the Willful Economic Illiteracy of Liberals

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Of the many, many policies of liberals that defy economic common sense, the continual hue and cry for increasing the minimum wage is perhaps the most stunningly counterintuitive. Now, they want to more than double it from $7.25 an hour to $15, and claim that not only will this not cost jobs, it may lure some back into the workforce (those who have dropped out because of the current hopelessness of liberal botching of the recovery – which, of course, they don’t mention).

The main complaint seems to be that no one could be expected to live on $7.25 an hour, and they’re right. Minimum wage jobs are what economists call “entry level” jobs – as in what you do to establish that you are capable of showing up on time, completing a shift without stealing anything, and performing menial labor, requiring no experience, no skill, and no education (apart from what the company gives you to operate whatever you are supposed to operate). These are the jobs that give you the basis to look for your first real job.

Wrapping burgers in foil and putting them in sacks, or punching numbers on a cash register, or filling the soda machine are not careers, they are bottom-rung jobs that command bottom-rung wages. If the fast-food industry, or whatever minimum wage industry in which you find yourself, interests you, there are opportunities to advance within the chain, or with other similar outlets, but that just reinforces the concept of entry level, minimum wage jobs. If you prove more valuable to the company than flipping burgers, they will offer you a better job at better pay. That’s how the job market works.

Paying $15 an hour for a no-skill, no-experience, no-education job would put that worker at the level of biologists, auto mechanics, biochemists, teachers, geologists, roofers and bank tellers; more than some police officers; they would out-earn many firefighters. Fast food workers with starting salaries higher than many professional chefs is just silly. These are highly skilled jobs that require years of training and education. These are jobs which, in some cases, our society profoundly relies upon. Jobs with enormous responsibilities. Jobs that are considerably more complex and complicated than refilling the soda fountain at Roy Rogers. The idea that you could stroll into Hardee’s and be immediately rewarded with a salary higher than crane operators and medical lab technicians is devoid of sanity. Sure, as a human being, you’re priceless. As a child of God, you’re precious, a work of art, a freaking miracle. But your job wrapping hamburgers in foil and putting them in paper bags – that has a price tag, and the price tag ain’t anywhere close to the one our economy and society puts on teachers and mechanics. Don’t like it? You shouldn’t. It’s fast food. It’s menial. It’s mindless. It’s not supposed to be a career. It’s not supposed to be a living. An entry-level position, making roast beef sandwiches at Arby’s isn’t meant to be something you do for 26 years.

If your answer is to raise all other salaries commensurately, then you need be honest with the people and tell them that what you want to do is to make everything more expensive, and reduce the total number of jobs available. You want to lower the standard of living for everyone (including the now $15 an hour entry level people, who will find themselves right where they are today – not making enough to support a family). And God knows how many businesses you would drive into bankruptcy, putting all their employees out of work.

We get that liberals want to redistribute income, be it corporate or personal, but in order to justify their methodology, they engage in charmingly childish fiction – that doubling the wages of bottom-rung employees will not result in fewer bottom-rung jobs. It’s an economic fact that if you tax something – like bottom-rung jobs – you will get fewer of them. Price affects demand. A doubling of the price of something will affect demand for it. And doubling the price of something of low value will most certainly affect the demand for it. CBO estimates that a $15 minimum wage would cost ~500-thousand existing jobs, obviously making it harder for young people to enter the workforce (as opposed to the labor force, which they enter at age 16). Fewer job holders, more job seekers.

That our non-recovery finds a lot of over-qualified people in minimum wage jobs while there are jobs going asking, is a function of people not being qualified for the jobs that are available. This is not the fault of “the economy,” it’s the fault of parents, our schools and people being “too cool for school” when they are there.

a Non-Binding, Non-Specific, Non-Deal

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My goodness – all this fuss over a “deal” that says nothing (the State Department answer to every question Friday was, “that needs to be worked out”). They couldn’t even agree on a joint statement (a staple of these things) that all could sign. Hence, each participant has returned home to tout the “historic nature” of the agreement, each telling a different story.

The only thing that is clear after the birth of this thirteen-year non-agreement is that the official American position has shifted from “Iran will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons” to “We will bless Iranian nuclear weapons after ten years.” How did that happen? Somebody from the administration needs to answer that. Out loud.

One serious question that remains is, “Why is the Iranian ICBM program untouched by these negotiations? The only – only – purpose of an intercontinental ballistic missile is to deliver a nuclear warhead over great distance. Every nuclear power has explored the conventional use of ICBMs and found none. They are nuclear delivery platforms. Period. Additionally, there exists a plethora of related R&D programs underway in Iran – micro-shaped-charges (used to produce symmetrical implosions to detonate fusion warheads), re-entry vehicles, high-shock, miniaturized digital systems (used for sequencing and guidance electronics on extra-atmospheric warheads), neutron generators (nuclear triggers), etc – all untouched by the negotiations. The most probable explanation for these omissions is that we have decided to allow for a nuclear Iran and intend to contain them, a la the Cold War. If so, is there a strategy to do this in place? That’s not an unreasonable question.

