Free Markets, Free People

Politics


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In my last post, I argued that the Seventeenth Amendment should be repealed.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


“This is our house now”

Remember the organization that refused to pay its own workers a “living wage” even while it agitated for higher minimums for other businesses? The same organization that has been the subject of several voting fraud investigations? And the same one to receive $2 Billion from the stimulus bill? Well, its now in the process of “peacefully” occupying homes that are in the process of foreclosure. That organization, of course, is ACORN:

A community organization breaks into a foreclosed home in what they are calling an act of civil disobedience.

The group wants to train homeowners facing eviction on peaceful ways they can remain in their homes.

[...]

“The mortgage went up $300 in one month,” said Hanks, former homeowner.

ACORN fights foreclosures by breaking the law

ACORN fights foreclosures by breaking the law


She says the bank refused to modify her loan and foreclosed, kicking her out of the house in September.

The community group ACORN calls Hanks a victim of predatory lending.

“This is our house now,” said Louis Beverly, ACORN.

And on Thursday afternoon, they literally broke the foreclosure padlock right off the front door and then broke into the house, letting Hanks back in for the first time in months.

“We are actually trespassing, and so this is a way of civil disobedience to try to stay into our house,” said Beverly. “Legally it’s wrong, but homesteading is the only means that she has left to stay into her house. And we feel as though this is the right thing to do at this particular time to save this family.”

So even though they know it’s “legally wrong” ACORN is going to go ahead and do it anyway? Maybe they could take some of the $2 Billion they received and help Ms. Hanks pay her mortgage or even renegotiate it. Presumably ACORN received the stimulus money to do something other than commit criminal acts. Didn’t it?

[HT: Rick Moore]


Jack’s Friends

Political Wire writes that tomorrow might be an interesting day in Congress, corruption-wise.  It seems that some things have been going on around Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) which may not be entirely copacetic.

There’s a potentially big story brewing on Capitol Hill…  Apparently 104 members of Congress of both parties — 42 Republicans and 62 Democrats — secured earmarks for a lobbying firm linked to Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) in a single bill. The earmarks were inserted in a bill Murtha controlled as the defense appropriations subcommittee chairman.

It looks like business as usual, of course, until we learn that the company’s executives and clients seem to be big, big political donors to Rep. Murtha.

So, I guess it is business as usual.


This Could Be Interesting

If they can get this passed, it might shake things up in the states rights arena:

This week the Oklahoma House of Representatives Rules Committee voted unanimously to support House Joint Resolution 1003 authored by state Rep. Charles Key. Key’s proposal should now be headed to the floor of the House where I look forward to supporting it.

HJR 1003 seeks to reassert Oklahoma’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and according to the resolution’s language, serves as “Notice and Demand to the federal government, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.

The 10th Amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

Of course it will end up in court if passed, but I would love to see it upheld and it lead to more 10th amendment exceptions leading toward a reestablishment of more states rights.

Read the rest of the article – Rep. Jason Murphey makes a good case concerning levels of influence and representation. His point about those with money driving national politics is well taken.

~McQ


Misremembering (Updated)

You’ve got to hand it to former IL Governor Rod Blagojevich.  He’s the anti-Midas.  Everything he touches turns to…not gold, anyway.  His magical touch has once again appeared, and this time the touchee is the senator he appointed to replace Barack Obama, Roland Burris.  Apparently, Blagos Magic Touch™ caused Sen. Burris to, uh, misremember things.

U.S. Senator Roland Burris was asked to help raise campaign funds for Rod Blagojevich before the ousted Illinois governor named him to the seat left vacant by Barack Obama.

The governor’s brother, Rob Blagojevich, asked Burris three times to help with fundraising, according to a Feb. 4 affidavit the senator filed with state Representative Barbara Flynn Currie, who chaired the Illinois House panel that impeached Blagojevich.

Burris told the House panel on Jan. 8 that the governor hadn’t asked for money or favors in exchange for the Senate seat. In a letter accompanying the affidavit, Burris’s lawyer said the senator hadn’t been able to “fully respond” to questions.

He didn’t mean to give contradictory testimony. But it was all so confusing and difficult.

“While Senator Burris testified truthfully and to the best of his recollection before the Impeachment Committee, given the fluid nature of the questions and answers between the Senator and the committee, and based upon our subsequent review of the hearing transcripts, the Senator was unable to fully respond to several matters that were included in questions during his testimony,” lawyer Timothy Wright wrote in the Feb. 5 letter.

