Free Markets, Free People
I completely missed the earthquake. I was sitting down in the back yard being smothered by dogs, and never felt a thing. Nor did the dogs. #
The annual gathering of the “intelligentsia” at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen CO would normally be a love fest for left leaning politicians like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. It’s a veritable “Who’s Who” of leftish thinkers.
But this year, for some reason, it isn’t a place where Barack Obama would feel particularly comfortable, it seems. Speakers have been anything but complimentary on the current administration’s policies or the direction of the country.
One of his recently more outspoken critics is Mort Zuckerman, owner of the New York Daily News and editor-in-chief of US News and World Report. On a panel shared with Harvard business and history professor Niall Ferguson, Zuckerman was none to kind to the present commander-in-chief or his economic policies:
“We are, without question, in a period of decline, particularly in the business world,” Zuckerman said. “The real problem we have…are some of the worst economic policies in place today that, in my judgment, go directly against the long-term interests of this country.”
And why does Zuckerman – a business owner in his own right – feel this way:
Zuckerman added that he detects in the Obama White House “hostility to the very kinds of [business] culture that have made this the great country that it is and was. I think we have to find some way of dealing with that or else we will do great damage to this country with a public policy that could ruin everything.”
Those aren’t words couched in nuance or diplomacy as one can immediately tell. Those are the words of a man – an Obama supporter – who has come to the realization of how serious a mistake he and others who supported this President made.
Ferguson was no less critical. Panning the policy which has kept extending long-term unemployment benefits, Ferguson said, “Long-term unemployment is at an all-time high in the United States, and it is a direct consequence of a misconceived public policy.”
And, adding to Zuckerman’s “nation in decline” observation he said:
“The critical point is if your policy says you’re going run a trillion-dollar deficit for the rest of time, you’re riding for a fall…Then it really is goodbye.” A dashing Brit, Ferguson added: “Can I say that, having grown up in a declining empire, I do not recommend it. It’s just not a lot of fun actually—decline.”
When the “S” word found its way into the conversation, Ferguson was a little less forthright with his answer:
“If you’re asking if the United States is about to become a socialist state, I’d say it’s actually about to become a European state, with the expansiveness of the welfare system and the progressive tax system like what we’ve already experienced in Western Europe,”
Or, “yeah, the US is headed that way”. Ferguson also warned that in essence we were moving toward becoming an “implicit part of the European Union” and he warned, “I’d advise against it”.
Ferguson even complemented Republican Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” as the “radical, root-and-branch reform not only of the tax system but of the entitlement system” that is necessary to “unleash entrepreneurial innovation.”
That won’t exactly come as music to the ears of Peter Orszag and Larry Summers who are expected at the event later this week. Summers has come under criticism as well for his explanations of why the recovery was to this point jobless.
Sitting in the audience, clapping enthusiastically with all the rest of the invited were Barbara Streisand and her husband James Brolin – neither of whom would be described as from the conservative set. When asked, at the conclusion of the panel discussion, for their impressions they said:
“Depressing, but fantastic,” Streisand told me afterward, rendering her verdict on the session. “So exciting. Wonderful!”
Brolin’s assessment: “Mind-blowing.”
Actually, it is more mind-blowing than one might imagine. If Obama has indeed lost the likes of Zuckerman and Ferguson that’s certainly a blow to him. But if even the likes of Streisand and Brolin can see the problem and its origin, he has most assuredly lost a good part of the left.
At least according to this Rasmussen poll.
It fairly clearly demonstrates that there is a resistence to the attempts by our federal leadership to further the welfare state that now exists here.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Adults shows that only 19% would be willing to pay higher taxes to avoid layoffs of state employees. Sixty-nine percent (69%) say they would not be willing to pay more in taxes for this reason. Another 11% are undecided.
The 19% probably are state employees (just kidding). But that’s a pretty damning majority. It says, very clearly, that there are no sacrosanct jobs, and certainly not within government. It also makes it clear that if those jobs are to be saved, increased taxation isn’t the way.
Entitlement programs don’t do much better:
Twenty-two percent (22%) would pay higher taxes to prevent cuts in entitlement programs for low-income Americans. Sixty-three percent (63%) say they would not pay more to keep these programs afloat. Another 15% are undecided.
Again, an overwhelming majority see entitlements as less important than cuts in their own income due to increased taxes. A not so subtle warning to politicians that before they raise taxes, which they will, there had better be some real cuts to entitlements made.
Education cuts have a lesser majority, but still, taxpayers are in no mood for tax increases:
Americans are slightly less opposed to paying higher taxes for education. Thirty-four percent (34%) say they are willing to pay higher taxes to provide funding for public education, but 54% say they are not. Another 12% aren’t sure.
