Free Markets, Free People

Bryan Pick


Podcast for 19 Apr 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Bryan, and Dale discuss the use of torture on terror suspects, and the week’s Tea Parties.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Podcast for 12 Apr 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Bryan, and Dale discuss the Maersk Alabama Piracy conclusion, President Bush’s Obama’s military and terrorism policies, and the poll that found only 52% of Americans beleive that Capitalism is superior to Socialism.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Easy come, easy go

Today, Rep. Mike Pence and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Chair and Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference, led a blogger conference call. The representatives stayed on point throughout the call:

  • On the economy generally and on the Democrats’ budget proposal specifically, they repeatedly said the Democrats are spending, borrowing and taxing too much.
  • They hammered on the Democrats’ proposal as bad for families and small businesses, including family farms.  They emphasized the role of small businesses in job creation.
  • They said they believed in free markets, fiscal restraint and tax relief as the keys to growth.
  • To that effect, they said Senate and House Republicans would be cooperating closely to promote those messages over the next several weeks and then unveil an alternative budget proposal of their own, which they promise will be a bold, clear contrast with that of the Democrats.

I expected something along these lines, and I don’t object to the sentiment or disagree with their diagnosis of the Democrats’ budget. They’ve identified what’s wrong with the Democrats’ plan, they’ve developed a strategy for responding with their own alternative, and they want to get everyone on record as either supporting the Democrats’ messy bill or the ideal Republican vision.

The first question went to Quin Hillyer over at AmSpec, who asked how unified we can expect the GOP response to be if a Republican leader like Lamar Alexander broke to vote for the omnibus spending bill. Pence acknowledged that he and Sen. Alexander had a difference of opinion on that one, but hastened to add that Sen. Alexander had voted for all the limiting amendments and had voted against the stimulus, etc.

For my part, I asked the representatives why, in light of Republicans’ so-far unsuccessful attempts to bring “clean” Republican versions of bills to the floor for debate, their alternative budget would be different.

Rep. Pence answered that Republicans would be given the opportunity on this one. The Republican House leadership is working closely with the budget committee, and specifically with Rep. Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on that committee. There are some limitations on how quickly they can move their alternative and get a CBO estimate done on it, but they’re going to use the interim to expose problems with the Democrats’ budget before unveiling their alternative.

Rep. Morris Rodgers said that it was important that it goes to the House floor for debate, and that they wanted the difference in approach to be clear to the American people, too.

As I said earlier, this is about what I expected – when your party is some 70 seats down in the House and retains only the most meager leverage in the Senate, having lost all credibility, you need to remind people that you at least remember what a conservative is supposed to want.

I just hope that’s not all they have in their playbook. It’s much easier to present a principled image when you’re out of power and have no sway over whether a given bill will pass.

Assurances that the GOP will remain so principled when they regain a measure of power won’t carry a lot of weight without some kind of binding commitments – changing the structure and practices of the party rather than the short-term tactics. After all, misbehavior that receded smoothly when the majority last changed hands can come back just as readily. Easy come, easy go.

* Cross-posted from The Next Right


The American W-4 Party

Brad Warbiany at The Liberty Papers took note of my post about the “tea parties” and “going Galt”, specifically this passage:

I’d be more impressed if they fired a shot across the bow and coordinated a national day for cranking up their withholding allowances, just as high as they can.  They’re planning their next party on Tax Day, right?  One might think they’d be interested in ceasing to lend their earnings interest-free to the government.  They might take some satisfaction in doing something that actually shows up on the government’s ledger.

Not knowing any accountants or tax professionals, I didn’t know just how far you could take that.  But Brad decided it was worthwhile to find out.  He did the legwork, consulted a tax preparer, and wrote up simple instructions for pushing it as far as you can without having to worry about incurring fees or other penalties.

And he has some suggestions for Tax Day:

So here’s my suggestion. April 15th, go to your HR department and change your W-4 claimed exemptions. Go with the maximum exemptions that you calculate will keep you from over-withholding, but small enough to avoid penalties. Budget (save or invest) the difference, so that you can pay the necessary tax next April, and don’t dare postmark the check to them before April 14, 2010.

