PERA Benefits Among Most Generous in the Country

Late last week, the redoubtable Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute published a state-by-state comparison of full-career public pension retirement benefits, in that organization’s monthly Economic Perspectives.  While news of PERA’s long-term fiscal problems won’t be a surprise to anyone reading this blog, it may come as a surprise to learn that Colorado ranks among the most generous states when it comes to that measure.

In nominal dollars, Colorado ranks fourth in the country, at just over $60,000 for an employee who spends his entire career in the state civil service.  The $60,420 per annum figure ranks just behind California and Alaska, and considerably behind Nevada’s $64,000.  When adjusted for the states’ relative cost of living, as calculated by the Council for Community and Economic Research, Colorado jumps well past both California and Alaska, into 2nd place.

Biggs also noted that the present value of these benefits can create “pension millionaires,” whose benefits exceed $1 million in today’s money.  When Colorado’s benefit is compounded at the maximum 2.0% COLA, and then discounted using a 3.5% risk-free discount rate, the total comes in at $1.25 million in 2014 dollars, assuming the beneficiary retires at 60 and lives to 82.5 years of age.

As Biggs points out, the need to stay for an entire career in order to collect benefits, at the same time that they forego Social Security benefits for those years, is a serious disincentive to retaining qualified and motivated public employees.  Those who leave – or arrive – in the middle of their career get shortchanged the most, since vesting and benefits are not proportional to the years served.

The problem here isn’t that workers are greedy, or that these benefits themselves are unsustainable.  It’s that the results are unfair to the majority of workers, who find their own benefits shortchanged in order to fund the retirements of full-career public servants.  A conversion to a defined contribution plan, where workers are always fully vested in their own contributions would help to solve this problem, and be much fairer to the majority of workers who do not spend their entire careers with the government.

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Springtime for Putin

Last week, I posted a comment on Facebook to the effect that I was waiting for the Pat Buchanan column defending Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a defense of traditional conservative values.  I meant it as a joke, but he seems to have taken it as a challenge.

In a remarkable Townhall.com column, Buchanan takes Hillary Clinton to task for comparing Putin’s motives to Hitler’s in 1935-39. Then he does the same thing, in order to exonerate Putin. In doing so, he has to exonerate Hitler. It’s the Double-Reverse Godwin, and he gets 6.0 from the German judge!  And the Russian judge!  The only thing missing was a description of how it’s all Israel’s fault, or the Jewish lobby’s fault, although I guess this is only a few hundred-word column, and he has to leave something for the long program.

Here’s Buchanan’s take on the events of 1935-1939:

He imposed conscription in 1935, sent his soldiers back into the Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in 1938, demanded and got the return of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938.

He then sought to negotiate with the Polish colonels, who had joined in carving up Czechoslovakia, a return of Danzig, when the British issued a war guarantee to Warsaw stiffening Polish spines.

Enraged by Polish intransigence, Hitler attacked. Britain and France declared war. The rest is history.

It’s not often you get to read histories from a parallel universe in a political journal.  Hitler didn’t just get the return of the Sudeten Germans, he got the Sudetenland, which included the only serious geographic obstacle to the rest of Czechoslovakia.  In-between Munich and Hitler’s, ah, “negotiations” with the Poles, Hitler walked into Bohemia, Moravia, and Prague, effectively annexing the rest of Czecholovakia and along with it, the Skoda Works.  Although not very many more Germans.

It’s true that Poland fought a series of short, unpleasant border wars with most of its neighbors, and that it took advantage of Munich to settle some leftover business with Prague. (Paul Johnson in Modern Times suggests that that’s at least part of the reason why Poland didn’t have any local friends when its own day of reckoning came.) It’s also true that Zaolzie bore none of the strategic or military significance that the Sudetenland did, and that the Poles didn’t exactly have the same strategic ambitions as did Germany.

Hitler wasn’t going to get Gdansk/Danzig without a fight, and he knew it.  But he didn’t just walk in an take the Polish Corridor.  He shelled Warsaw for weeks, and partitioned the entire country between himself and Stalin.  So according to Buchanan, Hitler needed Prague to secure the Sudetenland, and he needed Warsaw to secure Danzig.

If I were living in Kiev right now, I’m not sure I’d find that encouraging.

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When Does It End? When We Are Finished.

The other day, I was speaking to a reform member of one of the local school boards.  We were talking about continued union-backed resistance to reform. Some of the parents who’ve steadfastly supported the board, and continue to support their policies, have been asking, “When does it end?”

“When do you stop having kids?” was my initial, somewhat snappy, suggested reply.

