Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Interview: Animal

I promised the interview with Andrea, but it is ongoing and over one hundred pages unedited right now, and in the meantime, I had a shorter and easier to manage interview/discussion with someone else. This one is good, but is not the previously mentioned interview with a Christian who speaks to God personally. That one is still in the works.

BRET: I’m here today with Animal from the blog Animal Magnetism. Animal is an atheist, and would I be correct in saying you’re a right-wing atheist?

ANIMAL:Yes, that would be correct in most cases. I’m a right of center conservative on fiscal, defense, and foreign affairs, but pretty libertarian on social issues. I describe myself as a Goldwater Republican; Barry Goldwater was known to lack patience with overtly social conservatives.

BRET: I’m 27, so I only know about Goldwater through history. Am I correct in saying he was a typical Republican before Nixon and the national Republican party instituted the Southern Strategy?

ANIMAL: Well, not really. Barry Goldwater was one of the first Republicans to try to move the party away from domination by the Rockefeller “country-club” wing of the party. He was more of a small-government, low-spending advocate. Ronald Reagan borrowed a lot from Goldwater on what he campaigned on for spending issues. Goldwater was religious personally, but was not happy with the religious wing of the party.

BRET: I was just about to say, I know Goldwater’s supporters migrated over to Reagan’s camp by the late 70s, but that Reagan seemed to more heavily court the religious right. Do you ever feel like the Republican party has been hijacked by religious nuts?

ANIMAL: At times, yes. It’s very frustrating at times; I was trained as a biologist and while I don’t work in the field, I do stay current. I have very little patience with people who can’t understand the difference between skepticism in climate science, where there is still a lot of discussion over how much/when various factors enter in, and denying biological evolution, which is one of the most firmly established theories in modern science. Nothing in biology makes any sense without it, but you have people like Bobby Jindal and my own former Congressman, Tom Tancredo, claiming they “don’t believe in evolution.” That’s as nonsensical as saying you don’t believe in gravity.

BRET: So you have doubts on climate change?

ANIMAL: It’s accurate to call me a climate change agnostic. I know climate change happens and is happening now. I have no doubt that human activity has an influence on climate. Where I have a problem is that everyone, on both sides of the issue, seems to be using climate change (or claiming a lack thereof) to push some other agenda. There’s a lot of chaff to sort through to get to any wheat.

BRET: Well, then in my view, policy aside, you don’t doubt global warming, you just see it as a political football people dive on.

ANIMAL: Yes, that’s accurate. It’s also interesting to note that, over much of the Earth’s history, the climate has been warmer than it is now. There isnt’ really a “normal” climate; there’s just the climate we’re used to now. Most people don’t understand geological time scales.

BRET: Not to mention that each region goes through different climates, like how most deserts were at one time lush forests. That is a reasonable view. Why do you think so many Republicans (I’m guessing mostly the religious) have such a problem just deferring to the experts in a given field? That is what’s happening with evolution also; they refuse to believe biologists as a whole and focus on the few who are paid to deny it.

ANIMAL: I think religion enters into it, more so with evolution than climate change. Biblical literalists believe the Earth was created some few thousand years ago, exactly as is, and that it was created “perfect.” So nothing should be changing.

BRET: The same view is used for climate change, as with those who say that it specifically says in the Bible that man will not bring the world to an end.

ANIMAL: Since many of these people are skeptical of biology, they feel they should doubt all science.

BRET: Though they go to the doctor when they’re sick.

ANIMAL: Of course. You can’t expect logical consistency from such people. And most of them don’t understand the topic very well; they say “scientist” in such a way that you know they have some mental image of someone like the Professor in Gilligan’s Island.

BRET: I find that disturbing, because they’re essentially admitting their own foolishness. Science is good enough for them and their personal health, but not others.

ANIMAL: Yes, that’s true; I might point out that you see the same kind of logical inconsistency on both sides. I know of a few trust fund kiddies that are committed lefties, one is even an actual card-carrying Communist; but he doesnt’ seem to want to redistribute his own wealth.

BRET: I don’t technically have a trust fund, but I drive a Prius my dad bought for me. I think that counts as what you’re talking about.

ANIMAL: No, I just count that as good parenting. I have helped my own grown kids in similar ways. Although I’m a Ford guy myself.

BRET: I wouldn’t know what kind of car I would want, since I have never picked one out and bought one. That’s sort of the problem with not being very independent: general ignorance. Do you think that factors into one’s politics?

ANIMAL: Oh, I think it factors into everything. Listen, everything we do and everyone we know has an influence on us. My strongest influences, in order, are my Dad, a child of the Depression and WW2 veteran; my own Army service, including a trip to Iraq in 1990-91; and having been an independent businessman since 2003, doing business on four contintents. Although business has been a bit slow lately.

BRET: And what do you attribute slow business to? Regulations and socialism?

ANIMAL: To some extent, although my field, medical devices, hasn’t been hit as hard as some. Last year when the health care bill was being debated, the industry panicked. Almost nobody was doing anything, because nobody knew what was in that bill and nobody trusted the way it was being rammed through. It’s still having an influence, new product development is still down. That’s just my personal impression, mind.

BRET: How does millions of new customers cause an industry to panic?

ANIMAL: Well, there’s where we differ. I don’t think there would be millions of new customers. Thousands, maybe. Also, the one thing we did know about was a 2.5% excise tax on all medical devices manufactured in the US. And that’s in an industry that is already moving to China and SE Asia pretty quickly. A lot of small companies, that’s enough of a bite in their margin to hurt them a lot. Lots of durable medical devices like hospital beds are made in small shops.

BRET: Was the excise tax independent of Obamacare?

