December 12, 2005

Alienated Nation?

I’m having a problem with this Harris survey that has been done annually for a long time (graph presented here is the last 10 years of a 33-year graph at The Wall Street Journal; the December 8 WSJ article on the topic is here; subscription required for both):


The biggest problem I have (other than the normal objection I always have, which is that surveys and polls should only be taken of people who vote consistently in real elections) is that Harris used soft-language questions in the actual survey, and then turned the results into hard-language conclusions in their press release. The hard-language conclusions will largely be what ends up in the news stories written about the survey results.

Here is the introduction to the detailed questions (found at Table 3 of their press release; bold is mine):

“Now I want to read you some things some people have told us they have felt from time to time. Do you tend to feel or not feel (READ LIST)?”

I would suggest that there are few flesh-and-blood humans who haven’t answered “yes” to having the feelings of alienation noted “from time to time.” You could have felt that way three days out of past year and answered affirmatively.

But here’s what Harris did with the results, again from their press release:

In the latest survey, the Alienation Index, the measure of feeling alienated, has risen substantially by five points, to 55, which is the highest since 2000.
The current increase of five points since last year’s measure of 50 can perhaps be attributed to the lack of popularity of the country’s leaders and the direction the country is heading. President Bush’s ratings are at the lowest point of his presidency and the proportion that thinks the country is headed in the wrong direction is also at its lowest point since President Bush came into office. Furthermore, in the new Alienation Index, large numbers (75%) feel that the “rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Similar trends have been reported on by the media when referring to federal government statistics.
These are some of the results of a nationwide Harris Interactive(R) survey of 1,011 adults conducted by telephone between November 8 and 13, 2005.
The Index is based on the replies to five questions, designed to measure feelings of powerlessness and isolation, which have been asked regularly since 1966. All of the replies to these five questions have increased significantly since 2004 (i.e. alienation has risen).
– 75 percent believe that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” (up significantly from 68 percent in 2004).
– 60 percent believe that “most people with power try to take advantage of people like you” (up sharply from 53 percent in 2004).
– 53 percent feel that “what you think doesn’t count very much any more” (up slightly from 51 percent in 2004).
– 53 percent believe that “the people running the country don’t really care what happens to you” (up sharply from 44 percent in 2004).
– 35 percent feel that “you’re left out of things going on around you” (virtually unchanged from 34 percent last year).


  • The words “tend to” disappeared, didn’t they? So now they look like solid and constant feelings that people have instead of mere tendencies. (On the other hand, kudos to The Journal for making sure that “tend to” appeared in the heading of their graph).
  • Note the addition of over-the-top anti-Bush spin and the gratuitous inclusion of “perhaps” assertions about President Bush that can’t in any way be supported by the original survey.
  • “All of the replies to these five questions have increased significantly.” Uh, no–three of them did; the others are described in the detailed list as “up slightly” and “virtually unchanged.” Can’t, keep, story, straight.
  • This is really precious: “Similar trends have been reported on by the media when referring to federal government statistics.” No specifics, we’re just supposed to assume it’s correct.
  • Finally, note that The Journal only charted the items that went up significantly, not the two that went up, but only by a bit.

As to the fact that the numbers for three of the five items are trending upward during the past four years (after a big drop that occurred in the survey taken shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks), do I even need to explain that? OK, I will (but remember, these are tendencies): years of negative reporting about the economy, the war in Iraq, and the Bush Administration in general–in spite of the fact that the economy is doing very well; progress in Iraq has been objectively steady; and the majority of voters the last time they were asked indicated that they wanted the party of George Bush to have the White House, majority control of The Senate and The House, the majority of state governorships, and the majority of state legislatures (perhaps even down to the majority of dog catchers).