A more satisfying one is the one given by Charlton Heston as Michelangelo to Rex Harrison’s Pope Julius: When we are finished.

Since it’s so easy for one school board to undo much of what’s been accomplished, at this point, reform boards need to keep winning elections.  They need to do that in the face of union bullying, collusion with the PTA, staged demonstrations during board meetings, and coordinated attempts to undermine change.

Eventually, however, choice (for example) will simply be the Way Things Are Done.  They’ll be the received cultural wisdom, and everyone will assume that things have always, and will always be that way.  Merit pay, no union representation, end of tenure, these things will just be the way that schools operate.

The unions and their friends will never entirely disappear.  But at that point, the fights will move from core issues to more marginal ones.  It will become clear that the big battle – the battle to reshape how we think about managing our schools – has been won.

That’s when it ends.

 

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Dudley Brown, Self-Beclowns

I tend to avoid attacking Republicans here on this page, figuring that there are plenty of Democrats, and Democrats-with-bylines, who are paid to do that work.  Sometimes, though, you have an obligation to keep your own house clean.

Edgar Antillón, former Republican legislative candidate who now runs Guns For Everyone, a NRA Firearms Instruction company, suggested a “gay night” as a promotion.

Dudley Brown, head of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, and would-be Colorado Republican kingmaker, posted this comment last night on Facebook:

This is beneath contempt, but it shouldn’t be a big surprise.  Brown has previously been implicated in a lawsuit over an anti-gay flyer used in a state senate primary.

Some will no doubt leap to Brown’s defense, pointing to his having been helpful in the two successful recalls, and the Recall Hudak Too campaign which resulted in her resignation.   That rather rings hollow when here he his, making an ugly attack on gays on the page of someone who’s on his side on his signature issue.  So much for building alliances and coalitions.

Worse than that, this kind of garbage makes principled opposition to redefining marriage, and principled support of religious conscience much harder to maintain.  It is not only possible, it is necessary, to make those arguments without rancor and hatred.  Brown’s very public bigotry makes it all to easy for those on the other side to caricature traditional conservative positions.

Full disclosure: I’ve had personal experience with Brown, although not over gays, but over guns.  Or rather, over his gun group.  In 2010, Brown took to my campaign Facebook page to complain that I hadn’t returned his candidate questionnaire, using that as the standard for calling me “not conservative.”  Given that the outcome of the race was just under 2-1 in favor of my Democrat opponent, Dudley’s efforts probably did not constitute her margin of victory.

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So You Don’t Like Toffee?

Who doesn’t like toffee?  Seriously, who doesn’t like Enstrom Toffee?

We don’t generally push products here on View, but State Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino clearly needs some education on the matter, since he thinks that toffee is, “fruitcake of the confectionery world.”

As it happens, in December 2010, I interviewed the current owners of Entrom Toffee, Doug and Jamee Simons, for Backbone Radio, for an hour on retail business.  Here’s the segment; the interview with the Simonses starts at 2:00 in.

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Libertarians and Classical Liberals

At his Defining Ideas blog at the Hoover Institution, Richard A. Epstein has an important piece discussing the differences between classical liberals such as himself, and hard-core libertarians like Rand Paul.  He does this in order to draw some important intellectual distinctions, but also to identify some areas where libertarians appears to be sidelining themselves on policy discussions:

The renewed attention to Paul exposes the critical tension between hard-line libertarians and classical liberals. The latter are comfortable with a larger government than hard-core libertarians because they take into account three issues that libertarians like Paul tend to downplay: (1) coordination problems; (2) uncertainty; (3) and matters of institutional design….

…Again, strong libertarians are on solid ground in defending (most) private contracts against government interference…. Yet the hard-line libertarian position badly misfires in assuming that any set of voluntary contracts can solve the far larger problem of social order, which, as Rothbard notes, in practice requires each and every citizen to relinquish the use force against all others. Voluntary cooperation cannot secure unanimous consent, because the one violent holdout could upset the peace and tranquility of all others.

The sad experience of history is that high transaction costs and nonstop opportunism wreck the widespread voluntary effort to create a grand social alliance to limit the use of force. Society needs a coercive mechanism strong enough to keep defectors in line, but fair enough to command the allegiance of individuals, who must share the costs of creating that larger and mutually beneficial social order. The social contract that Locke said brought individuals out of the state of nature was one such device. The want of individual consent was displaced by a consciously designed substantive program to protect both liberty and property in ways that left all members of society better off than they were in the state of nature. Only constrained coercion can overcome the holdout problems needed to implement any principle of nonaggression.

