Limits on government power

Apr 092009

Tonight there was a report on BBC about emigration from New Zealand. It seems the best and brightest of the young people are leaving for greener pastures, and the government is looking for ways to keep them from leaving or to get them to return home after a short time abroad.

I looked for information about this on the web and found a couple of references (here and here). Most of what I found is about immigration, though. There is a lot of information about how to immigrate into New Zealand.

It got me to wondering whether this could happen in our own country, if Bush-Obama continue to run the economy into the ground. So here is a Q&A.

Q. New Zealand seems to be attempting to convince people to stay. What could President Obama do to convince young people to stay in the U.S.?

A. President Obama is not really into allowing Americans to choose. He prefers to use force to compel them to do what they don’t want to do.

Q. Example, please?

A. He is proposing to rescind the abortion conscience rule.

Q. Some New Zealanders say the weight of government needs to be reduced so young people will stay. Would President Obama be willing to reduce the size of government to accomplish something like that?

A. No.

Q. Well, what would he do.

A. He might close the borders — not to immigrants, but to emigrants.

Q. But that would make us like the old Soviet Union, wouldn’t it?

A. Yes, it would. As does his takeover of the automobile industry.

Q. But what about the Constitution?

A. What about it?

Q. Wouldn’t Americans object to something like that?

A. Maybe, maybe not. If they made too much of a fuss, he could do it gradually, by creating a universal system of compulsory volunteer service. Once people get used to the idea that they are obligated to the nation in exchange for bailout dollars (aka subsidized student loans), the next step would be easier.

Q. So you’re saying that the government takeover of GM, and the forcing of Rick Wagoner out of his job, could be a precedent for a closed border system?

A. Yes.

Q. What are the chances of this happening?

A. Hard to say. He has a lot of invasions of other instiutions on his plate right now. He might not want to get into a war of conquest on yet another front during his term in office.

Apr 052009

Rick Haglund writes a column that appears in the Business/Jobs section of the Sunday Kalamazoo Gazette. But it’s almost always a lot more about government than business.

His article in today’s print section is headlined: “Wagoner exit will force automakers to fix problems fast.” The online version is headlined: “Obama lays out capitalistic path for General Motors, Chrysler.”

Both headlines reflect the content of Haglund’s article. (This is not always the case in the Gazette). And both are wrong.

Those who believe President Barack Obama is a socialist are now convinced of it after he sacked General Motors Corp. Chairman Rick Wagoner and told Chrysler LLC to finish its deal with Fiat SpA in 30 days, or else.

Nonsense. What Obama did may have little precedent in U.S. corporate history. But someone needed to force GM and Chrysler to get real about fixing their problems–and fast.

Personally, I think it’s stupid to get hung up on the socialist label. But it’s simply not true that forcing GM and Chrysler to fix their problems fast says one thing or another about whether Obama is socialist.

And if Haglund really wanted the companies to fix their problems fast, he would have opposed Bush’s bailout back when Bush was president. At the time, opponents of the move were pointing out that the bailout would only delay the inevitable. Now the inevitable is making its agonizing approach, and people are justifying the Bush-Obama behavior by saying the companies need to act faster. The markets would already have forced fast behavior changes if only the Rick Haglunds of the world would have been willing to allow markets to work.

Back at the time of the first bailouts, the opponents were saying that there is always bankruptcy to deal with these things. Bush and the Democrats were opposed. So we got the bailouts and we got a new Putin-like precedent for takeover of corporations, and now Obama is threatening GM and Chrysler with bankruptcy to make them change faster. We already had that threat without the new and dangerous precedents, if only Bush-Obama had been willing to let it take the course they are now forcing on GM and Chrysler.

And to add error to injury, Haglund says Obama is acting like a capitalist.

But in pushing a gold, risky restructuring plan, Obama is acting more like a capitalist than the capitalists who would like the government to keep them in business for as long as it takes.

This of course is nonsense. The capitalist approach is what Bush and Obama have hindered. They were the ones trying to keep the businesses alive, and they said so at the time. It is simply not true that capitalists are the ones who insist that the government keep them in business. GM’s capitalists, perhaps, but not capitalists in general.

I presume the Gazette doesn’t have a fact-checking department, or this last paragraph of Haglund’s would never have been allowed to stand.

Mar 232009

Back in 2002 George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold bill, despite having said that parts of it violated the First Amendment. (So much for his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.)

Now in 2009 Barak Obama is telling us that the ex post facto tax on AIG bonuses is of doubtful constitutionality. That’s true and it’s good of him to point it out. But is he going to pull a George W. Bush and sign it anyway?

Mar 232009

Jay Leno asked a good question of his guest the other night when Barak Obama made a celebrity appearance. Well, technically speaking it wasn’t a question. But he pointed out how it’s scary that Congress can decide to tax people because they are unpopular.

I didn’t watch the program, but has a link to a YouTube clip of this part. And I’m also glad to see that activerain makes the points that our Constitution prohibits Bills of Attainder and Ex Post Facto laws.

I don’t know why Obama didn’t take the opportunity to demonstrate that he’s a statesman-like person by expounding on those topics. It has been reported elsewhere that in the same Jay Leno show he made some comments about how Congress was being more vindictive than constructive, so it would seem he has some understanding of why those things are bad. (I watched as much of the show as I could stand on other video clips, but my tolerance for television and politician talk is very low, even when people I like are talking. I didn’t find the part of the Leno show where he said this before my stomach said to stop, so I’ll just have to assume that the written word about it is correct.)

Obama could also have told how this sort of Congressional behavior could lead to hate crimes and pogroms if not kept in check.

But instead, he changed the subject. Before the Leno show went to a commercial break he said he had a good answer, but as is usual with politicians, he wanted to talk about something else.

He said the change he would like is to tax well-off people like himself and Leno a “little bit more” to pay for health care, to pay for energy, and to make sure kids can go to college.

He got applause for that line, but he can’t possibly have done the math if he thinks a small tax on the rich is going to pay for all of those things. To mislead people about the cost of these projects is not going to lead to the kind of responsible economic behavior we need to get us out of our current mess.

Mar 162009

Horses may be going hungry, but here’s some food for thought. It’s inspired by a front page story in Sunday’s Kalamazoo Gazette.

The article explains that people can’t afford to take care of their horses, but they’re required to anyway, even if they’ve lost their jobs and incomes. There is no longer a market for the animals, so they can’t be sold. And the other alternatives (such as euthanasia) are even more expensive or non-existent. Kalamazoo County’s Animal Services and Enforcement director explains:

Winter time is tough, with people being laid off and home foreclosures. Hay’s expensive — all these things add up. But I don’t want to hear their excuses. They’ve taken on this responsibility. You can’t have an animal that’s solely dependent on you for food and care and let it starve just because things have changed. You’ve got to find an alternative, even if you have to go shovel driveways.

Leave aside for a moment the question of whether it’s appropriate for a law enforcement officer to get all moralistic and emotional like this. His statements suggest a way to handle some similar situations involving humans.

Leftish people have enacted entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, which have turned out to be way more expensive than originally projected. Now the economy is down, and they are becoming unsustainable. People are now soley dependent on the government for these services.

The leftish people have basically created pets out of people, who have become dependent on their care. The recipients can’t just be released back into the wild at this point. They can’t be euthanized (though some societies that have found themselves in similar circumstances have adopted that as a partial solution). These leftish people have taken on a responsibility, and now need to find an alternative. Shoveling driveways won’t do it, so we’ll probably need to confiscate their homes and property and garnish their incomes to pay for these services. No excuses.

And what about the people who put these leftish persons in a position to do this? What about the citizens who voted for legislators who enacted the social security tax increases of the 1980s? I suggest that the thinktanks get to work and come up with formulas by which the citizens of the states and congressional districts that elected these people be charged additional surtaxes to pay for their bad judgment.

“Wait a minute!” you might say. “This is a collective responsibility that we’ve taken on as a nation. The country as a whole has a responsibility to tax itself into oblivion to pay for these obligations!”