Where the public seems somewhat willing to consider higher taxes (although a majority still isn’t willing to pay them) is in the area of public safety and police.
Thirty-seven percent (37%) say they are willing to pay higher taxes to increase the number of police and firemen in their communities. Still, 52% say they would not be willing to do so. Another 10% are not sure.
Now, there’s a context to these poll results that needs to be understood:
Most U.S. voters (52%) continue to believe that tax increases will hurt the economy, while just 22% think tax increases are good for the economy.
The economy is dictating at least part of this feeling by the public – its uncertainty and the continued economic downturn have voters wanting to hold on to every dollar they can. What’s interesting about the results is that while each category above has a majority against raising taxes, this isn’t just a blanket rejection. You go from an overwhelming majority of voters saying no to new taxes to save government jobs and stop cuts in entitlements to a bare majority when it comes to public safety.
That should inform politicians of the public’s priorities and where the line is if it comes to the point that taxes must be raised. Whether these attitudes will change if the economy improves is anyone’s guess. I’m not saying I favor tax increases, btw. I’m a “no new taxes” guy. Government gets more than it should have now, in my estimation.
I offer this as an interesting peek into the mind of the public right now. The point, of course, is given these numbers, appeals to save government jobs and/or prevent entitlement cuts is going to fall on deaf ears. Politicians who pursue increased tax revenues for those reasons (and at the behest of government unions like the SEIU) will be shooting themselves in the foot, politically speaking.
The pubic is in no mood for increased taxes. Woe be unto any pol who pushes them right now, especially to save government jobs and entitlements.
Or as you know them, soda’s, energy and sports drinks and fruit juices.
• A tax-induced 20-percent increase in the price of caloric sweetened beverages could reduce net calorie intake from all beverages by 37 calories per day for the average adult. The effects for children were estimated to be larger—an average reduction of 43 calories per day.
• By assuming that 1 pound of body fat has about 3,500 calories, and assuming all else remains equal, the daily calorie reductions would translate into an average reduction of 3.8 pounds over a year for adults and 4.5 pounds over a year for children.
• The weight loss induced by the tax could reduce the overweight prevalence among adults from 66.9 to 62.4 percent and the prevalence of obesity from 33.4 to 30.4 percent. For children, the at-risk-of-overweight prevalence would decline from 32.2 to 27.0 percent and the overweight prevalence would decline from 16.6 to 13.7 percent.
Let me summarize – a 20% tax would reduce consumption of these beverages enough to take “37 calories a day” out of your diet. That resulting net loss of 37 calories would average 3.8 pounds for year and take the overweight population from 66.9% to 62.7%.
Really? 37 calories a day – the amount of calories you burn getting off your fat behind and walking to the fridge for another soda? Overweight people normally ingest more calories a day than they burn. And that caloric intake is usually well over 2,000 calories a day. 37 calories? That’s a third of a granola bar, for heaven sake.
This is science?
Oh, wait – a couple of qualifiers:
1. A large group of individuals are overweight or obese by only a few pounds, and a small reduction in calorie intake could change their weight classification; and
2. Many overweight and obese Americans consume large amounts of caloric sweetened beverages. For example, 10.6 percent of overweight adults consumed more than 450 calories per day from caloric sweetened beverages— nearly three times the average amount of 152 calories consumed by adults.
And, of course, it is the job of government to help tax these people into a new weight classification? Well of course it is – Congress just gave themselves the power to make it their business.
Of course this 37 calorie drop a day assumes that a) overweight people won’t change a thing other than dropping the consumption of “caloric sweetened beverages”, b) won’t attempt to fulfill their desire for sugary food with something else or c) won’t grudgingly pay the tax and continue their consumption habits . The further assumption, of course, is they’ll lose the weight as a result of the negative incentive provided by a 20% tax.
Not only are these people marginal scientists, they seem to know very little about human nature. On top of that, they certainly don’t seem to understand the political blowback something like this is likely to have.
But, just the fact that the USDA is dabbling in studies about taxing sugary drinks should tell you all you need to know about the continued intrusive depths to which government now plans to go to regulate everything in your life.
Freedom means the freedom to succeed and to fail. It means as long as you aren’t violating or intruding on someone else’s rights, you can pretty much do whatever you want – to include get fat on sugary drinks. What it doesn’t mean is some outside agency deciding what is or isn’t good or healthy for you and deciding to tax you into the behavior it deems proper.
But that’s precisely what this “study” is all about.
Freedom is becoming a rare commodity in this land, and we need to understand that and fight against any and all attempted intrusions no matter how trivial or seemingly well intentioned. Allowing the incremental encroachment of government in all areas of our lives is the sure way to kill freedom and put us well on the road to serfdom.