(I don’t think the ellipses have done any violence to the main thrust of Epstein’s argument, but of course, you’ll want to read the whole thing.)

This is neatly encapsulated by Walter Russell Mead’s statement that having the Interstate Highway System makes us freer.  Epstein then goes on to provide concrete examples of the three classes of problems he cites above.  On taxes, for instance:

The classical liberal thus agrees with the hard-line libertarian that progressive taxation, with its endless loopholes, is unsustainable in the long run. At the same time, the classical liberal finds it incomprehensible that anyone would want to condemn all taxes as government theft from a hapless citizenry. The hard-line libertarian’s blanket condemnation of taxes as theft means that he can add nothing to the discussion of which tax should be preferred and why. The classical liberal has a lot to say on that subject against both the hard-line libertarian and the modern progressive.

Hard-core libertarians will retort that classical liberalism as espoused by Epstein hasn’t done anything to arrest the historical drift in the wrong direction.  I’d respond that the hard-core libertarians provide True North; indeed, it’s probably what Reagan had in mind when he famously said that libertarianism was the “heart and soul” of the Republican party.  It anchors the discussion, and acts as a conscience in some ways to classical liberals by constantly asking, “How much freedom are you trading away, here?”

However, as Epstein shows, right now it’s engaged mostly in discussion with itself, and it runs the risk of isolating itself from broader policy discussion by being unable to talk in concepts that 90% of the country uses.  This is what happens when hard-core libertarians insist that there’s “no difference” between the two major parties.  Of course, there’s a difference, and libertarians know it.  But for rhetorical effect, and to maximize their own leverage, they end up in effect arguing that there’s no practical difference between Progressive Leftism and Classical Liberalism, which is absurd.  Some people end up buying this, but in the end, it’s self-limiting, because they’re just not using the same political categories as everyone else.

 

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A Tale of Two Ads

Football aside (and let’s face it, this past Sunday, it was all to easy to put it there), the Super Bowl is about ads, and ads are about the culture.  Which is what makes the conservative response to the Coke “It’s Beautiful” ad and the Cheerios “Gracie” ad, and Left’s reaction to that response, real and imagined, so fascinating and instructive.

In case you missed them, the Coke ad showed recent immigrants and 1st-generation Americans, with a multi-lingual soundtrack of “America the Beautiful.”  The Cheerios ad showed the same mixed-race family as last year’s ad, this time expecting a new addition.

A fair number of conservatives were offended by the Coke Ad.  I happened to find it powerful and moving, a testament to the universal appeal of America, especially to people who move here and find out what we’re really about.

The Left, on the other hand, was absolutely convinced that the Cheerios ad was driving conservatives up the wall by portraying a bi-racial couple. This turns out to have been mostly in their own imaginations.  Nobody I know – literally nobody, which is quite an achievement – was offended by the idea of a white wife and a black husband.  The first time I saw the original Cheerios ad, I had to have the supposed Big Reveal explained to me.  It turns out that our Orthodox Synagogue has three bi-racial couples, and I am friends with several more such couples, so maybe I’m just too open-minded for my own good.

A generous reading of the leftist reaction would be that they’re upset with their own imaginary caricature of conservatives.  Less-generous but probably more accurate would be to say that they’re projecting their own race obsession onto their political opponents.

But that’s almost trivial partisanship.  What’s really telling is the leftist assumption that the only reason some conservatives didn’t go bonkers over yet another multi-racial child being born into the world was that they were distracted first by “America the Beautiful” in Hindi.  That is, the Left’s routine assumption that race and culture are the same thing.

Of course, nothing proves this idea wrong better than the actual reactions by conservatives to the two ads.

Those conservatives who were upset by the Coke ad believed that it was politically-correct multiculturalism that undermined assimilation and promoted the cultural balkanization of the country.  I think that’s a vast over-reading of the ad, but a fair interpretation of multiculturalism.  What matters is that if the ad had shown exactly the same scenes, but without the translation, conservatives wouldn’t have been upset at all.  That goes hand-in-hand with why they didn’t much care about a little girl with a black daddy and a white mommy.  It’s not about race, it’s about culture and the adoption of the American Idea.

Conservatives still promote America as a melting pot, where people come here to adopt the American idea, and part of that assimilation is learning to speak English.  We welcome the colorful dress, the new cuisine, and even (as long as they’re not preaching jihad) the new temples and houses of worship.  If we don’t care about any of that, we really don’t care about someone’s skin color.

This stands in direct contrast to how liberals relate to minorities, women, and gays, where they assume that once they know you’re black or Jewish, for instance, they know everything that’s relevant about you.

