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Rescuing Limited Government
Posted by: Jon Henke on Tuesday, January 10, 2006

George Will seems to be growing increasingly libertarian...
The national pastime is no longer baseball, it is rent-seeking — bending public power for private advantage. There are two reasons why rent-seeking has become so lurid, but those reasons for today's dystopian politics are reasons why most suggested cures seem utopian.

The first reason is big government — the regulatory state. This year Washington will disperse $2.6 trillion, which is a small portion of Washington's economic consequences, considering the costs and benefits distributed by incessant fiddling with the tax code, and by government's regulatory fidgets.

Second, House Republicans, after 40 years in the minority, have, since 1994, wallowed in the pleasures of power. They have practiced DeLayism, or "K Street conservatism." This involves exuberantly serving rent-seekers, who hire K Street lobbyists as helpers. For House Republicans the aim of the game is to build political support.
Liberals, argues Will, are just as prone to serving rent-seekers, but they do so with "an easy conscience because they believe government should do as much as possible for as many interests as possible."

And, of course, that's the problem. We can't solve the current lobbyist/bribery crisis by censuring or even jailing politicians, because rent-seeking is not an individual problem; rent-seeking is woven deeply into the very structure of our government.

George Will argues that the "way to reduce rent-seeking is to reduce the government's role in the allocation of wealth and opportunity", and to a large degree I think he's right. As Jim Glass once wrote, "the small-government types on the right take [complaints] about the character of government much more seriously than [do critics of the Right]." That's why the small-government types think it ought to be limited in the first place.

But failing that — and, to be honest, there's just not a popular demand for drastic cuts in government right now — there are alternatives that don't require unpopular budget cuts. Norman at One Man's Trash points to one small, current effort...
Sens. Tom Coburn and John McCain now plan to challenge every hidden earmark. "If we aren't told who is asking for it, who benefits and its justification, we'll move to strike it," Mr. Coburn told me. He expects many earmarks to be quietly withdrawn rather than face such scrutiny.
Sunlight! The best disinfectant! But that's just a stop-gap measure. If the Coburn/McCain challenge works, we ought to institutionalize the sunlight. Yes, I'm referring again to Line Item Budgeting. We'll be publishing a piece at The New Libertarian on doing just that — changing the public choice incentives — in the upcoming days.

If there's anything the limited government and liberty crowd ought to work toward, that is it.

Along those lines, I'm continuing to keep an eye on Senator George Allen to see how far he'll take his message of "common-sense Jeffersonian conservative principles" and Jefferson's "libertarian, trusting, free-people approach.". Today, via the tremendously useful Virginia blog Commonwealth Conservative, I see Senator Allen has done an interview in which he discusses it further. A few highlights...

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Line Item Budgeting, Senator Allen. Make that a goal of an Allen administration, and I suspect the limited government/libertarian set would line up behind Allen like they once lined up behind Ronald Reagan. [cross-posted at Chequer Board]
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
I would submit that Will is wrong.
The problem isn;t that it’s woven into the government, per se’.
The problem is, it’s woven into human nature, itself.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
I have always thought transparency was better than regulation. If Joe Public could see how something worked (or in most cases, didn’t work), he or she would be more vested in possible solutions. By hiding everything under one giant umbrella of Government, we obscure so much and give a mistaken idea that cutting one thing will affect another.

This is the one thing that perplexes me the most about today’s liberals. I’ve yet to see a government that can keep the roads paved correctly, and yet they want to give the same government responsibility for their health care / educations / etc.

I personally feel that less federal government involvement in things would free up localized resources that could be better spent on (get this) localized problems. If you have less taxes taken, you’d have more money to help those around you, and I think that most people are OK with lending a helping hand. This would also have the net effect of removing the false ’safety net’ the government provides (homeless? Might suck to be you if no one will help you), forcing people to step up to help themselves which then creates a better society to live in.

And I don’t trust anyone with the last name if Allen. I speak from experience here.
 
Written By: Robb Allen (Sharp as a Marble)
URL: http://sharpmarbles.stufftoread.com
Bithead’s on to something. Steve Antler over at EconoPundit recently analyzed total government spending (at all levels) as a percentage of GDP from 1970 forward. Surprisingly enough, the percentage hasn’t changed much: hovering around 30% or so for the last 35 years. It’s hard to argue that this particular level of government isn’t what the majority want.

The real trick would be convincing the majority that they should stand on their own, with minimal help from any other source. However, the cries of, "But that’s not fair!" will drown out all reasonable discourse.
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/
"...way to reduce rent-seeking is to reduce the government’s role in the allocation of wealth and opportunity..."

