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Daily Archives: September 11, 2022

Sunday Humour: News in Cartoon

The Politics of Control and Economic Oblivion

MN Gordon wrote . . . . . . . . .

A recent White House fact sheet declares that President Biden has delivered on promises to cancel $10,000 of student debt for low- to middle-income borrowers. Who’s he really delivering for?

Without question, the student debt crisis is a disgrace. There are roughly 45 million student loan borrowers who owe on the order of $1.6 trillion. Most of this debt is from federal student loans.

Thus, the federal government is responsible for this mess. It supplied the credit. In turn, massive amounts of federal student loans inflated a higher education bubble and an industry of entitled, fake intellectuals.

The business model generally requires signing credulous 18-year-olds up for massive amounts of government backed student loans. These young adults have been told since before they could count that college was the magical path to a bright future. But as tuition costs ran higher, propelled by more and more student loans, the value proposition no longer penciled out.

To be clear, cancelling student debt rewards a corrupted education industry much more than it rewards overindebted students. It allows colleges and universities to perpetuate an inflated product.

Rather than cancelling student debt Biden should cut off government sponsored student loans. Scuttle the gravy train that supplies universities with undeserved wealth.

Now what would happen to all these high paid professors and fancy country club style college campuses without all this government sponsored debt? For starters, tuition prices would fall. Professor salaries would also fall. And college campuses would adjust to their more modest means.

Would the product – the education – be inferior? Not for the technical disciplines that matter.

Smaller budgets, however, would help trim the fat, and eliminate many of the nonsense quack ‘studies’ courses. These courses have little redeeming value and only exist because they’re funded by an abundance of federal student loans.

Roadside Distractions

Cancelling student debt with the stroke of a pen does not make it go away. Debt, remember, is unearned money that’s borrowed from the future. It must either be repaid or defaulted on.

Since this is government sponsored debt, the act of cancelling it merely transfers it from student borrowers to the American public – that’s you. You’ll pay for it through taxes and inflation for the rest of your life.

Yet this is what people want. This is what they demand.

For a society that’s subjected to incremental increases in government control becomes passive to it. Over time, perhaps over several generations, the character of the people becomes warped. Attitudes towards central planning become more accepting.

People come to rely on the paternalistic hand of the welfare state. They vote for politicians who promise them ever greater desserts. They demand that the government somehow fixes all social ails.

Traditions of political liberty and the spirit of independence are gradually undermined. Power becomes centralized. The collective will, an amorphous influence, becomes superior to personal freedoms.

Forces of collectivism rule over forces of individuality, requiring everyone to adapt to the needs of the least capable. Moreover, those who desire freedom, who just want to be left alone to live their lives, are deemed domestic terrorists.

Special agencies and bureaus, and a labyrinth of rules and regulations, are constructed like roadside distractions. They divert attention and resources from productive tasks of providing goods and services to useless tasks of maintaining compliance.

Forms, paperwork, recordkeeping, and reporting become central to business. For many working stiffs, compliance reporting is the job.

Legal Compliance

At the same time, careers in these government agencies are passed off as gainful employment. The bureaus and departments provide adult daycare for college graduates with worthless degrees. Show up. Complete mindless tasks. Collect a paycheck.

Stable jobs, good benefits, and excellent pensions are all part of the deal. It doesn’t matter that the work is primarily minutia, with no real value to anyone. If it helps the commissioners plan and control the world around them then it must be worthwhile.

The fact is all these bureau and agency jobs are wealth subtracting. Their purpose is to control and regulate. In doing so they take real wealth, derived from real production, and flush it down the toilet.

At the local level, the breadth of government overreach can be absurd. In San Francisco, according to the Institute for Justice, prospective restaurateurs must pay 17 different fees totaling $22,648 all before selling their first sandwich. These costs and regulatory obstacles come in addition to the normal costs and work of opening a restaurant.

So why bother?

What’s the point of opening a restaurant when you can make more working at the city health department? Your day ends at 5pm, you get weekends and holidays off, and the benefits are wonderful.

Practically speaking, when considering all rules and regulations, the cons grossly outweigh the pros for starting your own business. Even something ultra-basic is subject to a massive onslaught of requirements.

For example, opening a home-based tutoring business should be as simple as posting an ad in the local paper. In Phoenix, however, it requires 21 different regulatory steps to be in full legal compliance.

It’s absolute insanity. And it’s highly destructive…

The Politics of Control and Economic Oblivion

If you recall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics second quarter labor productivity report was an absolute turd. Labor productivity, as revised, decreased 4.1 percent in the second quarter of 2022. Output decreased 1.4 percent while hours worked increased 2.7 percent. This marked the sharpest decline in labor productivity since 1948 – roughly 74 years ago.

This means people are working more and producing less. They are, in effect, laboring backwards. One implication is that because less is being produced there is less available to consume. This supports high consumer price inflation.

