Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: August 30, 2011

The “Irene makes big government okay again” lobby

Well now we know why, at least for some, Hurricane Irene was so hyped.   It gave apologists for big government a chance to spin the response into plaudits for big government and a claim it is still necessary.  Missing, of course, is any context or proportion.  Those, like Dana Milbank and Steve Benen, just use the opportunity to bash small government conservatives in general and the Tea Party in particular.

And they brilliantly erect giant strawmen and then just flat tear them apart.

Milbank:

Tea Partyers who denounce Big Government seem to have an abstract notion that government spending means welfare programs and bloated bureaucracies. Almost certainly they aren’t thinking about hurricane tracking and pre-positioning of FEMA supplies. But if they succeed in paring the government, some of these Tea Partyers (particularly those on the coasts or on the tornadic plains) may be surprised to discover that they have turned a Hurricane Irene government back into a Katrina government.

Tea Partiers have a very specific notion of what government spending means to them and it certainly isn’t just centered in the canard of “welfare programs and bloated bureaucracies.”   In case Mr. Milbank hasn’t noticed, his big government now owes more in debt than our economy produces in a year.  That is the problem the Tea Party has with “big government”.  And, frankly, that’s a problem Milbank should have with it too.  Instead he spends a column  touting big government using the pretext of a natural disaster (and government’s response to it) to attack those who object to the continuing deficit spending of big government.  Instead, if had in sense, he’d be leading the charge to rein it in.

Stipulated, there are things that government can do because of government’s orientation.  Wage war, for instance.   But that doesn’t then excuse the excesses elsewhere.  Nor does it justify its intrusion in areas it has no business being in.  And it certainly doesn’t justify it spending more than it takes in.  Those are the Tea Party’s objections to big government’s spending, Mr. Milbank.  Please try to present them properly the next time you attempt the subject.

Of course nonsense like Milbank’s above lead to absurd conclusions in order to attempt to persuade:

The other model is to have a weak federal government, without the funds to forecast storms or to launch a robust emergency response in time to do any good. You might call that the Tea Party model.

Really.  Who said anything about a “weak federal government”?  I believe what the Tea Party is more interested in is a Constitutionally structured federal government that does its job, stays out of areas it doesn’t belong, and spends no more than the revenue it takes in.  Oh yeah, and the real pesky part – doesn’t engage in social engineering.

As for Benen he seconds Milbank:

That Tea Party model, by the way, isn’t a hypothetical scenario — congressional Republicans are not only unwilling to provide emergency disaster relief without offsetting spending cuts, they’re also eager to cut the resources NOAA needs to track storms, while also slashing the FEMA budget.

This week, federal agencies are winning generally rave reviews, but if the public expects equally competent disaster response efforts in the future, Americans will have to hope the GOP agenda is rejected.

Oh, the horror – those dastardly Republicans want to actually not spend in a deficit mode.  They want to live within the revenue stream that the federal government has coming in.  Imagine wanting to offset spending in one area to ensure payment in another without borrowing money?  Those simple Tea Partiers!  Don’t they know that sometimes you just have to spend, spend, spend?

Uh, gee Mr. Benen, isn’t that what has gotten us into this mess in the first place?  The fact that the government actually got something right for a change doesn’t then justify “big government”.  What it does is demonstrate nothing more than every now and then a blind squirrel will find an acorn.  Lord knows the fed has had enough practice it’s certainly something it should be getting right.  But then, our military has been “getting it right” on disaster relief missions outside the country for years, decades even.   It’s not like there wasn’t precedent.   Yes, again stipulated, sometimes it takes a big organization to do what is necessary in a disaster to provide aid where needed.   That said, that doesn’t excuse “big government”, spending excesses, waste, fraud, abuse, intrusion into areas the government doesn’t belong, social engineering via the tax code and other means and bankrupting the nation.

What is it about these types of apologists for big government that they don’t seem to ever be able to quite grasp those points?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Is Obama’s jobs proposal just an old, tired, costly and failed rerun?

So what will the much anticipated jobs proposal by President Barack Obama look like? Will it be big, bold and audacious? Or a tired rerun?

Well if the hints coming out of the administration are to be taken seriously, it will be something along the lines of a giant Works Progress Administration project.  The WPA was a depression era jobs program that essentially tried to keep the unemployed busy with make-work infrastructure projects.  It appears the same sort of project will be the center piece of the Obama proposal:

White House aides gave some clues Wednesday when they revealed the president had discussed with his Jobs and Competitiveness Council an initiative aimed at having construction workers retrofit commercial buildings to make them more energy efficient.

Both Obama and former president Bill Clinton have touted the retrofitting concept as a way to create up to 1 million jobs, according to the Jobs Council.

Obama talked about those plans Wednesday on a conference call with General Electric Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt and American Express Chief Executive Ken Chenault, who co-chair the jobs council, said deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

“They discussed a number of the proposals that the Jobs Council has been developing,” Earnest told reporters during his daily briefing in Martha’s Vineyard, where Obama is vacationing with his family. “And the president solicited their input on the policy — again, on the policy process that’s underway related to the major economic address that the President will deliver after Labor Day.”

The project would put people to work and improve the environment, Immelt and Chenault wrote in a June op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

That’s right, construction workers would be put to work improving the “energy efficiency” of commercial businesses.  Absolutely no opportunity there for waste, fraud and abuse, is there?  And, of course, where the dire need for jobs lies – the private sector – this will have little effect.  And if California’s experience with the same sort of program is any indication, this sort of program will have little effect as well.  You see, it’s been tried before in another form with stimulus money.  Results?

Federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed, government records show. Two years after it was awarded $186 million in federal stimulus money to weatherize drafty homes, California has spent only a little over half that sum and has so far created the equivalent of just 538 full-time jobs in the last quarter, according to the State Department of Community Services and Development.