It’s not a big difference. But if enough people do this, it will be big enough to be noticed. The federal government is expecting to spend your money as soon as it comes in; they’re not expecting to wait until next April to get your money. In fact, if they have to wait, they’re likely to get angry. That’s more money they have to borrow today. That’s more of a functional deficit on their books. In short, if you want to get noticed, a far more effective way than getting some friends together for a group protest is to hit them where it hurts: the balance sheet.

Fellow Americans, it’s time to stop being doormats. If you really want to show the government that you’re angry, it’s far better to show them than to tell them.

Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your blog readers, tell your coworkers. April 15th is the American W-4 Party.

For the full instructions, read the whole thing.

I like it.  I especially like it because of the clarity of the message.  If you email this around to all your relatives and peers, or post it on your blog for your readers, you’re not asking them to embrace the prisons or fire anyone that they employ.  They don’t even have to take the day off of work, which should be a relief to anyone who needs the work to support themselves and their families.

For the price of filling out a W-4 form and turning it in on a Wednesday, they can keep more of their money out of the government’s hands for the next year.  They can invest or save it, saying effectively, “I trust that I can handle my money better than the government would.”

It’s not a revolt.  It’s just telling the government in terms they understand that we’re paying attention and we don’t want to lend them our wealth if they’re going to treat it like they have been lately.  It’s a reminder of where their power comes from.  And the more people who participate, the clearer the message.

36 days ’til April 15.  In the age of social networking, I wonder how many people could get involved in this?


Podcast for 08 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Bryan, Michael and Dale talk about the week’s events, and the indications the provide into the President’s apparent intellectual incuriosity.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Dear Obama: Really?

The NYT’s White House reporters got an exclusive interview with Pres. Obama, and one of the pressing questions on their minds was what his ideology is.  They asked if, given his spending priorities, he is a socialist, to which he said no, and when they asked if he was a “liberal” or a “progressive” or any other one-word answer, he declined to comment.  I can understand him saying that.

But then, after the interview, the president called the reporters back, like he’d thought up a really good zinger after the fact:

It was hard for me to believe you were entirely serious about that socialist question. I did think it might be useful to point out that it wasn’t under me that we started buying a whole bunch of shares of banks. It wasn’t on my watch. And it wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement – the prescription drug plan without a source of funding. And so I think it’s important just to note when you start hearing folks thro[w] these words around that we’ve actually been operating in a way that is entirely consistent with free-market principles and that some of the same folks who are throwing the word ‘socialist’ around can’t say the same.

Q. So who[se] watch are we talking about here?

A. [*Chuckle*] Well, I just think it’s clear by the time we got here, there already had been an enormous infusion of taxpayer money into the financial system. And the thing I constantly try to emphasize to people is that if, coming in, the market was doing fine, nobody would be happier than me to stay out of it. I have more than enough to do without having to worry the financial system. And the fact that we’ve had to take these extraordinary measures and intervene is not an indication of my ideological preferences, but an indication of the degree to which lax regulation and extravagant risk-taking has precipitated a crisis.

This is bittersweet, because on the one hand, he clears up any misconception that Bush was effectively conservative (or as John Kerry claimed, extreme libertarian).  He says, to his credit, that buying up shares of banks and passing a massive new entitlement (or at least one financed by borrowing) are inconsistent with free-market principles.

I like how Obama says that the financial bailout wasn’t on his watch, when he voted for it as a Senator.  But he’s right about Bush.  With Obama’s help, a Republican president did dump mountains of wealth into the thermal boreholes of the most heavily regulated sector of the economythat’s the financial sector, dear reader, although health care is way up there.  And afterward, Bush was frank enough to admit that he had “abandoned free-market principles,” although he had the monumental cheek to say he had done so “to save the free-market system.”

But on the other hand, Obama claims that his team’s been operating in a way that is “entirely consistent with free-market principles“!  I feel like launching into one of those “Really!?!” segments from SNL, only less funny and more desperate.

Really, Mr. President?  And you’re not shoveling piles of taxpayer money into the financial system?  You’re not planning any massive expansions of entitlement spending?  Really? And you’re going to come up with a source of funding for all of this?  Without taxing anyone but the top two five percent?  Really.

Really, Mr. President, all you’ve talked about since this crisis started is how everyone in the private sector needs a regulatory cavity search deep enough to do a ventriloquist act.  As if what we really need is more Sarbanes-Oxley, SEC and FASB rule changes because it was our lax regulation that all those businesses ran overseas to escape.

And if I’m putting together a line-up of who caused the “extravagant risk-taking” like the massive overborrowing that inflated the residential real estate bubble, shouldn’t my first suspects be Fannie & Freddie, the Fed and government subsidies?

Your response to this crisis is to borrow more money to subsidize energy, public transportation, public education and state-mandated health care, and really, isn’t that what the free market is all about?  Thanks for the assurances that you’re not in favor of bigger government.

Your budget, the stimulus, that second stimulus you hinted at, and rescuing all those giant institutions, some of them for the second and third time: these are all entirely consistent with free-market principles?  I mean, really.

Someone help me out.  Exactly which free-market principles has the president adhered to, either in his campaign promises or in his actions in office?  Tell me why Obama is not mistaken or lying.


On the “tea parties” and “going Galt”

I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but…*

I don’t mind people protesting against massive government expansion and taxation.  But do they have to call their protests “tea parties”?

Mailing bags of tea to Congress costs very little and risks nothing.  It’s just one step up from sending a strongly worded email, which is only one step up from an online form letter or petition.

Do they know what the Boston Tea Party was about?  And if so, what are they implying when they send tea to Congress?  We have representation to go with our taxation, more direct representation than the American Revolution established.  If the “tea party” protests of 2009 aren’t really related to the original Tea Party, why draw a comparison?

I’d be more impressed if they fired a shot across the bow and coordinated a national day for cranking up their withholding allowances, just as high as they can.  They’re planning their next party on Tax Day, right?  One might think they’d be interested in ceasing to lend their earnings interest-free to the government.  They might take some satisfaction in doing something that actually shows up on the government’s ledger.

I’d be convinced of their sincerity if they subsequently considered actually not paying their taxes next year if the government didn’t change its policies.  That would be civil disobedience, as opposed to loud-but-obedient.  But still, hold the tea.

The “going Galt” thing has been a bit better — at least it involves refusing to produce — but “John Galt” is a rather radical standard, ladies and gentlemen.  Reducing your income so that you don’t pay the higher marginal taxes in the next bracket; partially shutting down businesses and taking more leisure time; retiring early.  These are nice, but it’s like “going Martin Luther King, Jr.” without risking jail or invoking the Alamo without risking death.

Galt refused to let the public seize his creations for their (immense) benefit.  He led an illegal strike.  He accepted nothing more than a night watchman state.  He openly scorned all religion and mysticism.  His opposition to government was not of the “vote the bums out 20 months from now” variety, or merely underperforming–although he did discuss underperformers in his marathon speech, much of which is dramatized here (note: videos spoil much of the book – the part about underperformers is at 7:20 or so in Part 14).

Not that radical?  Not willing to take that kind of risk?  Then don’t play dress-up.

Content yourself to call your actions by their proper names.  If you know what the fictional character symbolizes, and that’s not a standard by which you judge yourself, it’s better that you don’t compare your actions to his.

________

* This isn’t a Dennis Miller-style rant.  Sorry.  If I tried to emulate that, I’d just pale in comparison.  Speaking of which…


Podcast for 03 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Bryan, and Dale talk about the president’s new budget, and the end of the Post-WWII global financial system.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


MYOB

In my last post, I argued that the Seventeenth Amendment should be repealed.  Once upon a time, Americans from across the political spectrum could agree on at least one principle of good governance: federalism, or more generally, localized decision-making.

To put a fine point on it:

  • Your state knows its own values and interests better than the national government does.
  • Your county knows its own values and interests better than the state government does.
  • Your city knows its own values and interests better than the county government does.
  • Your neighborhood knows its own values and interests better than the city government does.
  • Your household knows its own values and interests better than the neighborhood does.
  • And you arguably know your own particular values and interests better than other members of your household do.