So, why has labor productivity collapsed?

The drive for productive activity is attained by the mental and physical ability of workers to produce new goods and services with the least expenditure of energy and material possible. To produce more at a lower cost. The ability to produce more for less leads to economic growth.

But even with all the mechanized improvements and technology that have compounded since the dawn of the industrial revolution, labor productivity has collapsed. What gives?

Plausible reasons may vary. Still, they all come back to a few fundamental factors. Over regulation, over taxation, money printing, credit market manipulation, and, in total, the near full intervention of economic and business life by all levels of government that are completely out of control.

Cancelling student debt may buy the Democrats some votes at the mid-term election. That’s what Biden is banking on. More importantly, it marks one more milestone on the path to the central planner’s utopia of complete political control and economic oblivion.

Source : Economic Prism

Chart: EV Market Revenue Set To Hit $384 Billion in 2022

Source : Statista

Could Artificial Sweeteners Be Bad for Your Heart?

Artificial sweeteners are a popular way to try to keep slim, but French researchers suggest they may also increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

The finding stems from tracking heart health among more than 103,000 men and women in France for close to a decade.

“We observed that a higher intake of artificial sweeteners was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases,” said study author Mathilde Touvier. She is director of the nutritional epidemiology research team at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research and Sorbonne Paris Nord University, both in France.

Roughly 80% of participants in the NutriNet-Santé cohort were women (average age: 42). The study began in 2009 to investigate links between nutrition and health.

At the outset, nearly four out of 10 participants reported they regularly used artificial sweeteners, including Nutrasweet (aspartame), Splenda (sucraclose) and Sunett or Sweet One (acesulfame potassium). They added them to food or beverages and also consumed them in processed products.

Those who said they used such sweeteners were generally younger; less active; more likely to be overweight or obese; more likely to smoke; and more likely to be dieting. They also tended to consume more red meat, dairy, salt, and sugar-free drinks. They drank less alcohol and ate fewer fruits and vegetables, less carbs and fats, and fewer calories overall, dietary records showed.

Participants’ heart health was then tracked and compared for an average nine years.

During that time, more than 1,500 heart problems occurred, including heart attacks, strokes, severe chest tightness or pain (angina), and/or the need for surgery to widen blocked arteries (angioplasty).

After stacking artificial sweetener consumption up against heart trouble, the researchers concluded that the former was associated with the risk for the latter.

The Calorie Control Council, which represents the artificial sweetener industry, did not respond to a request for comment.

Touvier and her team stressed that their work does not definitively prove that sweeteners directly undermine heart health, only that there’s a link between the two.

And that should give people pause before drawing firm conclusions, said Connie Diekman, a St. Louis food and nutrition consultant who is former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“The challenge with most of the studies, and that is true here, is that studies have yet to provide a cause-and-effect outcome,” Diekman said. “When looking at non-nutritive sweeteners it is hard to tease out how much the overall health of the subjects is a factor in the disease outcome.”

For example, she pointed to study participants’ own description of their diet and health habits.

“The authors state that higher consumers of non-nutritive sweeteners had higher BMI’s [a measure of body fat based on height and weight], smoked more, had less physical activity, and ate more sodium and red meats, with fewer fruits and vegetables,” Diekman noted.

She also stressed the importance of accounting for the “trade-off” factor, in which someone who uses a no-calorie sweetener for an iced tea, for example, might then rationalize indulging in a bowl of ice cream. That, Diekman said, is why “the whole diet is what must be assessed.”

While the authors said they took such factors into account when determining risk, Diekman had reservations.

“Can we really determine how one single variable impacted the health of the body?” she asked. “The answer is no.”

Still, if artificial sweeteners do pose trouble for the heart, why might that be?

Lead author Charlotte Debras, a doctoral candidate at both the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research and Sorbonne Paris Nord University, suggested a number of possibilities.

One, she said, is the promotion of metabolic syndrome, which encompasses an array of conditions that raise the risk for heart attack and stroke. Among those are high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess waist fat and high cholesterol.

“Another potential pathway could involve the interaction of artificial sweeteners with intestinal sweet taste receptors,” which can affect both insulin levels and sugar absorption, Debras said.

Artificial sweeteners may also alter the makeup of microbes found in the gut, drive up systemwide inflammation and trigger vascular malfunction, she added.

“But these are hypotheses, notably from experimental studies, that need to be confirmed,” Debras said.

Meanwhile, Diekman said the French findings do not change her dietary recommendations.

“Focus on an overall healthful eating plan,” she advised. “More plant foods, leaner or low fat animal foods, and if you enjoy something sweet, think about portions, frequency of consumption, and try to vary the types of sweeteners you use. No single food or ingredient is the ‘bad guy.’ It is how all of this comes together into your day in, and day out, eating plan.”

