfamiliar territory — but economics really is another matter. It has a logic all its own.

I don't understand the whimsical nature of the stock market or the prices of gold and silver — or, to be honest, monetary policy in general.

But I do have a basic understanding of natural law. See, I took physics in high school. I didn't do very well at it, but I understood enough about motion and similar principles from my own observations of the world that I wasn't completely lost in that class.

I knew that every action has an equal and opposite reaction — from something as simple as playing baseball. To hit a ball a great distance, it was necessary to swing with as much force as possible. You don't hit the ball out of the park by squaring up to bunt.

And I knew from basic math that if you have a certain quantity of something and you give up a portion of it — through commerce or consumption or whatever — you are left with less to consume or trade for other things.

It isn't rocket science. And, for me, that is definitely a good thing.

Back when Barack Obama ran for president the first time, I freely acknowledge seeing logic in some of his objectives, but the recession and the economic implosion left what I thought was an unavoidable conclusion. The jobs crisis had to be met first — before any of the other objectives could be met.

Yes, I said, the health care system needs to be reformed. But not trashed — and certainly not while this nation is on its economic knees. Put America back to work so there is a solid economic foundation upon which to rebuild health care.

If we didn't do that, I warned, we would see premiums and deductibles go up, policies canceled, existing full–time jobs downgraded to part–time ones, and existing part–time jobs eliminated.

Yes, I said, the minimum wage should be higher. But we shouldn't forget that it was really only intended as a minimum entry–level wage. Over time, as the individual gains experience and knowledge, that individual will receive raises, bonuses, all sorts of additional incentives.

And I was also uncomfortable with the idea of raising the minimum wage by nearly 40%. It was unrealistic to think that businesses could give their current workers that kind of raise and be able to increase their workers' hours, much less create new jobs.

The economy is not one big faceless entity in spite of what we hear about a handful of massive corporations that monopolize everything. Yes, there are huge corporations that do control an ever–growing segment of the U.S. economy, but much of America's economic activity is still in the hands of small business owners. There may not be as many mom–and–pop shops as there once were, but they still drive the American economy.

Except for the newcomers, I guess nearly all small business owners have been in business for awhile. They're bound to have a pretty good idea what kind of annual profits they can expect from their businesses, and they budget accordingly. When their incomes don't meet their needs because of added financial demands, they have to make adjustments. Maybe minor adjustments in the prices being charged or the products/services being offered will bring things back into balance. Sometimes they have to cut employee hours. They may have to cut some jobs.

If you own your business and the math isn't balancing, you look for ways to make it balance. If you are required to meet new guidelines that take money from your budget, you have to compensate for that. If you are required to pay your employees more, you have to compensate for that as well.

You do what you have to do. Same in your personal life. If you are spending more than you're taking in, you have to find ways to economize. You have to function within your means.

It's physics. It's the law of survival — looking out for number one. And you can't blame anyone for that, can you?

If someone tries to sell me on the idea, the image that America can do things that I know in my heart are at odds with natural law, I resist. Because reality tells me otherwise, and I have to ask:

Why should the United States be immune to natural law?

That is the great unasked question in America today. But I get the feeling that more and more Americans are asking it in their hearts and minds.

The latest Associated Press-GfK poll indicates more movement away from the Democrats. That is bad news in the midterm election year.

I believe it is due, in part, to the fact that more people are realizing that, without a sound foundation, no lasting achievements are possible.

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