While I’m at it, I should point out that the following about the three statements charted:

  1. Rich Getting Richer: During the past 4 years, that’s barely true. During the previous administration, that statement was largely true. Anyway, America has such great income mobility that the question is almost irrelevant. Much more on that can be found here.
  2. People in Power Taking Advantage: There sure have been a lot of execs paying a pretty steep price in the past few years (the heads of Adelphia, Worldcom, and Tyco, for starters). Additionally, if there is to be any good salvaged from the billions of dollars companies are paying to comply with Sarbanes Oxley every year, you would think one of them will be the reality, and one would hope the eventual perception, that the people in the executive suites who don’t follow the rules will pay a steep price.
  3. People Running the Country Really Don’t Care: I guess that’s what happens when you have a president who isn’t obsessed with reminding us that he “feels our pain.”

To the extent that the company has taken tendencies towards feelings of alienation and reported them as if they are firmly held beliefs, Harris is engaging in survey malpractice. It’s high time the firm stops this charade.

In Case You’re Wondering About France

Filed under: Economy,Immigration,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:40 pm

The car burnings continue:

As many as 60 cars still burn nightly in France

Between 40 and 60 cars are still being burned nightly in France more than three weeks after a wave of suburban violence subsided, a senior interior ministry official said Thursday.

Stephane Fratacci, the ministry’s director of public liberties, was arguing against a writ brought before France highest administrative court — the State Council — for the country’s month-long state of emergency to be suspended.

The jurists who brought the suit said that the measure was no longer needed as normality had been restored in the poor neighbourhoods where the rioting broke out on October 27.

But Fratacci said that last Saturday night 79 vehicles were burned, 46 on Sunday and 50 on Monday. And he urged “the greatest caution” ahead of the end-of-year holidays which regularly see outbursts of violence in suburbs of France’s major cities.

How many car burnings occurred in the US this past weekend?

And here’s a “surely unrelated” story (/sarcasm):

Car industry drags down French industrial output

French industrial production fell sharply in October compared with September, casting doubt on the strength of a widely forecast economic recovery and revealing difficulties for the French auto sector, analysts said on Friday.

Data from French statistics office INSEE showed that industrial production fell by 2.5 percent in October compared with September after growth of 0.6 percent in September from the figure for August.

Clueless in Cleveland (at the Plain Dealer)

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Ignorance,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:01 pm

S.O.B. Alliance member Weapons of Mass Discussion (WoMD) notes that the Cleveland Plain Dealer (annoying request for zip code and date of birth required for full access) did a story on the feelings of a number of people about Paul “I’m Going Back to Iraq” Hackett and his Ohio US Senate run:

  • Anthony Kusich in San Francisco.
  • Bob Brigham in San Francisco, who is eminently qualified to comment because he “followed Hackett around southwest Ohio during the last week of Hackett’s congressional campaign.”
  • David Sirota, hunkering down in Montana.
  • Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
  • Just for variety, I guess, reporterette Elizabeth Auster went out and got a comment from the Democratic Chairman of Richland County. One would hope that it was Richland County, Ohio (the article didn’t say), but given the others who were interviewed, I would not be surprised if the guy was from Richland County South Carolina, Wisconsin, North Dakota, or Mr. Sirota’s state of Montana.
  • John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. Yeah, Akron’s in Ohio, but the Bliss Institute has to be on another planet to have produced pre-elections polls on Issues 2, 3, 4, and 5 that were off by as much as 28 points.
  • Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the Cook Political Report, based in Washington, DC.

WoMD detected a high baloney content in the piece, which is quite true. It’s too bad Ms. Auster went to all the trouble of interviewing so many “experts,” when she could have gotten all the baloney she needed for the article, and higher-quality baloney at that, from one homegrown source. :–>

Seriously, Cleveland PD, when are you going to do a story about what’s happening on the ground in Ohio politics?

Sprawl Is NOT a Four-Letter Word

Filed under: Economy,Environment,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:40 am

….. unlike many of the word uttered in traffic jams.

In a Saturday Wall Street Journal book review (“In Praise of ‘Burbs”) on the history of urban sprawl over several millenia (“Sprawl: a Compact History” by Robert Bruegmann), Joel Kotkin notes, contrary to widely-held belief, that sprawl is not a uniquely American phenomenon:

Mr. Bruegmann finds this pattern of flight taking place virtually any place dense urban centers develop, whether in Ming China, Renaissance Italy or early modern Europe. But it was the Industrial Revolution that really pushed the growth of suburbia. Industrial-age cities of the 19th century were even more crowded, more dirty and more polluted than their premodern counterparts.