Walter Russell Mead, in his just-barely-pre-9/11 survey of American schools of foreign policy thought, Special Providence, identifies one – the Jacksonian – that grew from the Scots-Irish tradition and seemed on its way to extinction under the tide of eastern European and German immigration.  Until a funny thing happened: many of those immigrants moved to the suburbs and adopted the ideas of their predecessors.  For a liberal, this makes no sense, but for a conservative who believes in assimilation, it’s the most natural thing in the world.

That conservatives didn’t respond badly to the Cheerios ad is probably was causes liberals the most angst.

After all, we’ve already see how they react when people don’t conform to their stereotypes.

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Act Now to Ensure a Solvent Colorado Public Employee Pension Plan

My introductory at-bat in the Independence Institute’s lineup at the Greeley Tribune:

The assumption of a 7.5 percent return masks considerable risk and volatility. Although catastrophic market years such as 2008 have historically been rare, smaller routine losses are to be expected. Those losses can force an already-underfunded system to eat its seed corn by paying benefits out of assets that should be earning returns.

As a result, considerable risk exists that in the future, the state will still need to cut benefits to those who are already retired, to raise taxes, to cut services, or all three.

There is a way out.

I suggest three reforms that would help solve the problem.  We’re no longer in a budget crisis.  The Democrats’ passion for spending every last dime that comes in on new programs that will cry poor in the next recession may fix that.  In the meantime, though, now would be a good time to fix this.

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Daily Glimpse January 15, 2014

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • NSA Can Access Non-Net-Connected PCs
    Using RF devices implanted in the computers.  Perhaps this is what that previous report of them intercepting shipments is all about.  Color me very favorably impressed. Color me less impressed with the human timber leading the government.  The Times says that it withheld this information at administration request when it was spilling the beans about our [...]
  • Goodbye to the BCS
    Grantland writers take varying looks back at the BCS: Holly Anderson: I don’t have a special set of BCS feelings I keep burnished and tucked away in a corner of the black pit where my heart should be. I watched all the BCS games, dumbly matched or not, because they were football and they were there [...]

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John Kerry – Raising the Bar for Wrongness

The Olympics are coming up, and in the judged sports, like figured skating, we’ll hear a lot about the judges deliberately grading skaters down in order to “leave room” for later competitors who might do better.  If we were to judge the Obama Administration on wrongness, we’d probably have given up and just awarded a perfect score a long time ago, but that wouldn’t have left room for the continuing improvements being demonstrated.

The latest comes via the Weekly Standard, which reports these remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry:

We talked about the common interest of Pope Francis and President Obama in addressing poverty and extreme poverty on a global basis. The United States of America is deeply involved in efforts in Africa and in other parts of the world – in Asia, South Central Asia – to address this poverty, as is the Catholic Church. And so we have a huge common interest in dealing with this issue of poverty, which in many cases is the root cause of terrorism or even the root cause of the disenfranchisement of millions of people on this planet.

The idea that poverty is the cause of terrorism has been so thoroughly debunked – most suicide bombers come from middle-class families, bin Laden was the wealthy son of a wealthy construction contractor, etc. – that his statement on the merits is hardly worth addressing.

That said, the second part of his statement, where he says that he and Theresa have therefore decided to set an example by donating their entire fortune to the Palestinian people, is really quite remarkable.

Ha, just kidding.  Of course, he didn’t say anything of the sort.  The solution, as always, will be to transfer billions of dollars of wealth from the middle-class and aspiring lower-class earners of the developed countries to the corrupt coffers of their “governments,” many of whom actively support terrorism, even as they pose as the most-reasonable-least-bad-alternative, in order to continue padding their Swiss bank accounts.  (Would that we pursued those half as assiduously as we went after law-abiding Americans with overseas money.)

In other words, Kerry wants to redistribute my future to people who want to kill me, enabling them to better do so, and feeding the contempt which is the real source of their murderousness.

Of course, Kerry himself won’t turn over his fortune to this good cause in defense of his countrymen.  He’ll pay some nominal increase in taxes, and continue to enjoy marvelous security at taxpayer expense (for a while) and then his own (for a while).

It’s really the foreign policy equivalent of Obama’s domestic policies.  Nobody thinks he or his rich backers from Silicon Valley are going to suffer from redistributionist policies.  It’s the middle-class and those just starting out who will see their futures bargained away, while the rest of us join the permanent renter class.

Foreign policy naivete combined with cronyism – the administration may finally have earned that Perfect 10.

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