The report was published online in the BMJ.

Source: HealthDay

Surveys: Three Reasons Why Taiwanese People Are Increasingly Opposed to ‘Reunification’ with China

Cleo Li-Schwartz, Lili Pike, and Alex Leeds Matthews wrote . . . . . . . . .

An “unstoppable trend.” A “shared aspiration of all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation.” That’s how the Chinese Communist Party described its goal of “reuniting” with Taiwan in the weeks following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) August visit to the island.

The rhetoric came with the added punch of unprecedented Chinese military exercises, but it’s nothing new. Chinese leaders have hammered home that message for decades, maintaining that Taiwan is part of “One China” and that people on both sides of the strait yearn to be “reunited.”

But increasingly, people on the Taiwanese side don’t feel that way at all. Under President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan has essentially existed as an independent state, without declaring as much for fear of stoking China’s anger. And fewer and fewer people in Taiwan back “reunification” with the mainland. Only 6.5 percent of Taiwanese people say they support unification at some point, according to a recent poll conducted by the National Chengchi University in Taipei. Meanwhile, more than 30 percent are in favor of moving toward independence — up from just 15 percent in 2018.

“If you look at the change in the past two decades, it is very clear that there is already a consensus in Taiwan of ‘anti-unification,’” Fang-Yu Chen, an assistant professor of political science at Soochow University in Taiwan, told Grid.

Grid analyzed public opinion surveys and spoke to people in Taiwan to better understand the evolution of Taiwanese views involving identity, democracy and social issues. What we uncovered is a strong current of anti-China sentiment, along with a growing sense of an independent Taiwanese identity. As China cranks up the pressure on Taiwan, these trends suggest that the regime in Beijing is fighting against a powerful tide. Many Taiwanese citizens feel that political and social reforms in Taiwan have pushed the two states further apart, and they are also worried — rather than enthusiastic — about what a mainland takeover might mean for them.

An independent identity

Decades ago, many Taiwanese people thought of themselves first and foremost as Chinese. But over the years, that has shifted significantly. Ask a resident of Taiwan today about mainland China — especially someone under 30 — and you are likely to find a lot of people firmly opposed to being identified with China in any way. Although Taiwan’s official name is still “the Republic of China,” several recent studies have shown that a growing percentage of Taiwanese people now see themselves as solely Taiwanese. As of June, 64 percent of people reported identifying as Taiwanese, while the percentage of people who consider themselves both Taiwanese and Chinese fell to 30 percent, according to the Chengchi University survey.

A sense of distinct identity is even stronger among younger citizens. Research from Pew has found that among 18- to 29-year-olds in Taiwan, 83 percent consider themselves solely Taiwanese. It’s likely that number is actually higher; the Pew survey was conducted in 2020, and tensions and animosity toward China have only risen since then.

That has left people like Henry Chang in the minority. An auto parts salesman born and raised in Taipei to parents who left the mainland after the Chinese Civil War in 1949, Chang told Grid he considers himself both Chinese and Taiwanese — and given his own history, that stands to reason; his parents were born on the mainland, and he has lived his entire life on Taiwan. But he recognizes that his dual allegiance is increasingly uncommon. “Young people’s relationships to China are increasingly weak,” he said.

Chang believes that’s due to media influence and a steady decrease in China-related curricula in Taiwanese schools. The surveys suggest many Taiwanese genuinely prefer the circumstances of their lives thanks to political and social reforms, or are tired of what they see as a growing militancy from the mainland. Or both.

Political divisions: “We’ve gotten used to democracy”

For Taiwanese today, opposition to “reunification” with China is driven less by questions of identity — and more by politics and current events.

China has long pledged that Taiwan should be governed under a “One Country, Two Systems” approach, similar to the mainland’s official stance on Hong Kong. During the early 1980s, when Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) were both authoritarian states on what looked like a liberalizing track, unification — the ultimate outcome of the “one country” principle — seemed more plausible. More Taiwanese felt the strong tie to the mainland that Chang still feels — and political and ideological divides were nothing like what they are today. But Taiwan raced down that liberal track and emerged from the shadow of authoritarianism in the 1990s. Democracy has become deeply rooted on the island, while over the same period, mainland China has headed in the other direction. The likelihood of political liberalization in the PRC today appears almost nonexistent.

In the 2014 Asian Barometer Survey, results showed that Taiwanese held a largely utilitarian attitude toward democracy, seeing it as useful so long as it facilitated economic development. Chang, who says he votes “99 percent” of the time for the more pro-mainland KMT party, still maintains this view: “Democracy is very good,” he said, “but I think only on the precondition that everyone can live in peace and contentment, with good jobs, a stable family and enough food to eat.” His complaint is that of late, Taiwan has not regularly delivered those core economic rewards.

