Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Predator Government

"But the biggest lesson here is the old one that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance -- beginning with insistence on the rule of law. Americans clearly cannot trust their elected officials to defend their rights and interests, or care whether justice is served, when the slightest political risk might attach to doing so.

Which brings us back to Mr. Cuomo, whose office has been implicitly threatening to publish names of AIG employees who don't relinquish pay they were contractually entitled to.

Mr. Cuomo is a thug, but at least he reminds us: It can happen here."
It seems that only 2-3 months in to a new government in Washington that government is becoming more and more predatory. In order to spend more today and grow government in size, Washington is borrowing heavily against the future productivity and incomes of our kids and grandkids. Government is laying claim to the incomes of people who aren't even able to vote yet. (Talk about taxation without representation, eh?) Government is buying into businesses and industries in the name of ending a "crisis" and then it follows with efforts to control salaries and even business plans. Government one day passes a law that guarantees to enforce contractually agreed to bonuses to productive employees, and then the next it seeks to confiscate those very bonus payments. Stories abound out of Washington that people in government are looking high and low for any new source for increased taxation. There are many other government actions at the national, state, and local levels of government that could be included here.

In POWER AND PROSPERITY Mancur Olson explains that there are some basic necessary conditions for prosperity. These necessary conditions boil down to the strict enforcement of private property rights, which includes the strict enforcement of voluntary contracts, and a lack of predation. When government itself becomes the biggest predator, and when government begins to violate rather than enforce private property and voluntary contracts, these necessary conditions for prosperity are significantly diminished. After just 3 months into 2009 the actions of government suggest that our country's future prosperity is likely to be significantly diminished.

Monday, March 23, 2009

President Deficit & Debt

"President Obama's 2010 budget looks more astounding by the day, especially when someone other than the White House budget office is analyzing it. The latest case of epic sticker shock came Friday when the Congressional Budget Office published its assessment, which found that the proposals would increase the federal deficit by $2.3 trillion more over 10 years than the White House had claimed.

[ . . . ]

And by the way, all of this is without including the costs of Mr. Obama's plan to offer "free" health care for the middle class. The White House budget includes only a "down payment" on health care, with every serious person figuring it will cost at least $1.2 trillion, and probably more. Incredibly, Democrats on Capitol Hill are, with White House encouragement, talking about jamming health care through Congress with a special procedure that requires only 50 Senate votes."
I'm reminded of the rock song lyric: "The future's so bright I gotta wear shades." If the President and the Congress are allowed to continue expanding national government, our kids and grandkids can probably save a little money for their taxes by dumping the shades.

Perhaps we should beware the "special procedure." Not only is the national government looking to grow and get bigger, but it seems that this President and this Congress may be getting more predatory as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The President's Power

"President Barack Obama and his West Wing lieutenants are playing on the world's largest stage, yet act as if no one is watching them when they contradict their campaign promises. That behavior is unwittingly giving the Republicans an opening.

For example, Team Obama thinks the president, having spent a good portion of the campaign decrying the $2.9 trillion in deficits during the Bush years, can now double the national debt held by the public in 10 years. Having condemned earmarks during the campaign, the Obama administration now believes it can wave through 8,500 of them in the omnibus-spending bill, part of the biggest spending increase since World War II.

With the Dow at 7,486 and unemployment at 8.1%, Mr. Obama says the economy is fundamentally sound. Does he suppose the nation won't recall him attacking John McCain last September for saying the same thing -- when the Dow was at 11,000 and unemployment at 6.2%?"
I have to wonder, does the President think "we the people" are rationally ignorant or rationally irrational?