ANIMAL: No, it was part of the overall bill. Taxes and spending in general are pretty much a hot-button issue for me these days.

BRET: Do you support socialized medicine in general, like as it is practiced in other countries?

ANIMAL: No, not really. I don’t see a system that I think would work here. The UK is partially privatizing their system again, because they couldn’t make it work. Canada’s system works reasonably well, but there are long waits that result in a significant numbers of Canadians coming south to get care more quickly. Also, what works in Canada or Japan won’t necessarily work here. Our population is different - larger, for starters - and we have different issues. Japan’s system works for Japan - that doesn’t mean it will work here. Although I will say I’ve worked in Japan, and I love the place.

BRET: Not to be crass, but that is the argument made by every conservative when confronted with change that their children then fight to the death to defend, once instituted.

ANIMAL: Of course. That doesn’t always make it an invalid one.

BRETL Saying, “It works there, but it won’t work here” almost implies there is something wrong with us, in my view.

ANIMAL: If you’ll allow an analogy; Japan’s rail system is wonderful. It’s efficient, the trains run on time. But a large-scale rail system like that wouldn’t work here, where I live, in the American West. The land is too large, the people too spread out. It would be prohibitively expensive to extend service to every small town.

BRET: But over half the country lives in densely populated urban centers, so building it rail here would benefit millions. I guess you might say this is rural people subsidizing urban dwellers, but city folk have been subsidizing country dwellers with roads built only for a handful of people for decades. I think there should be high speed rail, and it’s an embarrassment to our country that we are so far behind on it.

ANIMAL: Sure. And we have train systems in such areas. We even have one in Denver. And I think there would probably be a market for high-speed rail between urban centers. But I don’t think the Federal government should be spending money on it. We have tried that with Amtrak, and it’s been a failure.

BRET: So that’s the conservative view, if you fail once, give up?

ANIMAL: Not as I see it. Based on my experience, if the government is involved, it’s more likely to fail. Government is inherently inefficient. If there’s a market for intercity rail, it will develop. If not, it won’t.

BRET: If we took that stance with roads, we would be driving on gravel, dirt and mud.

ANIMAL: The first paved highways in the U.S. were privately developed, you know. And besides, I think the analogy fails. Our road system does work for us, with our dispersed population. I think it would exist whether the government built it or not. Which we can’t know, because it does exist, so it’s kind of an academic argument.

BRET: Why aren’t there just spontaneously paved roads in Africa? I think sitting around and waiting for the private sector to do something is like waiting for evolution, while the government stepping in is like selective breeding or even genetic modification.

ANIMAL: Africa is an interesting case. I read an article by a Kenyan economist recently [I can find you a link if you want] about Africa’s troubles stemming from an excess of aid from America and Europe. There is no incentive for African business because there is an excess of aid from the West.

BRET: That’s bullshit. By that logic, Israel should be a helpless and unindustrious nation. Africa lacks strong centralized governments, so they are reduced to tribalism. You can’t pretend America didn’t build up through government action during and after WWII.

ANIMAL: WW2 - oh, certainly. But that was a crisis of national survival. Sometimes we see a transcendent issue, a consideration that precludes almost anything else. We are in another such time now. I wouldn’t say Zimbabwe lacks a strong central government. Would you?

BRET: A government is like a doctor. If you don’t have one, you’ll be unhealthy, but having a bad one doesn’t mean you’re better off shunning medical care. A strong centralized government is at the heart of every great nation in history, that doesn’t mean every strong centralized government is great. We don’t write tales about aimless clans wandering about, we have histories of Genghis Khan, Caesars, kings... small groups of independently working individuals have accomplished nothing in history but as a side note when they are conquered by a larger power.

ANIMAL: Of course. I’m certainly not an anarchist. But I think our Federal government has grown too large and too complex. Just now I mentioned transcendent issues - I think ours is taxation and debt.

BRET: That’s ridiculous, we have the lowest taxes in over 50 years. Especially on income tax, that is baseless propaganda.

ANIMAL: No, I don’t think so. Our tax code is so complex that even the IRS doesn’t understand it. It’s a mess. Millions of pages of exemptions, deductions, special cases, and so on.

BRET: I know it’s complex, and I’m all for simplifying it, but it’s not liberals who complicated things.

ANIMAL: It was both parties that brought us to this. I don’t think anyone denies that.

BRET: That is a result of special interest groups with millions of dollars to spend on both parties to get their view in. Yes, and it was neither liberal ideology, nor conservative ideology that backs such complexity.

ANIMAL: The current tax mess is, I think, the product of a lot of ad hoc wrangling by politicians of both parties. And make no mistake, I lay the blame for the current mess on both parties.

BRET: How can you not? If you blame one party over another, you aren’t paying attention.

ANIMAL: There we agree.

BRET: But I think the solution is to take the money out. Politicians are beholden to their donors, not voters.

ANIMAL: I think we’re starting to see that change. Not fast enough, but there is a very strong “throw the bums out” sentiment right now. Unfortunately the result is frequently just a new set of bums. I’d like to see two things that I think might help: Term limits, and ending lifetime benefits for elected officials.

BRET: I have zero doubt in my mind that the solution is to end private funding of political campaigns. Those two things have nothing to do with who is buying the laws.

ANIMAL: It would end the idea that elected office is a career path. I would like to see elected offices change hands frequently. It is through the entrenched, long-service political class that these things become ingrained.

BRET: New politicians get bought and legislate for their donors just as much as the veterans.

ANIMAL: And campaign funding is too fluid to easily regulate; each new law just generates a new set of work-arounds. I don’t think we can trust elected officials to cut off their own gravy train.