We are saying that the relaxation of sanctions will be phased (presumably based on Iranian behavior), while the Iranians are saying the sanctions will be relaxed at the outset of the agreement. The administration needs to clear this up for the American people.

We have been repeatedly assured that will know what Iran is dong during the decade-long life of this proposed agreement, based on the efforts of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the main inspection regime for Iran’s nuclear program. What has been leaked (but unaddressed by the administration) is that Iran has refused “snap” inspections, whereby IAEA inspectors just show up and ask to be escorted to a particular site. Inspections, in other words, must be by appointment. If true, that blunts any serious assertion that we “know what Iran is doing.” If true, this would be a game-changing concession to Iran. The administration should explain the nature of the inspection regime agreed to thus far.

The questions about centrifuges and stockpiles gets into the weeds a bit – and I apologize for that, but they’re important – and both the administration and Iranians are hoping that this is just “too hard” for the American voters to understand. Here goes.

Uranium ore is ~0.2% uranium, which is ~0.7% U235. This material must be purified into “reactor-grade,” which is 2% to 5% U235, depending on the reactor design. The process starts by refining UO2 (uranium oxide, or yellowcake) into UF6 (uranium hexafluoride, or HEX), which is easily gasified for enrichment by cascades of centrifuges. The centrifuges are daisy-chained – each feeding the next – to further enrich the mix to higher and higher concentrations of the lighter U235 isotope. This process takes thousands of centrifuges to raise the concentration by the orders of magnitude necessary to ceramicize into fuel pellets for reactor fuel rods. “Weapons-grade” uranium is 90% or more U235, requiring even more extensive enrichment – vastly more cycles through the cascade, vastly more centrifuges, or some combination thereof. In this case, the end product is metalicized into castings that can be machined into bomb cores.

Iran has been conducting research and development at Fordow (their facility buried in a mountain) on more sophisticated centrifuges that are more efficient than the ones they are using at Natanz (their chief enrichment facility). This is an important aspect because as each centrifuge is better, the shorter the real-time needed to enrich a given amount of uranium to a given degree of enrichment. Iran currently has a stockpile of ~8.4 tons of low-enriched uranium (LEU), including some enriched to 20% purity. This would put them at around three months out from having enough highly-enriched uranium (HEU) for a bomb core, should they choose to do so. This stockpile could produce enough HEU for up to eight weapons.

Also, Iran has partnered with the Russian engineering firm Nikiet to build a heavy water reactor at Arak. This differs from their other reactors in that by using heavy water (D2O2), it can utilize “natural” uranium (HEX) as fuel – no need to enrich to 2-5%. The problem is that these reactors produce plutonium as a by product. Plutonium makes a better bomb core material than enriched uranium, and is necessary to fusion (thermonuclear, or hydrogen) warheads.

Sorry for that, but it’s necessary to understand the questions being asked, of which there are four very important ones. These talks began with an understanding that Iran would be allowed to operate around 430 centrifuges – enough to keep their uranium production line operating to feed their reactors with new fuel rods as needed – but that number is now acknowledged, without comment, to be around 6,000. This is a major concession to Iran, and the administration should explain the drastic increase.

The centrifuges over and above the permitted limit were to be destroyed (or exported), but we have said that they are now to be “deplumbed” – the daisy-chain connections removed. That change would require but three or four weeks to reactivate. Again, somebody should explain this reversal.

Iran’s stockpile of LEU was to be exported (presumably to Russia), but the framework speaks only of “neutralizing” it. This would consist of converting it to UO2, which is unusable in the enrichment process. But, as we have seen, UO2 is easily refined into HEX, which is gasified for enrichment. The combination of these two concessions means that Iran could be back in business in around six months instead of having to acquire the newer centrifuges by the thousands and then enriching enough HEX into LEU commensurate with today’s stockpile. A task that could take a year or longer.

Again, the starting assumption, not disputed by Iran at the time, was that the Arak reactor was to be modified so as not to produce usable amounts of plutonium (presumably by converting it to a light water reactor). We are saying this is the case, but Iran is saying that the Arak reactor will be “modernized.” If the administration is being truthful, the Iranian statement could just be spin for domestic audiences, we just don’t know. This should be clarified, because if we are only concentrating on weaponizing their uranium, we’re missing a vital part of nuclear weapon development and production.

We are also saying that Fordow will be closed, while Iran is saying that nothing will change there. This becomes important only if the advanced centrifuges are allowed to remain in place.

Back to non-weed questions, there is no mention of how disputes will be handled – we say it’s a nuclear weapons R&D facility, and they say it’s a shoe factory. Is there any protocol agreed to that will allow for these disputes to be resolved inside the ten-year life of the agreement? This needs to be clarified to the American public.

And lastly, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been told that there will be many classified addenda. Why? What can PRC, Russia and Iran know that our citizens cannot? There may be good reasons for this, but if so, they need to be stated publicly to remove confusion over what is being done in our name.

Sorry for the length of this, but I felt it necessary to discuss the issue in an objective, serious manner, and the issues raised by these questions are very important, especially if the president intends to complete this process without consulting Congress or the American people. As it sits right now, this agreement could completely break down the order of the Middle East, resulting in a nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region. It’s a serious subject that deserves an apolitical examination.