Here is Mr. Rove's parting observation:
Every president eventually depletes his political capital. Some have done so advancing great, difficult causes. Others squander it because of missteps, and what the public views as breaches of faith. Having been president for all of eight weeks, Mr. Obama retains much residual goodwill and could still change course on the budget to reach across the aisle. But his current strategy has made him weaker than he was and weaker than he needs to be. It's turning into a costly two months for America's 44th president.
Just a week ago, I discussed with my students in my public choice course whether the Congressional leadership or this President had the greater power. Even with all the good will and support President Obama garnered in his election, perhaps he is too young and too inexperienced to effectively use the potential power of the Presidency? Does it seem he is still campaigning rather than governing?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Endless Screwups

"Our political class lacks the self-discipline needed to handle a crisis. They’re too busy reacting to headlines, polls, and fears of headlines and polls. The result is . . . well, endless screwups like this."
Maybe we should say this is the basic source of government failure, eh?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tax My Products, Please

WSJ commentary:
"Mr. Mulally offered his own solution to the mismatch, artfully explaining that we needed to 'involve the consumer in our energy policy.' In case anyone missed his point, Michael Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, the largest auto dealer in the country, was more explicit: 'Mr. Mulally said it very elegantly last night and I will say it more straightforward. We need more expensive gasoline.'

While last year's energy spike briefly encouraged small-car sales, Mr. Jackson complained that those sales have plummeted with gas prices. "I have fuel-efficient vehicles parked at my dealerships as far as the eye can see. I can't give them away." He figures a tax that guarantees a gas-price floor of $4 a gallon is a "good start." Mr. Mulally, for his part, talked about how good Ford's sales of small cars were in Europe, and that "one of the reasons is that gasoline and diesel is somewhere between seven and nine dollars a gallon."

So: The U.S. government mandates fuel-economy standards that force Detroit to make cars Americans don't want to drive. When Detroit loses money on those cars, Washington throws taxpayer dollars at its mistake, and the car makers demand a tax increase that would prod Americans to buy the unpopular cars that Washington mandates. As for what the American consumer or taxpayer wants -- or can afford in today's economy -- who cares? Welcome to government-run energy policy."

For those of you who have read Mancur Olson's The Rise and Decline of Nations, isn't this just a "textbook" illustration of sclerosis?

Folly & Washington Finger Pointing

A very interesting story is told today in a WALL STREET JOURNAL commentary:
"Taxpayers have already put up $173 billion, or more than a thousand times the amount of those bonuses, to fund the government's AIG 'rescue.' This federal takeover, never approved by AIG shareholders, uses the firm as a conduit to bail out other institutions. After months of government stonewalling, on Sunday night AIG officially acknowledged where most of the taxpayer funds have been going.

Since September 16, AIG has sent $120 billion in cash, collateral and other payouts to banks, municipal governments and other derivative counterparties around the world. This includes at least $20 billion to European banks. The list also includes American charity cases like Goldman Sachs, which received at least $13 billion. This comes after months of claims by Goldman that all of its AIG bets were adequately hedged and that it needed no "bailout." Why take $13 billion then? This needless cover-up is one reason Americans are getting angrier as they wonder if Washington is lying to them about these bailouts."
Have you ever been suspicious when the those in the Washington political class are out in front of the cameras pointing fingers? I've come to suspect that when this happens the finger pointing is about trying to play offense to cover up the mistakes of government. The WSJ suggests this is the reason for the fingers pointing and wagging over greedy others right now:
The politicians also prefer to talk about AIG's latest bonus payments because they deflect attention from Washington's failure to supervise AIG. The Beltway crowd has been selling the story that AIG failed because it operated in a shadowy unregulated world and cleverly exploited gaps among Washington overseers. Said President Obama yesterday, "This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed." That's true, but Washington doesn't want you to know that various arms of government approved, enabled and encouraged AIG's disastrous bet on the U.S. housing market.

Scott Polakoff, acting director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, told the Senate Banking Committee this month that, contrary to media myth, AIG's infamous Financial Products unit did not slip through the regulatory cracks. Mr. Polakoff said that the whole of AIG, including this unit, was regulated by his agency and by a "college" of global bureaucrats.
Here is the bottom line to the commentary:
The Washington crowd wants to focus on bonuses because it aims public anger on private actors, not the political class. But our politicians and regulators should direct some of their anger back on themselves -- for kicking off AIG's demise by ousting Mr. Greenberg, for failing to supervise its bets, and then for blowing a mountain of taxpayer cash on their AIG nationalization.
Of course the people of government will not blame themselves. They will instead try to help us overlook their accountability. As Ronald Reagan famously said, government is not the solution, government is the problem. It seems folly to turn to government thinking government can fix a mess it's earlier actions helped create.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mankiw's Lessons From The President's Budget

GREG MANKIW takes a look at President Obama's first budget proposal. He finds several lessons revealed in this proposal: (1) he is an economic optimist, especially concerning his PLAN (assumes 4% growth rate in the economy over the next 4 years), (2) he likes to spend, (3) he is serious about climate change, and (4) he is a deficit dove (i.e., the deficits are rising with his plans).