….. With the rise of commuter rails, telegraph, telephones and then automobiles in the 20th century, urban dispersion accelerated dramatically. “Sprawl,” loosely defined, became a global phenomenon. Cities in North America, Australia, New Zealand and South America — with cheap land and growing populations — took the idea of fleeing dense urban centers and, so to speak, ran with it.

Yet the reasons for the sprawl around Los Angeles, Houston, Phoenix, Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Tokyo are not so unlike those of third-century Rome. The needs and preferences of individuals, families and businesses matter most. To attempt to understand sprawl from this perspective, of course, flies in the face of most academic “urban theory” as well as the collected wisdom of most planners, architects and the media.

It is believed, for example, that sprawl is a peculiarly “American” disease, another sign of our decadence and wastefulness. Yet in reality, U.S.-style sprawl can be found everywhere now, including metropolitan Paris, where the far-out suburbs of the Grand Couronne are harvesting much of the region’s job and population growth. Even crowded China has its suburban tracts, some with odd names like “Orange County.”

Nor, as already hinted above, is it intrinsically evil:

In our own time, Mr. Bruegmann observes, much of the anti-sprawl venom comes not from the working class or middle class but from well-heeled urbanites with expensive apartments in Georgetown and Beacon Hill or on Central Park. Many such critics — just think of John Kerry or Al Gore — also own spacious country estates and naturally are not happy about exurban developers luring the masses too close to their weekend idylls.

Mr. Bruegmann rightly dismisses “the campaign to reform other people’s lives” launched by these anti-sprawl scolds — such as urban-growth boundaries and restrictions on the construction of single-family homes. Rather than try to strangle suburbia, he suggests, we ought to try to live with this new, expansive form of city.

As powerful as sprawl logic may be, the traditional city is far from dead. Mr. Bruegmann, a longtime Chicago resident and a professor at the University of Illinois campus there, is particularly bullish on amenity-rich older cities — New York, Boston, Seattle and Portland, as well as Chicago. They can lay claim to a promising demographic niche among the nomadic rich, the young and those who cater to their needs.

Sprawl is just another manifestation of the ability of people in a free society (or, in China’s case, grudgingly moving towards becoming free) to move where they wish to live as they wish.

Call it “voting with our feet.” I maintain that much of the sprawl that central-planning nannies so decry would not have occurred, or would have occurred much more slowly, if urban centers had not arrogantly assumed that they were the only game in town long after that ceased being the case.

All of Ohio’s major cities except Columbus have lost large percentages of their populations over a 40-plus year period for four reasons. The first, an innate desire in many not to be in an urban environment if they can manage it, explains why some out-migration would probably have happened regardless of how well the cities were run. But the other three reasons accelerated the trend. Those reasons are high crime, poor schools, and high taxes. Many of the same people who deplore sprawl are in the same camp as those who resist meaningful attempts to crack down on crime, reform underperforming schools, reduce taxes, or control city spending. To the extent that this is true, these critics forfeit the right to credibly complain about the “evils” of sprawl.

Passage of the Day: WSJ on Environmental Sanity

Filed under: Economy,Environment,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:50 am

From Saturday’s Wall Street Journal (last 4 paras; requires subscription):

….. given the costly and fraudulent scares we have just lived through — mad-cow disease, genetically modified foods — the End-Is-Nigh crowd should be held to a higher standard of proof than it has been before. The needs of the world’s poor and sick are too pressing to squander limited economic resources on what could be another false alarm.

Fortunately, there’s another game in another town. Next month, the U.S., Japan, China, South Korea, India and Australia — collectively accounting for nearly half the world’s population — will meet in Sydney to launch the Asia-Pacific partnership. Unlike Kyoto, which pits developing countries against developed ones, the Partnership is a collaboration to develop cleaner energy resources.