BRET: It’s simple to regulate it. End private campaigns. Make it all publicly funded and give every politicians the same amount to start with at each stage in a campaign. And outlaw any private funding, Super PACs, etc. It’s not that difficult.

ANIMAL: Sounds good, but what about organizations that campaign for issues, not for candidates?

BRET: What about them? Unless they’re a church, what’s wrong with that? As long as they don’t mention candidate names, I don’t care.

ANIMAL: Also, I think you’re treading on the First Amendment there; the Supreme Court has in the past ruled that political contributions are an expression of political speech, and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

BRET: I know they ruled that, but they also ruled slaves need to be returned to their masters.That was the Citizens United case.

ANIMAL: That ruling was overturned. This one hasn’t been. And I think this one has a good basis; the First Amendment was written specifically to protect political expression, and I think we have to be very careful legislating around it. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am saying it would be difficult.

BRET: No one is saying what can or cannot be said. Bribery isn’t protected speech.

ANIMAL: Again, just as with term limits, we’re depending on politicians to cut off their own gravy train. I just don’t see that happening. I’d love to be wrong here.

BRET: Oh I’m not saying it will happen. I am full of ideas I know will never be.

ANIMAL: Yes, me too. That’s a common human failing, I think, and not really a bad one. And I think that’s the impasse. We’re asking an entrenched political class to cut themselves off.

BRET: Idealism isn’t a failing at all. As long as one half of your brain is still a little realistic.

ANIMAL: Listen, as I’ve said, I’ve worked all over. Japan, China, South Africa, Germany, all over the U.S. - and one thing I have figured out is that folks are pretty much folks, anywhere you go.

BRET: But what works over there won’t work over here.

ANIMAL: Not always. I’d sure like to see the Japanese customs of manners and politeness catch on over here. And no, I agree, idealism isnt’ bad - but it has to be tempered by reality, just as you said.

BRET: Fat chance of manners catching on here. My generation especially sees manners as weakness.

ANIMAL: Unfortunately true. Japan is one place where being a middle-aged guy with gray hair is a point in your favor almost everywhere.

BRET: I want to get back into what I see to be conservative defeatism when it comes to government. Are you familiar with Reagan’s strategy of “starving the beast?”

ANIMAL: Of course.

BRET: So how can you know that is happening and then pretend, “Oh, well, government is just inefficient.” If I was a communist and I went to work for a company solely to embezzle money from them and bring it down from the inside, would that be a failing of capitalism?

ANIMAL: Because I see very little evidence of government efficiency. Can you cite an example?

I can cite many examples if you’re willing to look past post-Reagan era practice of it. The post office is one. Public transit was great until car companies got them privatized and bought them to dismantle them.

ANIMAL: The post office is cutting back services. And if I need to get a package to L.A. overnight, I use FedEx. They’re a lot more reliable.

BRET: Again, saying “the post office today is inefficient” is sort of just proving my point, which is that elected Republicans have gutted the country’s essential services. There wasn’t a problem before Republicans went out of their way to sabotage government programs. Our roads and bridges used to be good, until they were starved off. And every developed nation in the world has better and cheaper healthcare than we do, thanks to their government.

ANIMAL: No, I think the post office is inefficient because they failed to adapt to changing conditions. For example, they cover increasing costs by increasing rates for first-class mail, which is slowly being replaced by email, text messaging and other 21st century tech. Bulk mail rates don’t change much, but that’s most of their business now. Businesses do that all the time, and they fail because of it.

BRET: The reason the government should be doing certain things isn’t just about efficiency, though sometimes it may be (especially with healthcare). Businesses fail, so the government is bound to fail sometimes, too. That just means the government needs to learn to adapt, which may mean expanding rather than contracting, by say having two or more public options instead of one.

ANIMAL: Sure. But remember when I talked about transcendent issues?

BRET: Yeah.

ANIMAL: I think the transcendent issue right now is debt. Debt is inflationary; so is the Fed’s weak-dollar policy. Because of runaway debt taken on by both parties, we don’t have the luxury of doing a lot of things we would do otherwise. Just like a family that is in a debt crisis, we can only afford essentials.

BRET: We lack essentials, though, and the top 1% owns more than the bottom 49%

ANIMAL: And they pay most of the taxes, too.

BRET: Of course they do, they have over half the money! Are you seriously going to boo-hoo over billionaires?

ANIMAL: Listen, I think that’s an inevitable fact of the human condition. It was much the same way in the Soviet Union. Only worse, in a way, because material power and political power were one and the same.

BRET: They are here, too.

ANIMAL: Not in the same way. Bill Gates doesn’t have political power. He can influence it but not exercise it.

BRET: Bill Gates isn’t who we worry about. He’s not spending his money on politicians.

ANIMAL: Sure he does. His Gates Foundation makes donations.

BRET: He’s not paying to have the tax code altered so that Microsoft doesn’t pay any taxes. Well, not anymore. I am sure he did similar things when he did actually run Microsoft.

ANIMAL: Sure. And that’s how the tax code got to be how it is today. But that’s a sidetrack. I think there will always be rich people and there will always be poor people. It’s a fact of the human condition.

It’s not about poor people and rich people. It’s about starving people and rich people. It’s about sick people and rich people. It’s about people who sleep on the street and rich people. There can be poor people, but we don’t have a problem with the poor, we have a problem with utter hopelessness among an entire economic class.

Listen, I think you should be able to file your tax return on a postcard.

BRET: The mentally ill in this country are often thrown on the streets, especially if they’re poor. This is largely due to Reagan’s policy of shutting down mental health wards. Those people used to be cared for.

ANIMAL: Really? Where?
BRET: Walk around New York City for 45 seconds, you’ll see one.

ANIMAL: I have.

BRET: So you know, then. A very high rate of homeless people have mental illness. That’s why they can’t hold a job or “pull themselves up by their boot straps.”

ANIMAL: Of course. But they can’t be institutionalized against their will, at least not easily. That changed, oh, in the 1970s, as I recall. We had an example just down the road from us in those days. He owned his farm, so he wasn’t homeless, but he was dangerously unstable. Used to shoot at people. Fortunately he was a bad shot. Every so often he’d get dropped in the State hospital, but after a couple of weeks, he’d want to go home, and they had to let him.

BRET: I don’t think homeless people should be institutionalized, but there are better options for dealing with them than just leaving them to rot.

ANIMAL: I agree. We have a very successful program called Step 13 here in Denver. They are very good at bringing homeless men off the streets, getting them cleaned up, employed and productive. I donate to them every year. I even donated a truck to them a while ago. Granted it was a pretty old truck.

BRET: You mentioned earlier that trust fund kids don’t give up their wealth to be redistributed.

ANIMAL: I mentioned one specific case.

BRET: Well I think that is an important point.

ANIMAL: Me too. That’s why I emphasized that it was one specific case.

BRET: If I had a lot of money, I wouldn’t “redistribute it.” But I also wouldn’t mind being taxed appropriately.

ANIMAL: Nor do I. But I don’t want my wife, who has an MBA and a Master’s degree in Accounting, to have to spend six weeks every year trying to figure our taxes out. I can’t imagine how people lacking her education do it at all. It’s a terrible resource drain.

BRET: You do realize that a high tax rate is not the same as a complex tax code, right? They can exist independently.

ANIMAL: Of course.

BRET: So why do you bring up complexity when I mention raising taxes?

ANIMAL: For one main reason: I think that if we simplified the code and broadened the base by eliminating the legions of exceptions, exemptions and deductions, we wouldnt’ need a high rate.

BRET: We would have more money, but I still think we would need a higher tax rate in order to pay off our debts. Do you know what Eisenhower set as the tax rate on income in the top tax bracket?

ANIMAL: In the 90s.

BRET: And I assume you know why.

ANIMAL: Of course. WW2 debt. But do you know what happened in the 1980s when the higher rates dropped? Revenues increased. A lot. Unfortunately spending increased even faster. Actually, even before that; JFK lowered rates, with the same result.

BRET: Of course, because we were on the right of the Laffer curve But we have been on the left since Reagan.

ANIMAL: I think we’re closer to the peak than we have been at any time recently. We aren’t nearly as far to the left as we were to the right in 1959.

BRET: Part of the problem I see here is that you see government as a business, or at least that it ought to be run like a business. Businesses need to be efficient, but a government isn’t about efficiency. Parks are not efficient. Building roads that only benefit a few people isn’t efficient. And one of those problems is the idea of maximizing revenue. What if I don’t see high taxes as valuable because they would increase revenue, but because of other effects they have on the private sectors decision making? I don’t see post-WWII America as great for any other reason than it had astronomical tax rates. If you tax income over a certain level at or around 90%, you “discourage people from earning that much.” Or so says the conservative. What actually happens is that companies still earn a lot of money, but owners don’t take a huge cut of it, they distribute it to more people because making more than a certain amount provides diminished returns.

ANIMAL: Well, I’ll differ with your initial premise in one respect; I don’t see government as a business, but I do think it would run better in some aspects if it ran more like one. Government differs from business in one huge way: It has the ability to compel behavior through threat of physical force. If I don’t buy Windows 8.0, Bill Gates can’t send someone out to put me in jail. But if I don’t pay my taxes...

ANIMAL: The other difference is as you said: Government has to fill some gaps that private enterprise can’t. National defense, for example. Local police forces, on another level.

BRET: Right, but the only reason businesses don’t function like that is because the government polices them. Black markets which function outside the bounds of the law do work like that.

ANIMAL: Sure, and those are illegal.

BRET: Right, but that is how all business works outside of the law being there to police them. The government keeps business in check, and the people should be the ones who keep the government in check. To me, the people are on top and business is at the bottom, but right now it’s the other way around.

ANIMAL: No, I don’t like seeing the tax code used to influence behavior. I don’t think, as a matter of principle, that it’s the government’s place to decide how much I should or shouldn’t earn.

BRET: But it is. It’s in the best interest of everyone. This country grew to greatness as an unintended consequence of that mechanism. The middle class is the private redistribution of wealth. And the reason that wealth was distributed privately was because there was no reason to cut yourself million dollar checks. That money would be better invested back into your business.

ANIMAL: No, not really. The middle class exists because of the voluntary exchange of services. An employer offers to pay for skills they need. An employee has skills to sell in an open market.

BRET: That’s bullshit. If that was how things worked, it would have just spontaneously happened all over. It takes intervention to achieve what we achieved. Exploitation is the norm.

ANIMAL: No, it’s economics, and frankly, if that’s how you are going to address the point, I see no reason to continue down this path. I’m being cordial, I’d ask you to do the same. Have you read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations? Or anything by Freidman or von Mises?

If a “free market” didn’t exploit people, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. I have read Mises. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The man never lived in this world, only his own head, and he was historically ignorant.

You can’t exploit people in a voluntary exchange.

BRET: That’s just it. Without intervention, free markets are not voluntary.

ANIMAL: No, I don’t think so. And you really should read Smith. In 1776 he anticipated economic problems we’re having today.

BRET: They are full of exploitation.

ANIMAL: That’s a contradiction in terms.

BRET: Slavery is a function of the free market. It takes intervention to prevent it.