[…]

The weatherization program was initially delayed for seven months while the federal Department of Labor determined prevailing wage standards for the industry. Even after that issue was resolved, the program never really caught on as homeowners balked at the upfront costs.

Companies and public policy officials really overestimated how much consumers care about energy efficiency,” said Sheeraz Haji, chief executive of the Cleantech Group, a market research firm. “People care about their wallet and the comfort of their home, but it’s not a sexy thing.”

$93 million or so dollars later, 538 jobs were created.  Epic fail, right?   A perfect reason to do it again, apparently.  And why will it most likely fail again?

Well, here’s a clue:

“More than two million construction workers don’t have work,” they wrote. “Every city in America has commercial buildings that can be made more energy efficient. Both the private and public sectors can step up to create good jobs and save energy.”

The clue? Underlined in the emphasized quote. Is there an actual market for the plan? In other words, is the "private sector" willing to spend the money necessary to upgrade its energy efficiency or not? Obviously, as in California, the central planners haven’t a clue. They’ve done no market research.  So I suspect the outcome of such a program will be much like that experienced in perhaps the greenest state of the union – a failure.

Oh, and big idea 2? 

Earnest said the president also discussed ideas aimed at increasing the number of engineers who graduate from U.S. colleges and universities.

That’ll certainly impress the millions not unemployed as something that will directly and quickly benefit them.

Finally:

It is not clear how much either of these two proposals would cost or how they would be paid for. But with a new Congressional Budget Office report released this week showing unemployment remaining above 8 percent through 2014, there will be pressure on Obama to be bold in his jobs plan.

You really don’t need the CBO to score this turkey, we’ve seen this all before and we know the outcome.  It will cost billions and billions, will have little or no effect and Obama will try to tar the Republicans who point out what a loser of an idea this is as extremists who aren’t concerned with jobs.

However, anyone who seriously looks at the two proposals – a WPA project which will require private investment and more engineers in college – will recognize this is just more of the Obama smoke and mirrors regime.  There is nothing that seriously addresses the long-term structural unemployment problem in this country or addresses the need to provide incentive to the private sector to hire and expand.  It is again the left’s usual answer – expensive and marginal government programs that end up time after time failing because those proposing them haven’t a clue about how markets really work.

I recognize that there may be other proposals included in the president’s total package, and, in fact, he may cover some of the things I’ve noted as missing.  If so, I’ll analyze them when they’re made public.   But these are the proposals the White House felt it was important to leak to the press prior to the Obama Labor Day jobs speech.  If these are the center pieces of his jobs proposals, then the administration has nothing new to offer and is running on empty.

But many of us have noted that for quite some time.  This would only make it official.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Obama’s eroding base

A new CNN poll shows that one in four Democrats would prefer the party nominate someone other than Barack Obama for the presidency.   That’s not good territory for an incumbent seeking election to be in.   It also shows a negative trend to the question posed:

A new poll by CNN and ORC International finds that 27 percent of Democrats would like to see their party nominate a candidate other than Barack Obama for president in 2012.

In response to the question, "Do you think the Democratic party should renominate Barack Obama as the party’s candidate for president in 2012, or do you think the Democratic party should nominate a different candidate for president in 2012?" — 72 percent said they wanted to see Obama renominated.  But 27 percent, slightly more than one in every four, said they wanted to see Democrats nominate a different candidate.  One percent had no opinion.

That’s down from July where slightly less (22%) but still a significant number want another nominee.

Don’t forget now, this is a poll of nothing but Democrats.  And this demonstrates a high level of discontent and disapproval with this president among his own base.  It means, for whatever reason, the bloom is off the rose when it comes to Obama, and while it is probable that if Obama remains the nominee for a second term, a good number of them will reluctantly pull the lever for him, given the alternative.  But, and in cases like this there is always a “but” that keeps campaigns awake at night, what this also demonstrates is a large and widening “enthusiasm gap”.

The new poll is another indication of Democratic unhappiness with the president, but it does not mean Obama will face a challenge in his party’s primaries.  Despite the complaints of a few liberals like Sen. Bernard Sanders, the odds of a Democrat opposing the president appear to be something less than zero.  But the new poll is still a matter of concern to Democrats, because it is yet another indication that there is significant disillusionment with the president within his own party.  Whether those disaffected Democrats will come around to supporting Obama next year is an open question — and perhaps the most worrying of the president’s re-election bid.

So you have any number of disaffected Democrats who have little enthusiasm for a repeat of the previous four years.  Obama no longer excites them (if he ever did – my guess is a significant number of these Dems were Hillary supporters) and they’re less likely than previously to take the time to go to the polls and vote.

When it was candidate Obama, the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) effort by the left was very effective because the Democratic electorate was wildly enthusiastic about the man.  Of course GOTV efforts cost massive amounts of money – something candidate Obama gathered to himself quite well.  As you might imagine, GOTV efforts with a less enthusiastic electorate cost even more.   And still many are going to choose not to participate. 

I think that the story quoted is likely correct.   Both parties have seen what primary challengers do when introduced in a presidential re-election campaign.  The result is rarely good for the incumbent.   I think Democrats will do everything in their power to avoid that.  However, keep in mind these polls.  They reflect a very disturbing trend for the Obama campaign.   He won on the wild enthusiasm he generated with a vague campaign about “hope and change”, an unpopular lame duck president and a poor choice for an opponent.

The “hope and change” express has derailed, he no longer has Bush to blame and he is stuck, for once, running on his own record – as dismal as it is.

Seeing polls indicating an unenthusiastic and eroding base has to keep him up at night.   Trying to restrike the spark that Obama rode to victory has to keep his campaign up at night.  Methinks both are going to suffer many sleepless nights before next November.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO