Monday, August 18, 2008

Candidates & The Court

Pastor Rick Warren interviewed the presidential candidates on Saturday. He asked each senator which Supreme Court Justice he would not have nominated. Here are Senator Obama's views:
"WARREN: OK. The courts. Let me ask it this way. Which existing Supreme Court justice would you not have nominated?

OBAMA: That's a good one. That's a good one. I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. [ applause ] I don't think that he -- I don't think that he was as strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation, setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretations of a lot of the Constitution. I would not nominate Justice Scalia, although I don't think there's any doubt about his intellectual brilliance, because he and I just disagree. He taught at the University of Chicago, as did I in the law school.

WARREN: How about John Roberts?

OBAMA: John Roberts, I have to say was a tougher question only because I find him to be a very compelling person, you know, in conversation individually. He's clearly smart, very thoughtful. I will tell you that how I've seen him operate since he went to the bench confirms the suspicions that I had and the reason that I voted against him, and I'll give you one very specific instance and this is not a stump speech.

WARREN: All right.

OBAMA: I think one of the -

WARREN: I think --

OBAMA: Right, exactly. I'm getting the cues. I'm getting the cues. One of the most important jobs of, I believe the Supreme Court is to guard against the encroachment of the executive branch on the other, the power of the other branches.


OBAMA: And I think that he has been a little bit too willing and eager to give an administration, whether it's mine or George Bush's, more power than I think the Constitution originally intended."
So, Senator Obama seems to disagree with the constitutional interpretations of Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Roberts. How about Senator McCain:
[WARREN:] "The first one is on the courts. Which existing Supreme Court Justices would you not have nominated?

MCCAIN: With all due respect, Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Souter, and Justice Stephens.

WARREN: Why? Tell me why.

MCCAIN: Well, I think that the president of the United States has incredible responsibility in nominating people to the United States Supreme Court. They are lifetime positions, as well as the federal bench. There will be two or maybe three vacancies. This nomination should be based on the criteria of proven record, of strictly adhering to the Constitution of the United States of America and not legislating from the bench. Some of the worst damage has been done by legislating from the bench. (APPLAUSE).

And by the way, Justices Alito and Roberts are two of my most recent favorites, by the way. They really are. They are very fine. (LAUGHTER). And I'm proud of President Bush for nominating them."
Senator McCain seems to disagree with the constitutional interpretations of Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Souter, and Stephens.

In my view the Constitution defines a limited national government and as written it seems to me to protect individual economic liberty. The opinions of Justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito are mostly consistent with this view, while the opinions of Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Souter, and Stephens are inconsistent with this view. I agree with McCain's answer.

I also must mention one pet peeve of mine which comes up in Senator Obama's answer:
". . . more power than I think the Constitution originally intended."
I don't believe a piece of paper can have intentions.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Prosperity & Its Discontents

"Capitalism is the greatest system ever created for alleviating general human misery, and yet it breeds ingratitude.

People ask, “Why is there poverty in the world?” It’s a silly question. Poverty is the default human condition. It is the factory preset of this mortal coil. As individuals and as a species, we are born naked and penniless, bereft of skills or possessions. Likewise, in his civilizational infancy man was poor, in every sense. He lived in ignorance, filth, hunger, and pain, and he died very young, either by violence or disease.

The interesting question isn’t “Why is there poverty?” It’s “Why is there wealth?” Or: “Why is there prosperity here but not there?”

At the end of the day, the first answer is capitalism, rightly understood. That is to say: free markets, private property, the spirit of entrepreneurialism and the conviction that the fruits of your labors are your own."
I like his point about the "default position." Looking over the course of world economic history, the important question does seem to be: Why do some countries enjoy great prosperity while others don't? It seems to me the answer to this question has to involve the idea that the for what ever reason the prosperous countries have governments sufficiently limited in scope and sufficiently attentive to protecting individual economic liberty. Or, in other words, what Goldberg says in his last paragraph above.

Greenspan's View

"The economic edifice – market capitalism – that has fostered this expansion is now being pilloried for the pause and partial retrenchment. The cause of our economic despair, however, is human nature’s propensity to sway from fear to euphoria and back, a condition that no economic paradigm has proved capable of suppressing without severe hardship. Regulation, the alleged effective solution to today’s crisis, has never been able to eliminate history’s crises.

[ . . . ]

We may not easily confront or accept the price dynamics of home and equity prices, but we can fend off cries of political despair which counsel the containment of competitive markets. It is essential that we do so. The remarkably strong performance of the world economy since the near universal adoption of market capitalism is testament to the benefits of increasing economic flexibility.

It has become hard for democratic societies accustomed to prosperity to see it as anything other than the result of their deft political management. In reality, the past decade has seen mounting global forces (the international version of Adam Smith’s invisible hand) quietly displacing government control of economic affairs. Since early this decade, central banks have had to cede control of long-term interest rates to global market forces. Previously heavily controlled economies – such as China, Russia and India – have embraced competitive markets in lieu of bureaucratic edict. The danger is that some governments, bedevilled by emerging inflationary forces, will endeavour to reassert their grip on economic affairs. If that becomes widespread, globalisation could reverse – at awesome cost."

Monday, August 04, 2008

Obama Promises Energy

SENATOR OBAMA SPOKE ABOUT new energy for America today:
"If I am President, I will immediately direct the full resources of the federal government and the full energy of the private sector to a single, overarching goal – in ten years, we will eliminate the need for oil from the entire Middle East and Venezuela. To do this, we will invest $150 billion over the next ten years and leverage billions more in private capital to build a new energy economy that harnesses American energy and creates five million new American jobs."
Oh dear, I don't think I like the sounds of this. Notice first that Senator Obama promises, if President, to direct the full energy of the private sector. Oh my, I wonder what the Senator has been reading to think that he can direct the full energy of the private sector? If the Senator, as President, could direct the full energy of the private sector toward anything, then would there be a private sector?

Quick get out your copy of the Constitution, and see if the President has the constitutional power to direct the full energy of the private sector. Nope, I can't find this power listed there, can you?

So, what do you suppose he means when he says "the full energy of the private sector?" The private sector encompasses an awful lot of stuff, including resources directed to producing homes, schooling, restaurants, baseball bats, golf clubs, tennis shoes, cell phones, and of course this list has to be enormously long. Does he really want to direct the full energy of the private sector to just one goal?

I must say, I see such a campaign promise to reveal the Senator as someone who may well understand virtually nothing of "the basic principles upon which this civilization was built."

And, then of course, even though I think he has taught constitutional law, he may not have consulted his copy of the constitution lately. Because the second thing I note is that he promises to direct the full resources of the federal government to his one favorite goal. Again, I'm not liking the sounds of this. I believe a great deal of the power that will be necessary to accomplish directing the full resources of the federal government has to be power that is, as a matter of our constitution, the power of Congress.

Now, this is starting to sound a bit familiar to me. I can't quite pull from my memory where I've heard this sort of thing done before. Hmmm. Wait a minute, something is coming to me. Yep, I've got it now. President Chavez of Venezuela, didn't he decide to essentially become the government so he could direct the full resources of the government to his purposes? And, didn't President Chavez decide to "nationalize" oil so that he could direct the full energy of what was a private oil sector in the economy?

But of course, there is still more in the one paragraph of promises quoted above. When the Senator says "we will invest" I wonder who the "we" is? I'm afraid he is not talking about investing his own money or the money of his family or even the money of his campaign. I'm afraid he's talking about investing some of the money I will earn over the next 10 years. Oh my, the Senator and his friends in Washington already have plans for "investing" a significant part of the money I will earn over the next 10 years for social security checks and medicare payments for the retired (i.e., those no longer earning an income).

Of course, the President doesn't have the power to tax, and the President doesn't have the power to create a budget for the federal government. So, maybe the President has already talked this over with Congress, and the "we" is both the President and the Congress. Or, maybe the Senator is simply making a grand promise he well knows he cannot keep by his own actions alone.

Or, maybe the Senator and his friends have some pretty grand plans for our government that are quite inconsistent with "the basic principles upon which this civilization was built."

And, I haven't even noted his reference to "leverage" billions in private capital. Enough is enough! At least for now.

Friday, August 01, 2008

What If Iraq Works?

Victor Davis Hanson considers the future of power & prosperity in Iraq:
"Iraq could still degenerate into one of those models. But for now, Iraq -- with an elected government and free press -- is not investing its wealth in subsidizing terrorists outside its borders, spreading abroad fundamentalist madrassas, building centrifuges or allowing a few thousand royal first cousins to squander its oil profits.

Iraq for the last 20 years was the worst place in the Middle East. The irony is that it may now have the most promising future in the entire region."