I guess I'm not surprised by any of the lessons Mankiw sees in the President's first budget. His campaign speeches suggested he would be a big spender, and of course if so, then most likely he would really be a deficit dove. And, what President wouldn't choose a rosy scenario for economic growth when assuming the President's PLAN for government and the economy was implemented?

But, it seems to me the assumption of 4% growth over the next 4 years is quite inconsistent with assuming the President will successfully impose carbon cap-and-trade policies. If government policy forces significant additional reductions in carbon emissions, the relative prices of energy will be much increased, which will reduce both consumption and production.

Here is the bottom line in Mankiw's commentary:
"So if you are a deficit hawk who lamented the Bush budget deficits, the new president’s budget should not make you feel much better. President Obama offers different fiscal priorities than President Bush did: less military spending, more domestic spending and higher marginal tax rates to “spread the wealth around.” But the borrowing and debt imposed on future generations will not be very different, at least if the numbers in the Obama administration’s own budget document can be trusted."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Cookie Cartel

Wild Freeborn — adorable and age 8 — has caused considerable hubbub with entrepreneurial spirit and a little homemade video.

"Help me help others. Buy cookies. They're yummy," little Wild says in her one-minute sales pitch for Thin Mints, Samoas and other traditional mainstays of Girl Scout cookie cuisine.

The modest message included an online order form, was videotaped by her father, Bryan Freeborn, in the family living room in Brevard, N.C., and posted at

[ . . . ]

The Girl Scouts were not pleased with Wild's intention to sell 12,000 boxes of cookies and help send her troop to summer camp. The organization ordered the video removed from the social-networking site on the grounds that it violated a policy that bars online sales of Girl Scout cookies. Officials were also concerned that Wild's methods could put less techno-enabled young ladies at a disadvantage.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Federal Government Changes Size

GREG MANKIW looks at federal outlays as a percent of GDP, which seems to be something President Obama wants to change in the direction of larger and larger:
"HOW WILL IT ALL END? Over the last century, the largest increase in the size of the government occurred during the Great Depression and World War II. Even after these crises were over, they left a legacy of higher spending and taxes. To this day, we have yet to come to grips with how to pay for all that the government created during that era — a problem that will become acute as more baby boomers retire and start collecting the benefits promised.

Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, has said, “You don’t ever want to let a crisis go to waste: it’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.”

What he has in mind is not entirely clear. One possibility is that he wants to use a temporary crisis as a pretense for engineering a permanent increase in the size and scope of the government. Believers in limited government have reason to be wary."

The Corruption Continues

"Speaking of earmarks, they've quickly made a comeback even by the old definition. The $410 billion omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2009 now making its way through Congress contains at least 8,570 of them at a cost of $7.7 billion. Mr. Obama is not signaling any concern, much less a veto."
Please read this short editorial. We should all be paying attention. The corruption in Washington continues. It seems to me the corruption that is represented by earmarks is not being changed to un-corruption, but instead the direction of change we seem to be able to count out is a deepening of the corruption.

The number of earmarks in this omnibus spending bill alone represents, on average, about 20 personally determined, secret, spending projects for each member of Congress. In dollar terms, this means about $18 million is being spent secretly by each member of Congress.

Monday, March 02, 2009

President's Road Map?

"The budget the president released last week, however, does provide some certainty about where we are headed: higher taxes on small businesses, work and capital investment.

Add to this the costly burdens of a cap-and-trade carbon emissions scheme and an effective nationalization of health care, and it is clear that the government is going to grow while the economy will shrink. In a nutshell, the president's budget seemingly seeks to replace the American political idea of equalizing opportunity with the European notion of equalizing results."
It seems to me this is the President's vision of the future, and it's not a vision I like? What do you say?