You see, he meant to tell the committee that Robert Blagojevich, the governor’s brother had asked him to do some, uh, fund-raising to the tune of $10,000, on three separate occasions, but he just wasn’t given a chance to testify to all these things fully.  So, it’s really the committee’s fault, with their slipshod procedures and what not.  That’s why he told the committee that he had not been asked for any fund-raising at all.

You’d think that a former state Attorney General would be able to negotiate the shoals of testimony, but I guess not.

Still, he told the committee that he had no contact with anyone connected to the governor in association with the appointment.  And he specifically denied having been asked to raise any money.  That’s a difference that would seem difficult to explain, but Sen. Burris  is having a press conference today in which he will, presumably, clarify these matters to everyone’s satisfaction.

UPDATE:

The press conference has started.  “I was never inconsistent in my statements”.

He says he answered affirmative when asked if he’d had contact with Gov Blagojevich’s cronies, and provided Lon Monk’s name as an example, after which, the questioning moved on to another subject.

He says his testimonies are fully consistent.

The Chicago press corps is asking him some pretty tough questions.  They don’t seem to be buying his schtick.

This should be interesting to follow.


Buyer’s Remorse? Have Obamacons Been Obamaconned?

I‘ve spoken before about the political brilliance that running on nebulous catch phrases can accrue for the politician. Lay them out there, let the voting public decide what they mean to each of them and then ride the wave to elected office.

Obama did precisely that. And many who are marginally on the right, were fooled by that. Those who voted for him projected their “hope” for “change” on the blank screen he provided. But, as you’ll see in this example, the reality of who Barack Obama really is may be clearing up, and it appears it is a huge disappointment to many of his more conservative/libertarian supporters.

Silicon Valley, where I live, is home to both political liberals and conservatives–more liberals of late, but not by a huge margin. The lopsidedness occurs on the freedom-statist divide. An overwhelming majority of Valley residents would place themselves on the freedom side and against the state. This should not surprise anyone. Silicon Valley is a land of immigrants, both foreign and from other American states. What draws people to Silicon Valley is the freedom to go out and commit industrial revolution and make the future.

Thus it was always odd that Silicon Valley voted for the most statist-inclined presidential candidate since FDR. Silicon Valley fell in love with Barack Obama. His youth and multicultural cool, along with the Web superiority of his presidential campaign, had Silicon Valley going googly for Obama.

In the eyes of Silicon Valley, Obama was like the Apple Macintosh. John McCain was like Windows.

Now comes the reckoning. Obama may be the coolest guy ever to hold the office of U.S. president. He may be the personification of an Apple Mac, iPod and iPhone. But this week Obama proved he is a big-state liberal, through and through.

My Silicon Valley friends who supported Obama are weirdly silent about this. I suspect they are in denial, still hoping for the closet libertarian Obama to emerge. Throughout the 2008 campaign, Silicon Valley Obama voters would tell me that Obama was really an economic centrist. Forget his liberal Senate record and Saul Alinsky-conditioned career as a community organizer. Forget the Chicago-style thug politics. That was in the past. Obama did what he had to do to rise. Once in the Oval Office, Obama will really govern more like John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton or Tony Blair.

Say it enough times, and you can almost believe it. Well, sorry about that, you Obamacons. You just got thrown under the bus.

The $790 billion stimulus headed for Obama’s desk is statist. It is also backward looking. Sure, there are some forward-looking initiatives, such as a few billion for broadband. But the bill is overwhelmed by “shovel-ready” projects aimed at school building improvement, road repair and so forth, and by bailouts to profligate state governments.

Very disturbingly, the bill has the stench of protectionism in it. This is antithetical to the interests of trade-happy Silicon Valley.

What is becoming clear is the Obama we can expect to govern is the big government statist liberal and not a “closet libertarian” as they hoped. Note the word. They fooled themselves into thinking that was actually a possibility. Yet as I pointed out below, this huge and unfocused spending plan being touted as a “stimulus” is nothing more than a massive expansion of government. It is also just the prelude for further intrusion, essentially a down-payment which paves the way for massive intrusion in health care and the energy sector.

For those who cast a jaundiced eye on the candidate and his blank slate campaign, none of this comes as a surprise. A creature of the most liberal political machines in America, a student of Saul Alinski’s method and someone who consistently saw government as the answer and not the problem during his political rise, the Barack Obama the folks are suddenly discovering in Silicon Valley and other parts of America is precisely the guy we expected.

His “youth and multicultural cool” may have been part of sales job, but now it comes down to performance. Thus far his performance has been directed at expanding government. Two of the first three bills passed in his administration have massively increased government. And as I’ve noted, he promises even more.

In less than a month, Obama has signaled that there isn’t a libertarian leaning bone in his body. The question remains as to how people, like those in Silicon Valley, managed to fool themselves enough to vote for a candidate who so obviously didn’t fit their “hope”. And are they, as this particular piece seems to indicate, feeling a little buyer’s remorse?

~McQ


Years, Not Months, To Recovery

Well yeah - now:

President Barack Obama on Friday warned that economic recovery in the United States “will be measured in years, not months” as he scored a major victory in his young presidency with the approval in Congress of a $787 billion (£542) bill to revive the economy.

How unfocused is this mess? Well here’s a nice example:

Sec.1421 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gives employers a tax incentive for hiring people (I hesitate to call them “workers,” given it’s not likely they’ve ever held a job for more than a couple days) who fit the following description. Betcha can’t wait to hire this person!

DISCONNECTED YOUTH . –The term ‘disconnected youth’ means any individual who is certified by the designated local agency as having attained age 16 but not age 25 on the hiring date, as not regularly attending any secondary, technical, or post-secondary school during the 6-month period preceding the hiring date, as not regularly employed during such 6-month period, and as not readily employable by reason of lacking a sufficient number of basic skills.

I wonder if the Democrats who voted for the stimulus bill realize they just voted to give a tax break to McDonald’s and WalMart.

Of course, they have no idea of who or what they’ve given breaks too (although I doubt McD’s and Wal-Mart are eager to take on workers with no skills).

And the bill is rife with examples like the above. What is doesn’t have at all are the things economists know work and work immediately – like marginal tax cuts.

Fact Check takes a look at the bill and finds problems with many of the basic promises made (and certainly takes issue with the claim there are “no earmarks” in the bill).

A couple of things Fact Check notes include the claim that digitizing health records and modernizing the electrical grid will be quickly done and provide great savings:

The president also says electronic health records will save billions of dollars. But the Congressional Budget Office says that even a decade of expected savings are unlikely to pay back the government what the government will spend on health IT.

The president said the bill will modernize the nation’s electricity grid, reducing consumption by 2 percent to 4 percent. That’s optimistic. Industry reports say that a new grid could reduce energy consumption by up to 4 percent, but not until 2030 and at a cost much greater than the stimulus bill would cover.

But what this does is get the proverbial government nose under the tent and set up more spending with future bills:

Mr Obama will also propose a budget to lay the groundwork for sweeping health care reform and present a major green energy bill. Mr Obama will also propose a budget to lay the groundwork for sweeping health care reform and present a major green energy bill.

The mistake of the paragraph above is the “groundwork” is being laid with this “stimulus” bill.

So, we’ve added 789 billion to the 750 billion TARP and the possible 1.2 trillion Geithner plan and are contemplating spending hundreds of billions more for “sweeping health care refomr and … a major green energy bill”. And we haven’t even mentioned the coming “AGW” spending debacle.

What generation are we up to now? Have we dragged my great, great, great grandchildren’s generation into to this yet?

Shameful.

~McQ


About That Caterpillar Story

President Obama has been waving a quote from Jim Owens, CEO of Caterpillar, “said that if Congress passes our plan, this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off.”

Oops:

Asked if the stimulus package would be able to stop the 22,000 layoffs or not, Owens said, “I think realistically no. The truth is we’re going to have more layoffs before we start hiring again”

“It is going to take some time before that stimulus bill” means re-hiring, he said.

Amateur hour continues.

~McQ


Free Market Bashing

Since the inception of the current downturn, free market capitalism has taken quite the bashing. Supporters of significant government involvement in the economy deride the horrors of “unfettered capitalism” and a “free market run amuck.” Frequently, deregulation of capital markets is singled out as the most dastardly culprit, to which Pres. Obama seems to be alluding when he blames “relying on the worn-out dogmas of the past,” and “too little regulatory scrutiny.” Yet, after the last eight years in which we witnessed Sarbanes-Oxley, No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and numerous attempts to reign in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shoved aside by legislators, evidence of unregulated economic activity being the source of our crisis seems rather scant.