Unlike Kyoto, too, it is a voluntary partnership that seeks to address environmental issues through economic growth and technology, and not by targets and command-and-control mechanisms. Some of the technological fixes — zero-emissions power plants, efficient hydrogen fuel cells — may be decades away. Then again, so are the real-world consequences of global warming, if they materialize at all.

So many politicians and activists have committed so much to their faith in man-made global warming that events like Montreal will continue regardless of the evidence. But anyone who cares seriously about the needs of the poor — and of the environment — needs to get out from under Kyoto’s dead hand.

If it doesn’t involve state control and top-down management, so-called environmental advocacy groups don’t like it. Fortunately for us, they did not, and apparently will not, get their way, even if a former US president doesn’t like it, and obviously doesn’t get it.


  • Australia’s announcement
  • US State Department Vision Statement (note how the Staties put in a nonsense sentence at the end: “The partnership will be consistent with and contribute to our efforts under the UNFCCC and will complement, but not replace, the Kyoto Protocol.” They’re referring of course to unratified, never-will-be-ratified Kyoto Protocol–Zheesh.)


Previous related posts:
- Dec. 3–Margaret Beckett of Great Britain Deserves a Major Promotion
- Nov. 29–Canadian Crocodile Tears for the Never-in-Effect Kyoto Treaty
- Nov. 22–The Kyoto Treaty Is Dead–I Knew That
- Sept. 21–The Enviro “Coalition of the Seething” Won’t Be Pleased
- Sept. 17–Kyoto Treaty, RIP: Blair Delivers the Blow

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ Links (121205): Misplaced Priorities in Congress

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:01 am

Example 1: “The Inalienable Right to a Remote”

George Will rips Congress for wanting to shower money on the digital TV-deprived (may require free registration; worth it for just this column):

What will become of households that do not (convert by 2009)? Leaving aside such eccentric alternative pastimes as conversation and reading, the digitally deprived could pursue happiness by buying a new television set, all of which will be digital-capable by March 2007. Today a digital-capable set with a flat-screen display can be purchased from — liberals, please pardon the mention of your Great Satan — Wal-Mart for less than $460. But compassionate conservatism has a government response to the crisis.

….. The $990 million House version of this entitlement — call it No Couch Potato Left Behind — is (relatively) parsimonious: Consumers would get vouchers worth only $40 and would be restricted to a measly two vouchers per household. The Senate’s more spacious entitlement would pay for most of the cost — $50 to $60 — of the converter boxes. But there is Republican rigor in this: Consumers would be required to pay $10. That is the conservatism in compassionate conservatism.

….. Why does the legislation make even homes with cable or digital services eligible for subsidies to pay for converter boxes for old analog sets — which may be worth less than the government’s cost for the boxes?

Why indeed? I sense a boondoggle of E-rate proportions.

Example 2: Senate Enemy of Pork Can’t Practice Medicine

There is little doubt that it’s out of spite:

But senators weren’t happy about having their pork-addicted ways held up to ridicule. Few doubt that wasn’t part of the motivation a couple of days later for refusing to allow Dr. Coburn, an obstetrician, to earn just enough outside income so he could pay the expenses he incurs in delivering babies one day a week back home. Meanwhile, other senators continue to have carte blanche to earn outside income by writing song lyrics and novels that few believe would see the light of day were it not that they were famous as elected officials.

Update: There is much more detail from S.O.B. Alliance member Porkopolis on this, including news that Ohio Senator George Voinovich was among those voting to prevent Dr. Coburn from doing his work (which, by they way, had been permitted under House Ethics rules when Dr. Coburn was a congressman).

Example 3: Meanwhile, They Sleep as Securities Regulators Expand Their Reach to “Protect” Those Who Don’t Need It

Oh they say they only want to regulate hedge funds, but it’s not true (link requires subscription):

Although the SEC has stressed its intention to require registration of (only) hedge funds, the term most used in the rule is “private funds.” In a brief filed in the Goldstein case, the SEC indicates that this term could cover more than just hedge funds. It describes “private funds” as “a category of pooled investment vehicles that encompasses most hedge funds.” It also defines them as “entities that engage in securities transactions privately with each of their investors” and “that are marketed on the basis of the skill and expertise of the investment adviser.”