ANIMAL: Oh please.

BRET: Oh please yourself, every society in human history practiced slavery at some point, because they could. If you can do something, someone will. If you don’t stop them, they will keep doing it. That is the way humanity has and always will work. You can see this sort of exploitation in government.

ANIMAL: Example?

BRET: You can see that officials are “elected,” and yet they don’t listen to voters. Just as we have no choice when it comes to our politics, so can a free market be without choice.

ANIMAL: Why the scare quotes around elected?

BRET: In most elections, the majority doesn’t even vote.

ANIMAL: True. What’s your solution to that?

BRET: If democracy is rule by the majority, then the majority opinion seems to be anarchy. But I’m not an anarchist. So I don’t find that appealing.

ANIMAL: Yes, perhaps - but we aren’t a democracy.

BRET: Well we are and we aren’t. Obviously we don’t have a decent choice. When your choice is forced and limited, it ceases to be choice.

ANIMAL: The U.S. is a constitutional republic, based originally - and very loosely - on the Greek and Roman republics.

BRET: I wish it was... Ugh, we should bring back legislation by random lottery. I forget which, but I believe it was the Greeks who tried that. They would randomly select people to comprise the legislature.

ANIMAL: You might be right, I don’t remember either.

BRET: I think that would yield better results than what we have.

ANIMAL: The ‘first 100 names in the Boston phone book’ method. It might at that.

BRET: I would talk about social issues, but I bet you’d just agree with me. Where’s the fun in that? Most atheist Republicans aren’t very anti-gay or anti-abortion.

ANIMAL: Actually I probably would. I’m pro gay marriage, and pro choice on almost everything. My take on abortion is, I think, a little different - I oppose it mostly because I don’t see any reason the government should be involved in any medical decision between a competent adult and their doctor.

BRET: And those are the wedge issues we’ve been presented with as being the sole difference between the Republican and Democratic parties.

ANIMAL: Well, there are others, but those are the biggest ones right now.

BRET: But they are non-issues. They’re just manufactured debate topics. Abortion is settled law and the opposition to gay marriage is just so silly.

ANIMAL: Well, I don’t see them that way - right now, though, they are fringe issues, and aren’t really having much play.

BRET: I think those kinds of topics, and immigration is another, are just presented as “important” because no one wants to talk about the economic mess we’re in.

ANIMAL: My take on social issues is simple: I don’t really give a damn what people do, as long as they leave me alone.

BRET: What if they bug someone else? Or, not bug, but maybe bloody or bruise.

ANIMAL: I don’t understand why a man would want to sleep with another man, but I don’t have to. I don’t understand why people like to watch football, either.

BRET: People watch football for the same reason they want to sleep with another man. They get excited at the thought of two guys pressing up against each other. So it’s no wonder you don’t get either one.

ANIMAL: OK, that’ pretty good, I’ll remember that.

BRET: Do you like UFC fighting?


BRET: There you go. Now you know why.

ANIMAL: I’m a doer, not a watcher. I hunt, I fish, I hike. I used to shoot competition pistol but my schedule doesn’t allow for it these days.

Oh right guns. I don’t really get them. I see guns as sort of like running down the street with your shirt off yelling “Nigger.” Yeah, the law protects your right to do it... but why?

ANIMAL: Why not?

BRET: Do you live around a lot of dangerous wildlife?

Dangerous wildlife, no, not really. But that’s neither here nor there. I do have teenagers, I don’t know if they qualify.

BRET: Meh, I don’t care if your kids kill themselves. No offense. I doubt they will.

ANIMAL: No, they’re pretty happy and stable.

BRET: I meant while playing with the gun accidentally. I assume if they want to kill themselves on purpose, they’ll probably take a bunch of pills or something less messy.

ANIMAL: No, not worried about that either.

BRET: I figured. I don’t ask “Why not?” when doing something. I ask “Why?” If I asked, “Why not?” I would still be religious.

ANIMAL: Granpa used to say “kids who grow up on a river never drown.” My kids know how to handle firearms safely.

BRET: I knew a kid who lived on a lake and his sister drowned. Not to be a smart alick.

ANIMAL: I keep them secured, but they are in the house, so my rule is, you know the basics.

BRET: Just saying. Accidents happen in swimming and guns... and really everything.

ANIMAL: Sure. Cars, motorcycles - a lot on motorcycles. I went through a motorcycle phase myself and just managed not to break my neck. But Grandpa was making a general point.

BRET: I know, I like the point. I just wonder why own a gun? I did an interview with a blogger called, “His Lordship the Gun-Toting Atheist,” and we never found a reason for me to own a gun unless I lived where there were bears. And don’t get me started on motorcyles... those things are death traps.

ANIMAL: Simple answer: Because I enjoy shooting. That’s my reason. And if you don’t want to own one, you shouldn’t.

BRET: Unless you live in Kennesaw, Georgia...

ANIMAL: I opposed that law on principle. I disagree just as much with government mandating ownership as prohibiting it.

BRET: I tend to not care what local municipalities do. Plus I also see it as a virtue to break the law if you disagree with it. If I moved to Singapore, I would take up spitting. How do you feel about gun control? I mean, besides using both hands.

ANIMAL: Now see, you pre-empted my next line, although I was going to also mention trigger control and a good sight picture.

BRET: Sorry, I talk to so many people on the right that I know their lingo now.

ANIMAL: I like the instant background check. I don’t want convicted felons owning guns.

BRET: How do you feel about this idea: a gun license, like a driver’s license.

ANIMAL: Just like a driver’s license?

BRET: Yeah, y sort of. You can get certified to own different classes of guns, and you can buy them without wait periods in some cases.