Depending on who’s won lately, the people in power at higher levels of organization may approximately reflect your values and interests, but the further away they get, the less likely this is to be the case.  Simply put, the more people you have to represent, and the further they are away from you, the harder it is to faithfully represent them all.

Even if your Congressman is a tremendously intelligent and virtuous man, what he doesn’t know about his constituents’ beliefs and circumstances could fill libraries.

So as a general rule, it makes sense that we should want matters to be decided at the most local level possible.  If you have a personal problem, you have the greatest incentive to fix the problem, your values will determine what trade-offs you’re comfortable with, and the matter probably shouldn’t leave your household — or at worst, your peer groups.  If it doesn’t naturally spill over into other people’s lives, they don’t want you to make it their problem.

Largely because so much power has accrued at higher levels of government, people increasingly turn to the impersonal and ignorant forces of those higher levels to handle their problems.  Today, the federal government has so much power, reaching down to the most local possible decisions, that people focus an inordinate amount of their attention and aspirations on who controls it and what they do with it.  Everyone’s fate is determined by whose collective hand controls the Biggest Lever.

I cannot stress enough how dangerous a development this is. Let’s leave aside, for the moment, how centralized control and planning tend to double down on mistakes rather than correct them.  They have much more insidious effects.

Making everything a national issue has poisoned the national debate.  It is a significant cause of the Culture War (see Roe v Wade, or Defense of Marriage Act).  It has contributed to making politics personal, and it’s why so many people have become emotionally invested in the person of the President.  Think about how much more common it has become for both parties to use the language and imagery of dictators to describe the president — usually when we disagree with him.

Bottom line: it is difficult to tolerate your neighbor’s difference of opinion if his opinion controls your life.  It has become too difficult to mind one’s own business.

Let that marinate for a minute, and I’ll move on to my suggestion for one solution. Continue reading


Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment

George Will argues we should repeal the Seventeenth Amendment.  I doubt it will happen–too many people are convinced of the Populist notion that the more direct the democracy, the better.  But I’ve been arguing for years that this measure would restore a great measure of federalism to the US, and that we would generally benefit from such a change.

Doug Mataconis of Below the Beltway isn’t so sure.  He writes,

As I’ve noted before, it’s a provocative argument, but I think there’s something missing:

My take on the subject is this — from a procedural point of view the 17th Amendment is certainly one of the factors that has made the expansion of Federal power, and the erosion of Federalism, more easy to accomplish. Returning to direct election of Senators *might* have a positive impact, but that will only happen if the Senators elected have a proper understanding of their role under the Constitution.

And if the state legislators appointing them have that same understanding.

Given the political climate in America today, having Senators who are beholden to the whims and wishes of state legislators is unlikely to produce a better breed in the Upper House than having Senators who are beholden to the whims and wishes of voters.

In some sense, repealing the 17th Amendment involves turning back the clock in more ways than one. We can return to the procedural methods that the Framers first put in place, but that doesn’t mean that the philosophy that will guide the Senate will change in any significant respect.

I can’t comment on whether we’d get a “better breed”, but the procedural change would change the practice, if not the philosophy, of senators.  As I argue in the comments, the purpose of many of the checks and balances in the Constitution of the early republic was to have people in power answer to those who were jealous of their own power. Repealing the Seventeenth wouldn’t cure all ills, but it would help.

For example, the federal government has extended its power over state and local matters by using its superior funding power to provide goodies, and attaching strings to that money.

If we posit that state legislators want to arrogate more power to themselves, then–given the power–they will resist those strings. US Senators, realizing that their appointment to the Senate (and all the attendant benefits) requires pleasing the state legislators, will avoid attaching those strings. They don’t need to understand anything except who’s buttering their bread.

Let’s say that state legislators still like the idea of getting federal money without having to levy their own taxes. Well, if the Senate tries to appropriate no-strings-attached money for the states, naturally the House and President will resist. They don’t want to levy taxes and receive no controlling benefit in return.

A smaller number might be ideologically committed to using the superior federal power of taxation to fund these goodies, but not having strings attached to federal money would dull the incentive.

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