Under certain circumstances, you would be right. If our national legislature did things in a collective manner, for the nation as a whole, then perhaps we’d all bear some responsibility. But that’s not the way things work.

Take earmarks, for example. The latest stimulus package is full of them, no matter the claims by some people that they make up only a small portion of it. Lots of the money is designated for particular programs in particular districts. Spending decisions are not made objectively on the merits of competing programs. Instead they’re made based on political clout and for the exchange of political favors. And even where funds are turned over to granting agencies that might use objective criteria to disburse the funds, they are subject to “oversight” and meddling by members of Congress who lobby on behalf of constituents. Representatives run for re-election on the basis of the bringing home the bacon to their district, and leftish newspaper editors endorse politicians on the basis of their ability to do favors for their districts.

Under this system of crony corruption, the people who vote these people into office need to be the ones who are financially responsible for ponying up when entitlement programs prove to be unsustainable.

“Wait just another minute!” you might say. Just because some spending decisions are made on the basis of corrupt favoritism, that doesn’t mean all the entitlement programs work that way.

Oh, yes, they do. All these programs are inter-related. Congressman Bacon votes for Congressman Upright’s entitlement program, in exchange for Congressman Upright voting for Congressman Bacon’s pet project. It isn’t always an explicit trade — in fact it rarely is. But implicit in this system is trading of votes — “I’ll vote for your boondoggle because otherwise you might not vote for mine someday.”

The people who create these problems need to be the ones to pay extra.

[Late note:  Cross-posted to the Conservative community on LiveJournal.]

Mar 022009

The Democrats seem determined to give Congressional voting representation to the District of Columbia, whether it’s legal or not. I suppose it’s bound to happen sooner or later. It’s just another step in the process of giving a greater role to those who govern, whose center is in the capital city.

The Hatch Act, which had been a check on the political power of the governing class, was gutted during the Clinton administration. But it started long before that.

King Banion, in an article titled, “It’s good to be the king’s castle,” points out that the role of the capital city grew along with the New Deal during the 1930s, as shown by a population growth that exceeded even that during the 1940s when there was a world war to fight. New York’s economy is now shrinking along with those of many other cities, while that of Washington D.C. is growing. According to Business Week, “While New York Bleeds, Washington Thrives.”

As the nation’s most populous metro area feels Wall Street’s pain, the fourth-largest—Washington—is barely sensing the recession. In fact, Moody’s estimates that metro Washington’s economy will actually grow 2.5% from mid-2008 through mid-2010. New York’s economy is expected to shrink 4.2%.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Washington benefited from a national crisis. Back in 1930 the District of Columbia was a quiet Southern town, scoffed at by New York sophisticates. But as the federal government ramped up to fight first the Great Depression and then World War II, its population grew 65% in two decades, vs. just 14% for New York City.

It’s in the nature of government for this to happen. A capital city that does not rule over the provinces, whose representatives in turn carry tribute to it, is a historical and geopolitical anomaly. In Russia, Moscow is magnificently wealthy while the other oblasts and districts are desperately poor. The history of France is the history of Paris consolidating its power over the provinces and imposing its culture and language on them, and then obliterating them during the French Revolution.

The placing of our U.S. capital in a non-state was part of a unique compromise that was designed allay the jealousy of states that didn’t want Philadelphia or any other city given a position of power and primacy over the others. The proper thing to do now would be to extend this policy with additional reforms. Some possibilities:

  • Reverse the Clinton era gutting of the Hatch act and go a step further by disenfranchising all federal government workers during the period when they work for the government.
  • Require all government buildings to be quonset huts. At one time when our nation was barely a nation, it was necessary to build imposing marble structures to overawe the public and make people willing to submit to a national government. The national government is now very well established. Mission accomplished, and then some. Now it’s time to go in the other direction. Now it’s time for public servants to have to look up out of their quonset huts at those whom they are supposed to serve, instead of looking down at them out of the windows of their edifices on high hills (like the Federal Building in Battle Creek, Michigan). It might instill a better attitude in federal workers.