ANIMAL: So, I only need it if I’m using the gun on public property, and the license applies evenly in all 50 states?

BRET: No, I would say only need it when buying. I think it would be good for gun shows, where you can’t do background tests easily sometimes.

ANIMAL: OK, that’s a bit facetious. No, I don’t see any real benefit to it.

BRET: It’s my understanding, though, that I can circumvent some or many purchase restrictions if I buy my gun at a gun show.

ANIMAL: Not here in Colorado. We do background checks at gun shows here in Colorado. It’s easy. They have an instant check booth set up at the front of the show. Anyone can get a check for $10.

BRET: Ahhh. Good old electronics. Well then my idea is redundant.

ANIMAL: And I know people have been refused. Happened right in front of me once.

BRET: Well if they’re checking, some will be refused. I just didn’t know what the deal was at a gun show, since you can’t have a wait period or anything if you’re buying right then and there. And I don’t go to them, so I know even less than most gun owners.

ANIMAL: I will say that most of the stuff I like to mess with is pre-WW2 stuff, classed as Curios and Relics - I have a collector’s license for those.

BRET: I would have thought old guns had less restrictions. I know antique guns can be bought and sold without a license, like those made before some date in the 1800s. I’m not a gun expert, obviously.

ANIMAL: That license is issued by BATFE, and with that I can buy guns over 50 years in age without the check, because the BATFE has already done it. Modern guns, I still need the same check. It’s an odd discontinuity in some ways because a lot of gun designs haven’t changed at all in that time.
BRET: Well, you asked “why not,” my reason for “why not” is not that I don’t trust myself or those around me, it’s that guns get stolen all the time. I know people buy guns thinking they’ll prevent them from being robbed, but most robberies happen during the day while people are not home. Unless you bought a motion sensor activated gun turret, it’s not going to do you any good to have an item worth so much stolen.

ANIMAL: I do trust myself and those around me. But there’s a nurture side involved, I think; I grew up on a farm, where guns were as omnipresent as tractors and chainsaws. I buy them because I enjoy shooting, and I enjoy restoring old guns.

BRET: I’m kind of surprised chainsaws don’t require a license yet. I wouldn’t want there to be one, but I still find it surprising considering you need a license to cut hair.

ANIMAL: Be careful, someone will think it’s a good idea.

BRET: Okay, I’ll be sure to bury that idea deep within an interview... no one will find it.

ANIMAL: My Grandpa again, and mind you this is back in the late 60s, used to complain that you needed a permit from the county to take a shit. I remember that distinctly because I was a little kid and Grandma was upset that he said “shit” in front of me.

BRET: Yeah, if you want to build a shitter from scratch, first.

ANIMAL: Well, we did. We went without indoor plumbing for, I think, seven or eight years when I was in my childhood and teens.

BRET: Do you typically vote Republican?

ANIMAL: Typically. Not lockstep. Sometimes they field a candidate I just can’t stomach. I have voted Libertarian a few times, realizing that it was a protest vote.

BRET: How do you feel about the Republican presidential candidates?

ANIMAL: Not a lot to choose from. I leaned towards Mitt Romney, and I like some things about Herman Cain. But I haven’t really fixed on one yet. And it’s awfully early. Now Chris Christie is making noises about getting in.

BRET: Not a lot to choose from... I guess you mean quality, not quantity.

ANIMAL: Yes. The quantity is pretty typical for either party this early in the cycle, I think. At least when there isn’t an incumbent.

BRET: I think what has been remarkable is how many fad-frontrunners there have been. I personally think it will be a Romney/Rubio ticket.

ANIMAL: Yes, it’s interesting, but again, I’ve seen similar cycles. We went through the same kind of thing in 1996, and then they chose the weakest candidate from the field. Romney/Rubio would be interesting.

BRET: I think it’s obvious Romney will win the nomination. He has so much money behind his campaign, and he is the heir apparent after finishing second to McCain in 08.

BRET: I see most of these other candidates as running distractionary cover for Romney.

ANIMAL: It looks that way, true, but remember just four years ago, at this point, everyone was pretty certain Hillary Clinton would walk away with the nomination. But I think you’re most likely right.

BRET: Democrats don’t function the same way as Republicans. Democrats love an underdog.

ANIMAL: That’s true. But Democrats also seem to eat their fallen; they don’t seem to bring candidates back once they’ve lost. The GOP doesn’t much either, but it has happened - Reagan in 1976 and 1980, for example.

BRET: Nixon before him.

ANIMAL: Yes. And Romney, perhaps, this time.

BRET: Republicans like to pick a winner.

ANIMAL: Well, we all like to pick a winner.

BRET: Naw, Democrats would root for a dead fish laying on a shore. They don’t know the first thing about pragmatism.

ANIMAL: Well, roughly 40% of the electorate is lock-step one party or the other. They’ll vote for a stuffed monkey if it’s the nominee.

BRET: I would vote for a stuffed monkey. I wouldn’t mind 4 years of silence. And stuffed monkey is cuddly and soft. Stuffed Monkey is good with kids.

ANIMAL: Was it Will Rogers that said we’re all safer when Congress is not in session?

BRET: Although in some ways it’s not good. Our jobs are going overseas, not because of “regulations,” but because other countries are using their governments to woo them.

BRET: If another country offers to build your factory, and if you don’t have to worry about dumping toxins in the water or paying more than five cents an hour... it’s a good deal.

ANIMAL: Sure. They are looking out for their people’s interests, after all. China wants jobs for their billions of citizens. I’ve been there - it’s an incredible, dirty, busy beehive of activity.

BRET: How do you feel about our government sweetening the pot for businesses that stay in the US?