These features do describe hedge funds, but they also apply to most venture capital and private equity funds. Business lore portrays venture capitalists as the white knights of the marketplace, whereas hedge funds are often portrayed unfairly as black hats. But the organizational structure of the two entities is actually very similar.

Hedge, venture capital, and private-equity funds are supposed to be limited to well-heeled (“accredited”) investors who supposedly know what they’re doing, and who, if they get burned, can afford to take their losses. These people are big boys and girls–So why is Congress letting the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) get involved in this at all?

Response: GOP Primary Challengers (More, Please)

The Club for Growth (CFG) has endorsed a primary challenger to an incumbent GOP senator (official endorsement is here):

Today, the Club for Growth PAC will endorse Steve Laffey, the Republican Mayor of Cranston, R.I., in his primary challenge against Sen. Lincoln Chafee. Steve Laffey is a pro-growth, Reagan Republican. Sen. Chafee epitomizes the GOP’s waning commitment to limited government and economic freedom.

Sen. Chafee has consistently opposed tax cuts. Citing the federal deficit, he opposed the Bush tax cuts that have generated our powerful economic expansion. But his concerns about deficits don’t extend to government spending. Bills he has sponsored would add nearly a half-trillion dollars in new spending over 10 years.

….. Steve Laffey makes a stark contrast. After an inspiring climb from rags to riches, he returned to his hometown to run for mayor and rescue the city of Cranston from impending insolvency. As mayor, Mr. Laffey ruthlessly attacked the mismanagement that had caused Cranston’s problems. He cut costs, established financial controls, rooted out waste and took on bloated union contracts in the courts–as well as in the court of Rhode Island public opinion. Today, Cranston has recovered its investment-grade credit rating and the voters there have re-elected him twice. This in a city where only 14% of voters are Republicans!

….. After 10 years of controlling Congress, Washington Republicans have an identity crisis. It was Republicans who gave us a farm bill that only a Soviet central planner could love; a campaign-finance reform bill that expands government’s unconstitutional restrictions on speech; a prescription-drug entitlement program that Lyndon Johnson could only have dreamed of; and a transportation bill with more than 40-times as many pork projects it took to earn Reagan’s veto.

….. The party of Reagan has been reduced to this–which is why it’s time for Laffey vs. Chafee, the first skirmish in a very important battle.

It’s about time. Perhaps The CFG should take a closer look at Ohio’s GOP challengers to Mike DeWine.

UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt, who supported Specter over Toomey last year, is supporting Laffey: “Lincoln Chaffee gets all the big ones wrong. He should be retired.” That’s a good early sign. Let’s hope Bush Cheerleader Hugh doesn’t get cold feet if the President’s people try to prop up Chafee.

UPDATE 2: Opinion Journal’s Political Diary (no link available-surprise, it’s a Best of the Web substitute today) has a counterpoint on Laffey: “But if Mr. Laffey hopes to win the hearts of conservatives nationwide by unseating Senator Chafee, he’ll first have to explain a few things about his own record. As mayor of Cranston for the past three years, Mr. Laffey has increased taxes three times. The city now has one of the highest property tax rates in the state, and Mr. Laffey has said Cranston may “need” an additional tax hike in 2007. And while living in Tennessee in the 1990s, he gave money to Democratic senatorial candidates who ran against former Republican Sen. Fred Thompson and the current Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. He even made a campaign contribution to Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. ….. That said, Mr. Laffey has been able to raise more than $600,000 — about half of what’s in Senator Chafee’s war chest — and is likely to raise a lot more with the support of the Club for Growth. Mr. Laffey made his reputation in Cranston by locking horns with unions and installing cameras in government offices so he could catch bureaucrats dozing off on the job. Senator Chafee may not have been caught napping, but he does have a race on his hands.”

Positivity: ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ First Aired 40 Years Ago

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:11 am

“There will always be an audience for innocence in this country.”
— Charles Schulz

Back in 1965, almost everyone but Schulz hated the idea of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”: