Wednesday, February 21, 2007


By Thomas Sowell

Senator Barack Obama recently said, "let's allow our unions and their organizers to lift up this country's middle class again."

Ironically, he said it at a time when Detroit automakers have been laying off unionized workers by the tens of thousands, while Toyota has been hiring tens of thousands of non-union American automobile workers.

Labor unions, like the government, can change prices -- in this case, the price of labor -- but without changing the underlying reality that prices convey.

Neither unions nor minimum wage laws change the productivity of workers. All they can do is forbid the employer from paying less than what the government or the unions want the employer to pay.

When that is more than the labor in question produces, some workers who are perfectly capable become "unemployable" only because of wages set above the level of their productivity.

In the short run -- which is what matters to politicians and to union leaders, who both get elected in the short run -- workers who are already on the payroll may get a windfall gain before the market adjusts.

But, sooner or later, the chickens come home to roost. They have been coming home to roost big time in the automobile industry, where hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost over the years.

It is not that people don't want automobiles. Toyota is selling plenty of cars made in its American factories with non-union labor.

Some claim that it is automation, rather than union wages and benefits, that is responsible for declining employment among the Detroit auto workers.

But why are automobile companies buying expensive automated machinery, except that labor has been made expensive enough to make that their next best option?

Senator Obama is being hailed as the newest and freshest face on the American political scene. But he is advocating some of the oldest fallacies, just as if it was the 1960s again, or as if he has learned nothing and forgotten nothing since then.

He thinks higher teacher pay is the answer to the abysmal failures of our education system, which is already far more expensive than the education provided in countries whose students have for decades consistently outperformed ours on international tests.

Senator Obama is for making college "affordable," as if he has never considered that government subsidies push up tuition, just as government subsidies push up agricultural prices, the price of medical care and other prices.

He is also for "alternative fuels," without the slightest thought about the prices of those fuels or the implications of those prices. All this is the old liberal agenda from years past, old wine in new bottles, a new face with old ideas that have been tried and failed repeatedly over the past generation.

Senator Obama is not unique among politicians who want to control prices, as if that is controlling the underlying reality behind the prices.

There is much current political interest in so-called "predatory lending" -- the charging of high interest rates for loans to poor people or to people with low credit ratings.

Nothing will be easier politically than passing laws to limit interest rates or make it harder for lenders to recover their money -- and nothing will cause credit to dry up faster to low-income people, forcing some of them to have to turn to illegal loan sharks, who have their own methods of collecting.

The underlying reality that politicians do not want to face is that here, too, prices convey a reality that is not subject to political control. That reality is that it is far riskier to lend to some people than to others.

That is why the price of a loan -- the interest rate -- is far higher to some people than to others. Far from making extra profits on riskier loans, many lenders have lost millions of dollars on such loans and some have gone bankrupt.

But politics is not about facts. It is about what politicians can get people to believe.


Joan Jackson, Cooper Union and You

Today, I want to introduce you to another extraordinary American.

Joan Jackson lives in Northport, Mich., in Leelanau County near Traverse City. She became an active Republican during the Eisenhower Administration. She worked with the Draft Goldwater movement in 1963, and helped Reagan in 1976 and 1980. She's also a friend of mine. But what makes her extraordinary isn't what she has done for me, or for her fellow Republicans in Michigan. What makes her exceptional is what she has done to break out of the partisan warfare that defines our politics and what she's done to include others who share her desire for real change.

Joan Jackson says she's "on the tail of a comet." I would say she is a comet. Her courage, her initiative and her commitment to something bigger than politics as usual have the potential to transform the way we govern ourselves.

America needs more citizen activists like Joan Jackson. And now you have the opportunity to join her. Keep reading to find out how.

'Come to Cooper Union'

As I've mentioned to you before here in "Winning the Future," former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and I are doing something different on February 28 in New York City. We're meeting at Cooper Union, the site of Abraham Lincoln's most famous pre-presidential speech, to do something about the lack of debate in our presidential debates.

On February 28 at Cooper Union, Gov. Cuomo and I will have a 90-minute, unrestricted, unrehearsed dialogue about the major challenges confronting America today.

We will also issue a challenge to the men and women running for President: Come to Cooper Union and participate in the Lincoln Dialogue Series.

Toss out the rule book, put aside the negative, partisan attacks, and come debate the issues.

Today's Presidential Debates: 32 Pages of Ground Rules

We're going to Cooper Union for a very specific reason: To remind our fellow Americans of a time when campaign debates were real debates, not a series of poll-tested, consultant-written, 30-second sound bites.

Here's how far we've come since that time:

In the 1996 campaign, the rules for the presidential debates were a full 11 pages of dos and don'ts for the candidates. But the consultants who control today's campaigns were just getting started.

By 2004, the debate rules had ballooned to 32 pages, including one rule that ordered the moderator to stop any candidate who dared to depart from the script to refer to someone in the audience.

In addition, the candidates were ordered to "submit to the staff of the [Debate] Commission prior to the debate all such paper and any pens or pencils with which a candidate may wish to take notes during the debate."

Pen and pencils. Talk about the vital stuff of democracy!

Presidential debates are supposed to be an opportunity for Americans to get to know their choices for the leader of our great nation. But how can you get to know someone through 32 pages of rules restricting their speech?

We don't have presidential debates today, we have kabuki theatre: Maximally choreographed, minimally informative performance art by the various candidates.

Watch the Cooper Union Event Live at the Northport Community Arts Center

So what does this have to do with Joan Jackson? And what does it have to do with you?

When Joan Jackson heard that Mario Cuomo and I were going to debate at Cooper Union, her first instinct wasn't to hope that I would use the opportunity to score partisan political points against Gov. Cuomo. It wasn't even to come to Cooper Union and support me.

Joan Jackson's first instinct was to figure out how she could bring our debate to others in her community.

So she went to work. She met with the superintendent of her local public school and told him about the debate between me and Mario Cuomo. He told Joan that she could use the auditorium in the Northport Community Arts Center that is attached to the public school and extend an invitation to the whole county to view the event on their big screen. In 24 hours, she did just that. She contacted the local Republican and Democratic Party leadership and local elected officials and invited them to come. She's writing a news release for the local paper. She stood up at a community meeting and told her neighbors about the debate. The school superintendent even offered to serve cookies and punch.

What You Can Do to Get Involved

Joan Jackson is an extraordinary American, but she would be the first to tell you that she isn't unique. She's simply looking for something more meaningful and more productive than our current, negative, partisan campaign culture. And she is doing something about it.

From talking to you and reading your e-mail to me, I know that members of the Winning the Future community share this desire for meaningful, substantive dialogue. We want solutions, not sound bites.

For those of you who are looking to be more than passive spectators in a stale, empty political play, look no further than Joan Jackson. Contact your local school or community center and ask them to carry our February 28 debate live. We will broadcast the event live and on-demand via web cast on

Then tell your friends, reach out to both Democrats and Republicans. Alert the local paper. Got a blog? Host this YouTube message from me advertising the webcast, and include a link to, where your readers can sign up for an email reminder.

So come on, toss out the rulebook of politics as usual. Bring the history and the dialogue of Cooper Union to your own community. And be a modern American citizen leader like Joan Jackson.

For more information, just go to or


Don't you love the gems Google's image search comes up with?

This is a huge moral victory for the Islamic fascist movement.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. The British are officially cutting and running out of Iraq. Declaring their mission complete, Tony Blair is expected to announce a pullout of UK troops. The Democrats, of course, dedicated to the idea of defeat as they are, will use this as proof that we should leave too. Once the Brits roll out their "time lime" you can bet the Left in this country will be pushing for a time line with American troops.

But this is really symbolic more than anything. Important though they are, the number of British troops in Iraq number only 7,200. We have almost 20 times that many. So it's not like we're talking some huge pullout. In addition, the other story here is that the UK may be able to leave. They patrol Southern area which is secure enough it can be handed over to the Iraqis. So there's somewhat of a success story as well.

Of course, the media will not be reporting it that way. They will point to the decision by Tony Blair to start pulling out as evidence that we've lost the war and it's time to leave. Time to cut and surrender...throw in the towel...give up. Of course the question remains: if Democrats are so opposed to the war in Iraq, why not end it tomorrow? Just cut off the funding.

But they can't pull that off. They know they're weak on defense. They just don't want to make it quite that obvious to the American people. It's easier to criticize something than it is to take action.