Nonetheless, that same survey found that 88 percent supported the idea that democracy is the best form of government, whatever its problems. That rate has gone up with the rise of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which has championed closer political alignment with the U.S. and a more confrontational approach to China. That survey finding stands in stark contrast with the mainland view — or at least the view of the government in Beijing. (The PRC defines itself as a “people’s democratic dictatorship” — “democratic” in the sense that the party’s self-proclaimed mandate is to govern according to the wishes of the people.)

Soochow University’s Chen told Grid that the democratic shift in Taiwan has made “reunification” harder to imagine. “We’ve had elections every four years since democratization, and we have local elections every two years, just like the U.S. So we’ve gotten used to democracy, and that is normal life.”

Liberal values — and a generational divide

Along with a democratic process, Taiwan has embraced social reforms in recent years that have further deepened the contrast with China. Those reforms have been particularly popular among Taiwan’s younger citizens — and that in turn has been one more driver of a shift away from the mainland.

“President Tsai’s formula to win widespread support from the youth generation is not simply political in nature, but also rooted in promotion of liberal and progressive values that attract loyal followers,” wrote Min-Hua Huang, a professor of political science at National Taiwan University, in a recent analysis of the Asian Barometer Surveys. Huang said the surveys, taken from 2001 to 2018, show “that the youth generation is always more liberal than other generations by a significant margin, and more importantly, Taiwanese society as a whole continuously exhibits such an upward trend for the past two decades.”

Perhaps most notable among Taiwan’s recent liberal shifts was the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2019 — a first for any Asian government. A survey taken on the three-year anniversary of the legalization showed an increase in support for same-sex marriage, as well as broad support for gender equality and expression. Chen told Grid that “certain events like the legalization of same-sex marriage make Taiwan more proud of itself,” especially because the watershed moment led to widespread positive global media coverage of Taiwan.

The gay rights trajectory has been different in mainland China. Homosexuality was illegal in China until the late 1990s. A 2020 study found that “Chinese LGBT groups consistently experience discrimination in various aspects of their daily lives.” Under President Xi Jinping’s rule, there have been significant crackdowns on media depictions of gay characters and themes, and educational policies have been introduced with a view to shaping a more conservative and conformist Chinese social system.

More broadly, social life and civil rights are fundamentally different in the two societies. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2022 report rated Taiwan 94 (out of a high score of 100); the island drew high marks across a range of political rights and civil liberties. By contrast, the U.S. clocked in at 83, and China a bleak nine. Under the category of “Freedom of Expression and Belief,” Taiwan achieved a perfect score of 100, with the report describing Taiwan as a country where “the news media are generally free, reflecting a diversity of views and reporting aggressively on government policies, though many outlets display strong party affiliation in their coverage … [and] personal expression and private discussion are largely free of improper restrictions.” China is of course infamous for its extreme censorship regime.

These differences matter to people in Taiwan. When asked why she opposes “reunification” with China, Amang Hung, a Taiwanese poet, told Grid, “the mainland suppresses freedom of thought and freedom of speech, does not respect life, and does not allow diverse values.”

What’s to come: “The trend is not reversible”

Cultural and geographic ties mean that China and Taiwan will likely remain connected in many ways despite the growing turbulence and these broad differences in opinion.

Yet recent trends suggest that as time passes and the younger generation takes the helm, a more strident sense of Taiwanese identity will become the norm. And that suggests that support for “reunification” will continue to fall. “The trend is not reversible,” said Chen, “but China is doing as much as it can to deter Taiwan’s independence.”

That deterrence now includes economic sanctions, frequent harsh rhetoric, and more regular military exercises in and around the Taiwan Strait. China’s crackdown on some forms of expression in Hong Kong has chastened many Taiwanese — and Beijing has tried to reassure residents of the island that they have nothing to fear. A recently released PRC white paper on Taiwan says that “Taiwan’s social system and its way of life will be fully respected, and the private property, religious beliefs, and lawful rights and interests of the people in Taiwan will be fully protected.”

Surveys and interviews suggest many Taiwanese don’t trust those pledges. “China broke its promise to Hong Kong to maintain [independent] political order for 50 years, failing in 23 years,” Chen said. “That shocked a lot of Taiwanese people because Taiwan is highly connected to Hong Kong.”

The war in Ukraine has also been an eye-opener for many in Taiwan — for a different reason. The conflict — different in many ways, but also involving a major power moving against a much smaller population — has raised concerns about the island’s self-defense. A recent poll found that 74 percent of respondents said they would be willing to fight to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.

Above all, for many people in Taiwan, living under the shadow of near-constant tensions with China has led to a growing weariness.

Amang, the Taiwanese poet, told Grid, “I’m Taiwanese. In my next life, I hope I won’t have to make a choice. That is a truly free person.”

Source : GRID