No shit George; at least he’s finally figuring it out. Of course, to Bithead and Steverino’s point, the real problem probably lies with a complacent, parasitic electorate. In aggregate, don’t we get the government we deserve? Where was the mass and overwhelming outcry over Campaign Finance "Reform?" The vast majority of people are clueless regarding its pernicious effects. Why are the same people elected to Congress for decades? I wonder if the population would be a bit more thoughtful if Congress people were elected for life? As it stands right now, there is no difference.

Steverino, even though government outlays have been roughly the same, I’m guessing (w/o actually looking) that the distribution of that spending has been quite different from year to year. Didn’t we spend a lot more on defense in the 80’s than we did in the 90’s as a % of GDP? I don’t think one can look at the overall level of spending, especially in a scant 30 year period, and conclude that the electorate wants to spend that much in aggregate. There are also long term obligations and debt that can’t be unwound overnight. And we should keep in mind that over 1/2 of the electorate doesn’t even have any skin in the game - they pay almost no direct costs for government. They would probably be happy if the wealthy gave them even more.

Whenever I ponder this topic, looking for a root cause, I usally end up laying it at the foot of poor education. But I wonder if Bithead is right - that there are more people in humanity who prefer dependency and coercion over self-sufficiency and voluntary actions and that it is by nature, not nuture. If that is true, those of us who prefer self-sufficiency are probably going to have to form our own country because we’ll never have satisfaction otherwise. Galt’s Gultch anyone?
 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
And we should keep in mind that over 1/2 of the electorate doesn’t even have any skin in the game - they pay almost no direct costs for government. They would probably be happy if the wealthy gave them even more.
That’s certainly a big part of the problem. I’ve often wondered what would happen if we set up a vote like a corporation: for every dollar in taxes you pay, you get one vote. Make it a non-binding vote, but let’s get a sense for what the people who have to pay for it think about it.
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/
I’m wondering what "common sense Jeffersonian conservative principles" are? Sounds like a nice sound bite that a Virginian put together to appeal to his base. Jefferson was many things, but conservative—I don’t think so. If any of today’s categories apply, he was probably a small "l" libertarian—generally hostile to institutions of whatever stripe. My guess is that Jefferson would be generally appalled at the state of political philosophy in modern America.
 
Written By: Steven Donegal
URL: http://
I’ve often wondered what would happen if we set up a vote like a corporation:
I would like to see a study done on this. Boortz often talks about it, but qualifies it and says ’OK - everyone gets one vote... but for each $5K in taxes you pay, you get another vote’. Everyone is represented, but those with the most skin would actually have a say in what happens with their money. SHOCKING!
 
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
Hey QandO guys:

You were talking a couple months ago about a bigger organization, perhaps starting out of the Neolibertarian Network, that would start bringing focus to certain issues. Start here; maybe even start a letter-writing campaign. The issue has broad backing among limited-government, fiscally responsible types, and the jockeying for 2008 has already begun.
 
Written By: OrneryWP
URL: http://
"I’ve often wondered what would happen if we set up a vote like a corporation"


I’m not sure I want the richest x% in control of coercive government power any more than I want the masses of free riders with a voting majority. Let’s all keep in mind here that some of the most vocal, activist socialist types are quite wealthy. Do you really want them with majority power?

That said, I do wish everyone with income had to pay a minimum amount of income tax . Even a net rate of 1% would be useful. And it should have to be paid in a lump sum.
 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
The directions that my comments of been taken are actually fairly valid.
However, my thoughts were actually leaning toward the government end of it; that it is human nature to be attracted toward power.

Will’s point about rent seeking is particularly apt here. I’m suggesting it is in our nature to be so. The solution than as I suggested in another thread, is to reduce the power of the Federal government. Only thereby can you reduce the amount of rent seeking. As I said there... remove the seed and the birds, and the more than occasional bird crap... disappear.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Bithead, if a majority of voters prefer or tolerate rent seeking then how can a Federal government power reduction occur? The odds are against it.

 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
Too soon you get old; too late you get smart. Will has figured out that Bush isn’t a conservative. Barbra Streisand still hasn’t figured out that Bil Clinton isn’t a liberal.
 
Written By: Dave Schuler
URL: http://www.theglitteringeye.com
Bithead, if a majority of voters prefer or tolerate rent seeking then how can a Federal government power reduction occur? The odds are against it.
By using this incident, as leverage.

In my view, the real conservatives, and the real libertarians, have a genuine gold- plated opportunity to push the idea for a government more in line with what the founders had in mind. This situation exemplifies everything that we have been warning about since Kirk first put to paper, and before him, Franklin.

The Democrats can spend their time, if they like, playing "gotcha" politics. They’ve been doing it for most of the last 70 years which is why they’ve been in power until just recently. If we play their game we allow them to direct our country further into this mire that we’ve made for ourselves.

No... I submit its time to change the entire game. The voters haven’t figured, out because they haven’t been taught, that limited government is the only way out of this box, over the long term. It’s time to start teaching. My read is with all this as a backdrop, we will be heard, as at no time in my life.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
And I don’t trust anyone with the last name if Allen. I speak from experience here.
Yeah, well, how do I know you aren’t lying? You seem like the sort. :)
It’s hard to argue that this particular level of government isn’t what the majority want.
Unfortunately, there’s no price mechanism to help us determine that.
And we should keep in mind that over 1/2 of the electorate doesn’t even have any skin in the game - they pay almost no direct costs for government.
Let me qualify that a little bit. Almost half the populace pays little or no income tax and are rarely asked to chip in to finance proposed additional spending. But if we’re looking at all levels, a case can easily be made that they do pay. It’s just that their payment is more diffused and—often—hidden.
I’m wondering what "common sense Jeffersonian conservative principles" are? Sounds like a nice sound bite that a Virginian put together to appeal to his base.
Indeed. That’s why I say I want to keep an eye on him to see what he proposes to do with sentiments like that.
You were talking a couple months ago about a bigger organization, perhaps starting out of the Neolibertarian Network, that would start bringing focus to certain issues.
Believe me, I think about it every single day. Taking the first step into the unknown is the hard part. I’m trying to figure out how to start it effectively on a string. Hell, if I thought I could make 15k a year doing it, I’d quit my job and do it fulltime tomorrow.
However, my thoughts were actually leaning toward the government end of it; that it is human nature to be attracted toward power.
I actually agree that it’s in human nature to pursue our own special interests — including rent-seeking — when the incentives lie in that direction. That’s why I propose changing the structure of the incentives. We can’t change human nature, but we can change the incentives to which our human nature has to react.

 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Well, a minor victory, the voting for new Republican leadership has been delayed (or is it DeLayed. HAR HAR)

Anyone have any opinions on the House Republican Study Committee (which bills itself as the House’s only conservative caucus.)

http://www.house.gov/pence/rsc/
 
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
Jon Henke is the only real Libertarian voice at QandO
Funny, I get a lot of abuse for being so anti-libertarian from some other people. Fuck it, you can’t please everybody.
Anyone have any opinions on the House Republican Study Committee (which bills itself as the House’s only conservative caucus.)
Sounds like truth in advertising. As far as I can tell, they’re the only group even remotely "on our side" right now.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
"Let me qualify that a little bit. Almost half the populace pays little or no income tax and are rarely asked to chip in to finance proposed additional spending. But if we’re looking at all levels, a case can easily be made that they do pay. It’s just that their payment is more diffused and—often—hidden."

And thus, because it’s hidden and because we’re pretty much talking about social security and medicare (what they do pay), which the lower 1/2 tends to get back if they live long enough, they aren’t really paying. That’s certainly the effect. They don’t feel it and they certainly are not paying in proportion to the benefits they receive.
 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
The other two guys here are just Right-Wingers rudely playing Wack-a-Democrat.
Tell us, Book... is there any other read on this for us, than you are all about defending the Democrats? Every post you’ve come up with... every one... has been a full on defense.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
While the level of government spending hovers at around 30%, the difficulty, I think, is the rising level of public debt. I think the death by parasite will come not in the form of taxes raising beyond what we can survive (this has already happened, and the immediate economic consequences has electoral consequences). Rather, I think the death will be a public debt larger than can be paid, with the resulting fall in the value of our currency, and possibly even hostility on the part of foreign creditors. I think the first step would be a balanced budget amendment, of this sort:

"Congress shall establish a budget in which, except in times of a Congressionally Declared war, expenditures shall not exceed the previous year’s tax receipts; no new borrowing may be included. Untill a balanced budget is established, no revenues shall be spent, nor shall any internal taxes be collected. This provision shall be considered suspended during the period of a Congressionally Declared war."

As to the idea of a "vote like corporation," who knows? Maybe, once the public debt has been retired, we could move to such a system. Steverino, Meagain, Unknow, what do you think of this?
 
Written By: Tarvok
URL: http://weeklyramble.blotspot.,com

 
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