The idea that “deregulation” was somehow responsible for the mortgage meltdown is a particularly shaky proposition. Shannon Love explains why:

Leftists have to answer a question: if greedy, irresponsible, unregulated etc. capitalism caused the housing bubble, why didn’t we see a similar bubble in commercial real-estate markets which operate under even less regulation than the residential markets? Why does the politically neglected and unregulated commercial real-estate market exhibit much milder swings?

[...]

The differences between residential and commercial real estate provide the means to test the hypothesis that government intervention or the lack thereof caused the housing bubble and subsequent collapse of the financial system. We can compare the two markets because the same institutions ultimately make residential and commercial loans. They make loans in the same communities and regions. Changes in the economy affect both types of real estate at the same time and to the same rough degree. The only major difference between the two markets lies in the degree of government intervention.

After dispensing with some obvious questions about the comparison, Love highlights how the residential market was essentially turned into a Lemon’s Market:

More than any other policy, the creation of Freddie Mac and Fanny May distorted the residential mortgage market in a way that the commercial market escaped. The FMs exist solely to induce lenders to make residential loans that the free market judged too risky. The FMs buy up residential mortgages from primary lenders and bundle them together in securities. They do so precisely in order to short-circuit the free-market feedback system that communicates to banks when the financial system as a whole has lent out as much money as it safely can. That feedback system worked like a governor on an engine. It kept the system from running away and lending more money than it could recoup, but also prevented people with poorer credit from getting loans.

Politicians who wanted the engine to run faster created the FMs to bypass the governor in order to get higher performance in the short run. Since the FMs would buy up almost any mortgage, lenders could make riskier and riskier loans without suffering any negative consequence. The FMs replaced the self-interested secondary-market buyers with people playing with government money and a mandate to induce more and more lending. Special dodgy accounting rules allowed the FMs to hide the risk behind the securitized mortgages they sold.

Deregulation caused the residential mortgage meltdown?

Deregulation caused the residential mortgage meltdown?

As Love points out, the commercial real estate market has no such mechanism muddying its waters, and information is comparatively less asymmetric. Without the government interference, commercial mortgage lenders let the potential for bad outcomes drive their decision making:

Tellingly, no such intervention occurred in commercial markets. The FMs’ charters expressly prevented them from buying commercial mortgages. As a result, the commercial mortgage market functioned with a free-market governor. When lenders made too many risky loans, free-market secondary buyers stopped buying their mortgages and the system cooled down. As a result, commercial markets saw no runaway boom and subsequent colossal bust.

Although I think that laying the crisis solely at the feet of the residential mortgage market is overly simplistic (for example, what was up with the ratings agencies?), Love does point to a very apt comparison as to how government intervention in the market changes incentives and behavior. If you guarantee risks against bad loans, and subsidize the debtors, then more of such loans will be made. Remove such a guarantees and subsidies and market forces will severely punish improperly compensated risk taking.

The trade off, of course, is that free markets do not allow much opportunity for rent-seeking. Which is why Love’s final lament is so true:

Sadly, experience suggests that mere empiricism has no place in political economics.

That’s because empiricism does not buy votes.


Details, Promises And Other “Stimulus” Package Fun Stuff

As the details of the compromise stimulus package come out, most will find plenty to not like.

For instance, those stimulative tax cuts for 95% of Americans:

Q: What are some of the tax breaks in the bill?

A: It includes Obama’s signature “Making Work Pay” tax credit for 95 percent of workers, though negotiators agreed to trim the credit to $400 a year instead of $500 — or $800 for married couples, cut from Obama’s original proposal of $1,000. It would begin showing up in most workers’ paychecks in June as an extra $13 a week in take-home pay, falling to about $8 a week next January.

$13 bucks a week for 6 months, down to $8 bucks a week by January. $338 in ’09, and, if it stays in place for all of ’10, $416.

Wow. 800 billion of your dollars and in the next year and a half you’re going to see $754 of it. Go make that down payment on the new house or car now!

Now, here’s the rope-a-dope:

Q: How will infrastructure spending affect jobs?