ANIMAL: I like the idea. We need to make it attractive for businesses to stay here. That’s where jobs come from.

BRET: But that’s government interventionism... not the free market.

ANIMAL: But we also have to realize that we’re competing in a global market. I’ve done business in China. They are hungry, they are competitive, and they are anxious. It doesn’t have to be. I think if we fix the tax structure as I mentioned earlier, that would be a good incentive right there. And I don’t think ALL government intervention is bad. I’m not an anarchist. I’d just like to see a little less schizophrenia.

BRET: How do you feel about this tax plan? Tax only three things: income, imports, and products with external costs.

ANIMAL: I’d have to see numbers. But in general I think we’d do better taxing consumption rather than income.

BRET: Why, so the poor pay disproportionately more?

ANIMAL: No, and there are ways around that.

BRET: We want to encourage consumption. Not tax it.

ANIMAL: We also want to encourage production. That’s what makes jobs. One of my main concerns about our economic picture right now is that we’re becoming a nation that doesn’t make things any more.

BRET: Oy...

ANIMAL: I’d like to see manufacturing encouraged.

BRET: What do you think drives production? Magic rich people?

ANIMAL: Capital.


ANIMAL: And demand, sure.

BRET: Consumption. The only thing that affects production is consumption.

ANIMAL: Not the only thing, no. It’s not that simple. But it’s a major factor, sure.
BRET: It’s really the only factor. Unless you’re making things that just sit around never being used. What is an example of a time when production increases without an increase in consumption? I can only think of examples that are government action, like war or the space race.

ANIMAL: Well, I’m an economic hobbyist; my actual education in the field was a few classes in micro and macro while taking my MBA a few years back. But there’s an analogy from biology that applies; like biology, economics (to my thinking) isn’t really linear. Lots of people refer to food chains, but there really aren’t food chains in nature; they’re more like webs, and nobody’s really at the top. Economics, I think, is something like that; production and consumption are too closely interconnected to divorce one from the other. Both have to thrive to have a healthy system. That may be an imperfect analogy, as I tend to think of lots of things in terms of biology. But biology, like economics, has to model very complicated systems. And you can find light-years of room for disagreement.

BRET: I think economics is a lot like biology, in that each is an inexact science that must be based on observation, unlike physics, which can be derived purely theoretically through math alone and then confirmed through observation.

ANIMAL: Yeah, I’ll buy that. In fact I may steal it and use it - it’s a good way to describe an inexact science.

BRET: I copyright nothing, so feel free. Do you feel the government needs to play a role in encouraging competition and breaking up monopolies and cartels in the market?

ANIMAL: To a point, yes; and I’ll give you an example that you might not remember, because it happened in the late 70s. The phone system used to be a legal monopoly. I remember the first phone I got from Northwestern Bell; it was a huge, clunky black desktop monstrosity, and if I wanted to call my folks 80 miles away I paid an exorbitant long-distance fee. Now there are all kinds of competitors for my phone service. I have vastly better equipment, better service, and I can’t remember the last time I paid for domestic long-distance. So I get to discuss Civil War battles with my Dad a lot more than I did then. Breaking up that monopoly had great results.

BRET: Ignoring the cynical impulse to write it off as impossible (as I am inclined to do), would you agree that the Republican and Democratic parties hold a duopoly on the political market in America?

ANIMAL: Effectively, yes. Our system is different than, say, the parliamentary democracies of most of Europe. They have many parties and form coalitions after elections are held. We form them before elections are held. Our two main parties are somewhat constrained from moving too far to the left/right by the need to appeal to swing voters, who really decide elections. But I’m a bit worried that system is breaking down. The parties are moving farther from the center, and I see a few new parties trying to cash in on that. Would you believe there is a new Whig party trying to gain ground in the middle? But I also know societies, like anything else, have life cycles. I worry that my parent’s generation, the WW2 generation, have seen our best years. I really hope I’m wrong.

BRET: Aright, that about wraps it up. I’ll leave the last words to you, to say whatever you want in closing.

ANIMAL: We’ve spent a lot of time on the nation’s economic problems, and the government’s reactions to them. The main thing I’m worried about is the government’s, and indeed our society in general’s lack of flexibility in responding to changing conditions. We talked briefly about tax rates in the 50s, but in 1961, the year I was born and the year Ike left office, Europe and Japan were still rebuilding from WW2, China and India were still basically agrarian societies focused mostly inward, and the U.S. was the biggest player anywhere. That’s changed now. I’ve been to China and seen how things are there. I’m worried that we’ll get left behind. That’s my primary concern and my primary frustration right now. We have to keep up. I’m afraid we might not be. But I remain optimistic, all the same. One thing I learned from the Army is that most people can do things they never imagined they could, if they have to. I’m hoping America as a whole can do that too. And this was fun. Thanks for the discussion!


  1. Good interview, except for the motorcycle hate.

  2. I don't hate them, I hate being on them.

  3. Easily solved then don't ride one.

  4. good, but long

  5. I found the following exchange to be quite interesting:

    BRET: What do you think drives production? Magic rich people?
    ANIMAL: Capital.
    BRET: No.
    ANIMAL: And demand, sure.
    BRET: Consumption. The only thing that affects production is consumption.
    ANIMAL: Not the only thing, no. It’s not that simple. But it’s a major factor, sure.
    BRET: It’s really the only factor...

    Based on the other things I learned during this interview... Animal has an MBA, teenagers, and has lived in at least one other country... Bret is 27 and drives a Prius that his dad bought for him...

    Bret, you have the confidence of a young man who still has a lot to learn. You seem unwilling to learn from anyone else.