But what’s likely to happen under the Obama administration is quite the opposite. The historical picture I get with each new proposal of this administration is one like this:


It’s from the Titus arch in Rome, and depicts the result of the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Institutions which were seen as a threat to the power of Rome were destroyed, and the booty hauled to the capital city in triumphal procession to enrich the governing class, while crumbs were thrown to the plebians of that capital so they could take part vicariously. There were many other triumphal processions in ancient capital cities. Conquered kings were led in chains in front of the cheering spectators, who were given a part of the spoils. But it was not just in ancient times. Think of banking and auto executives now being made to humiliate themselves before their Congressional overlords, and the giddy crowds cheering on inauguration day.

Once upon a time Calvin Cooledge could say “The business of America is business.” But now, more than ever, we have to say, “The business of America is government.” Giving a vote in Congress to the capital city will help establish that fact and make it irrevocable.

Jan 232009

I found something to disagree with in Obama’s inaugural speech:

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.

At least he didn’t say the important question was whether the government makes the trains run on time.

And he didn’t say the government had to do a good job at these things. It’s a pretty low bar for keeping government programs. All he said the government has to do is help. Even if these programs do a worse job than would be done without them, he says he plans to keep them. Well, most government programs do some good, somewhere, for someone. That’s what dog and pony shows are for — to show that the taxpayers that at least somebody, somewhere is benefiting.

But even if all his government programs would be wildly successful at these goals, they wouldn’t necessarily be good. A big government is a powerful government. Power corrupts, whether it’s power exercised on the streets of Iraq or at the local medical clinic. If there are no other countervailing institutions to wield power in competition with and in opposition to that of government, history tells us that we the people will suffer, even if the government provides us with well paying jobs and health care.

Oct 052008

For a few weeks I thought I might vote for John McCain despite McCain-Feingold. But his behavior on the Big Bailout makes that unlikely.

One thing I’ve never liked about McCain is his adoption of Theodore Roosevelt as a role model. I consider Roosevelt an attractive personality but a terrible president.

I’ve read several biographies of TR and have some of them on my bookshelf. But George Will tells a few things about him that I hadn’t known before. Somehow I had not known that his ideology was so collectivist. Will describes it thusly:

TR wanted the body politic to be one body, whose head was the president. He disregarded civil society — the institutions that mediate between individuals and the state, insulating them from dependence and coercion. He had a Rousseauan notion that the individual could become free only through immersion in the collective.

He doesn’t use the word “fascist,” but one can see that proto-fascism was already in the air in the decades before the actual thing arrived.

Will points out that one thing that might save McCain from being as bad as TR is his lack of brain wattage:

He is a kindred spirit of the impulsive Rough Rider, but the visceral McCain is rescued from some of TR’s excesses by not having TR’s overflowing cupboard of ideas.

It’s not that Obama isn’t even worse than McCain. But here’s what will be better than electing Obama’s opponent:

Let Obama become president, but also work to defeat those Republicans in Congress who would be likely to vote with him. Republicans can do more to stop his brand of fascism by standing firm and united in saying no. The left will not enact sweeping collectivist proposals if they don’t have bipartisan support. They know their ideas will fail, and they need Republican sponsors so they will have someone on whom to blame those failures (as is now happening with the failures of the financial system). A principled, committed minority — selected in large part from those who stood firm against the Big Bailout — will do more to stop our country’s descent into oppression than would the election of McCain as a mild alternative to Obama’s extremism.

Don’t believe it? Then look at what a minority of Congresspersons did to stop Hillary’s health care plan.

Sep 062008

It’s quite a coincidence that Hillary Clinton said this, because I have heard nothing that suggests that Democrats know how to do these things, either.

“I heard nothing that suggests the Republican team knows how to fix the economy for middle class families, how to provide high-quality affordable health care for all Americans, how even to guarantee equal pay for equal work for women.”

Could it be that these are not things that can be “provided” or “guaranteed” or “fixed” by any government? Could it be that that’s not the way to go about getting them?