A: The Federal Highway Administration has estimated that every $1 billion the federal government spends on infrastructure projects translates to 35,000 jobs. Collins put the total infrastructure spending — including highways, mass transit, environmental cleanups and broadband facilities — at $150 billion. Do the math and that translates into more than 5 million jobs, based on the highway administration’s assumptions.

Senate leaders have offered their own estimate — they said Wednesday that the total stimulus package will sustain some 3.5 million jobs.

Most of that work will go to people who already have jobs. And those who are hired will be hired on a temporary basis. When the revenue stream for that job ends, so will the temporary jobs.

And one other thing to keep in mind – these people are estimating based on nothing more than some assumptions they’ve decided look rosy and fit their narrative. They have no freakin’ idea how many jobs, if any, their spending will bring.

Q: How long would it take for highway projects to begin?

A: Lawmakers say most of the projects could be up and running within 90 days, although it could take somewhat more time in northern states with longer winters. Highway construction groups have estimated that there are thousands of projects that could be started within that 90 days.

Here’s a dirty little secret about this answer – projects that are 90 days from beginning have most likely already been funded and those who are going to work on them have been hired.

All the rest of the projects in the bill will have to go through the normal years long bidding process that is required by government. So “shovel ready” does not necessarily mean an infusion of new cash or jobs.

Q: Does the bill include federal aid to the states?

A: Yes. It includes major contributions to states to help with their budget shortfalls and assure the viability of Medicaid and education programs.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the moderate Republican who helped broker the deal, said the spending includes about $90 billion in increased federal matches to states to help pay for Medicaid, along with a $54 billion “fiscal stabilization” fund that states could use to build and repair schools and improve facilities at institutions of higher learning.

This bill is the “State Fiscal Mismanagement Bailout Bill” which rewards states for budget busting.

Tell me, in life, what is one of the major means of changing behavior?

Pain. No pain, nothing learned. Be it emotional, physical or financial pain, unless you suffer it, you have no reason to change your behavior. Given this bill, profligate state governments have no reason to change their spendthrift ways.

BTW, none of that spending will stimulate anything but more government.

More:

Q: What are some of the other main focuses of the bill?

A: Here are some highlights:

Education: The package has some $11.5 billion to support the IDEA program for special education. There’s another $10 billion for a federal program to help low-income students.

Energy: The package includes funds to modernize the electrical grid — in part by incorporating renewable energy resources — and to make federal buildings more energy efficient and help low-income households weatherize their homes.

Health: The plan includes subsidies to allow people who are laid off to purchase health insurance through the federal COBRA plan. There is also money to support hospitals seeking to modernize health information technology.

Infrastructure: The infrastructure section of the package includes funds for building and repairing highways and bridges, expanding transit systems, upgrading airports and rail systems and building and repairing federal buildings — with the focus on making them more energy efficient. Funds are available for clean water projects, cleanup of environmental waste areas and nuclear waste cleanups.

Nothing listed here is stimulative. Nothing. This is all the pork that everyone has denied is in the bill. This is the left’s shopping list of the last 40 years rolled into one big raid on your wallet.

And what about the engine of productivity, the creator of jobs and wealth? Not much at all:

From auto dealers to the home-building industry, big business appears to be the biggest loser in the final economic stimulus plan being pieced together Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

Negotiators from the House and Senate sliced billions of dollars in tax incentives for businesses and slashed huge tax breaks for consumers that were strongly backed by industry lobbyists.

Many of the business tax provisions were added to the stimulus legislation in the Senate in an effort to attract Republican votes. President Barack Obama wants bipartisan support for the plan and was dealt a setback when no Republicans voted for the House version of the plan two weeks ago.

But when only three Republican senators voted for the Senate version of the bill Tuesday, Democrats slashed the business tax proposals in an effort to bring the total cost of the bill under $789 billion.

That’s right, Democratic spite and their propensity toward government as the solution have mostly driven tax breaks for business, the one sector that can, in fact, create real jobs that produce wealth, out of the bill.

Tthe Democrats like to use the term “trickle down” derisively, but as Karl Rove notes, you’re  about to see their version of it. The difference is the money will “trickle down” through the government filter. Any guess as to how much will actually reach down to where it is needed?

Well, don’t bet that whopping $754 bucks you’ll be seeing over the next year and a half that it will do any good. Instead you might consider buying gold with it, since my guess is it isn’t going to be worth $754 when the Democrats get done with screwing around with the economy.

~McQ

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