    I know more than I did 10 years ago. I'll know even more 10 years from now. You seem to think you know it all at the age of 27. I think you need to be more aware of the things you don't know yet, and you'll learn a lot more in your life.

  6. I think it's interesting that neither you nor Animal can explain how anything but consumption can drive production, but that doesn't stop you from making an ad hominem argument based solely on my economic class and my age. Very interesting, indeed.

  7. You're like a kid with a new toy. It's as though you just learned a new term and can't wait to throw it around in every argument you engage. You accuse everyone of making ad hominem attacks, but I don't think you understand what the ad hominem fallacy actually is.

    A rebuttal of your argument about consumption frankly isn't necessary. Your argument is invalid on its face, and you're the only person on the planet who doesn't see it.

    I'm guessing you attended an intro to macroeconomics course at your local community college, and stopped reading the textbook after the chapter on supply and demand. Most people with your (apparent) level of economic understanding think all economics is encapsulated in the concept of supply and demand.

    Economic activity is extremely complex, but I'll limit myself just to the factors you both mentioned. There is no production without capital. There is no consumption without production. There is no consumption without demand. There is no consumption without supply. Consumption is but one factor in dynamic economics, yet you arrogantly claim "It's really the only factor."

    As for what you claim was an ad hominem attack, you provide daily evidence of your inability to learn anything new, and you certainly refuse to learn anything from anyone on the right side of the political spectrum.

    When I was 27, had I heard someone describe what they think drives production, I would've had the wisdom to shut my mouth and listen to what he had to say. But you don't have that gene.

    Really, this goes back to your so-called "interview" skills. You disagree with Animal on what drives production, so you argue the point and assert what is true instead of asking clarifying questions that would've helped you understand his position as well as enlighten your three readers.

  8. Consumption is the only factor which exists by virtue of nature. We will always consume, even if there is no production or capital. The division of labor, currency, and other economic developments allow us to produce products that have no prior demand, though their very existence creates a demand for consumption. Even here, production will not continue for very long if the product is not consumed.

    Consumption fuels not only all of economics, but nearly all human and animal actions (the only exception I can think of is reproduction, but I am certainly open to the idea of other endeavors being non-consumption driven).

    Besides having taken four semesters of economics in high school and two in college (macro and micro at a very expensive, $30k per year private university, not community college... though I don't see what's wrong with community college...), I read a fair amount of economic theory, with ideological backgrounds ranging from Mises to Keynes. But ultimately, it's not the economic theory I have read about which shaped my overall view, it's been history. I see studying economic theory as largely an exercise in merely understanding how the different economic schools imagine they work. History is the laboratory where real observations can be made.

    But you don't have that gene.

    I also took Biology and Genetics. I can assure you: my inability to politely listen to someone who doesn't know what they're talking about without correcting them is not in any way linked to my genetics. I think the field you want for that is Psychology, or rather, Abnormal Psych (both of which I could give you my notes on, if you're so inclined).

    your three readers

    You think I have three? Optimist...

    You know

  9. Where did that "You know" come from? Disregard that, I don't even remember writing it.

  10. Even people with impeccable credentials can be wrong. Exhibit A: Paul Krugman.

    If indeed you have all of this education in economics, why are you making elementary-level economic arguments? Your credentials don't bolster your case; they make it appear as though you didn't learn anything.

    You believe that 99 weeks of unemployment benefits are a good thing. In fact, they keep unemployment high for longer, and create economic incentives to not work.

    You believe raising the minimum wage keeps people out of poverty. In fact, raising the minimum wage puts more minorities and low-skilled workers out of a job and (that's right) increases overall unemployment.

    You believe consumption is the sole factor that drives production. In fact, [see argument above]

    You believe there is nothing wrong with a community college education, yet you attended a private university at a cost of $30k per year. Do you think that was a smart economic decision?

    Those are your true economic credentials. In fact, the only wise economic decision I've seen you make is to get your dad to buy you a car. That's wrong for a host of other reasons.

  11. You think unemployment benefits gives an incentive to not work? Obviously you were never on unemployment, so you and I have that in common. And here I was thinking unemployment was high because there were no jobs. Apparently the problem is that people can afford to pay the rent, and if they couldn't they might finally sell their ass on the corner like a good capitalist.

    You believe raising the minimum wage keeps people out of poverty. In fact, raising the minimum wage puts more minorities and low-skilled workers out of a job and (that's right) increases overall unemployment.

    Funny you blame a policy that has worked since 1933 to build up a stronger working class and a robust consumer base. Clearly it's not new conservative policies, it's a decades-proven system to blame.

    You believe there is nothing wrong with a community college education, yet you attended a private university at a cost of $30k per year. Do you think that was a smart economic decision?

    I was kidding. Community college is for poor people (okay... now I'm kidding). For someone who says the rich are free to make any economic choices with their money that they want, you seem awfully nosy and critical of a decision that is already bought and paid for (only debt I have is my mortgage).

    But hey, thanks for fighting to keep my dad's taxes down. He didn't even think anything of giving me $35k to put down on my house last year. Apparently "trickle down" does work, if only through nepotism.

  12. Oh, and I can't believe I forgot about this until I reread your comments. I didn't resort to "supply/demand" argumentation. Consumption is neither supply nor demand.

    DO yourself a favor and read up on autonomous vs. induced consumption. The economy doesn't just magically grow and progress, it is highly dependent on consumers and disposable income. When income distribution become unbalanced, wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few who spend proportionately less of the money (squirreling away billions, which can and currently is grinding the economy to a halt).

    I'm sorry, but you have absolutely no clue what you are talking about, and I doubt there is any hope for you. But don't let me discourage you from correcting your obvious errors.


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