Posts Tagged ‘congress’

Working in Wisconsin.

25. February 2011

Last week I had three tests and a mock trial tournament that I had to attend to, so I was somewhat out of the loop, merely breezing past most headlines in my RSS reader and largely skipping the first section of the Wall Street Journal, opting to go straight for the Money & Investing section. What I did manage to see was about Libya and Egypt for the most part. I had heard a little about what’s happening in Wisconsin from the guys at BoingBoing and while their coverage was rather tilted, it was still informative.

I took some time today to read up on what’s been going on. Wisconsin has no money for its public sector unions and the union members don’t want to lose their awesome benefit packages, which is understandable, as they have negotiated a rather sweet deal for themselves.

The following video was brought to my attention by the folks at Reason and created by the Heritage Foundation.

Now, obviously it’s slightly biased as it is from Heritage, but I think that the union supporters were given a reasonably fair chance to make their points. I noticed a few things in the videos that made me snicker, like the repeated references to Nazi Germany, the “Care about educators like they care for your children” signs and the prevailing “Us vs. The World” mentality exhibited by the union supporters and members.

The simple truth is this: this is both a union-busting bill and a budget bill. Of course the governor wants to bust the unions; they’re horribly inefficient, expensive and powerful and to boot, their ideology is largely homogeneous, which is a problem come election time. That they are inefficient and expensive are a large part of the budget problem, and to help bring the budget into line, things must be done to cut spending, which includes cutting union expenses.

The governor doesn’t want to cut spending on the unions because he hates the union members, he’s doing it because he can’t afford to do anything else. If he doesn’t cut union expenses, then he’ll have to cut from other budgets, and no one wants to see reduced budgets for state highway maintenance or education or whatever else state governments do that most people actually like. (As a libertarian, I have trouble naming any state programs that I wouldn’t mind seeing cut, either marginally or in their entirety. Use your imagination for this bit if you don’t mind.)

I just don’t see why teachers and postal workers and the like need collective bargaining. I really don’t understand it. If a teacher can’t teach, why should they keep their job? What is it about working for the government that changes the broadest requirements for keeping one’s job: being able to do that job? Teachers are, as they claim, some of the most important people in societies; the information they give to kids effectively shapes the future. They might ought to get more money for what they do, and if we privatized the system, I’d wager that they actually would. The trade-off, though, is that they would have to produce results that justify that extra money, and they might not have a job if they’re bad enough.

Wisconsin public-sector union employees, you’ve just got to hold your breath and get through the next few years. The perk of working for the government is increased job security. The trade-off is reduced compensation. You can’t have both, and you risk additional reductions in compensation when your employer, the government, is having a bad year or decade, as it were, just as private non-union employees do. But at least you don’t have to be as worried about being fired. Unfortunately for the taxpayers, I’m sure you’ll be back at your original compensation levels or higher when revenues go back up.

Follow-Up on the PATRIOT Act.

9. February 2011

Well, you all did it, congratulations! The PATRIOT Act failed to receive the necessary two-thirds of votes necessary to pass it on the suspension calendar, so the three provisions that were set to expire will now do so, it seems. They were eight votes short of the two-thirds majority and the eight votes that were being counted upon by the GOP leadership that did not vote for the Act were all tea party freshmen. To them, I extend my greatest thanks.

I know my Representative voted for the legislation again, but if you don’t know how yours voted, you can go here and see. Democrats are italicized, Republicans are not, North Texan representatives are all in the Yea box.

As this was assumed by all–including me, to be honest–to be a sure thing to vote to extend the sunset provision, I believe that this has been an important step in refocusing our nation’s security practices back into the realm of constitutionality and sanity. When we find that the government’s capacity to “keep its citizens safe” (although that is fully an impossibility, but I will address this fact in a separate post) is not diminished after the hopeful retirement of the PATRIOT Act, I hope that we as a nation will see how silly and counterproductive that legislation was.

What good is living “safely” if you are not free to live securely in your person, without fear of arbitrary and unannounced government intrusion therein?

USA PATRIOT Act.

7. February 2011

The USA PATRIOT Act is up for reauthorization in the House tomorrow. Unfortunately, there are only forty minutes of scheduled debate and no opportunities for amendments. Please write your Representative and tell them not to vote for it under these conditions. The PATRIOT Act abridges your rights in the name of national security. A power so unlimited in the hands of the government deserves to be well-regulated and well-debated.

If you would like to write your Representative, I have a form letter below that you may feel free to use, or you may compose your own email.

Representative __________,
I implore you, do not vote for a suspension calendar with the USA PATRIOT Act on it. Though terrorism can be a threat, there are more effective ways to fight it than allowing for a suspension of Americans’ constitutional rights and allowing roving wiretaps, secret searches and other breaches of personal privacy and security.

You certainly have the security of the nation at heart, of that I have no doubt, but I beg you to recognize that by supporting an Act of dubious constitutionality and the restriction of law-abiding Americans’ rights, you might be inadvertently bringing about the end goal of the terrorists: the destruction of the American society which you and I both value so greatly.

Thank you for your time,
YOUR NAME HERE

If you would like to write your Representative but are unsure who that is, you may quickly find that information here.

Come Now, Mr. Krugman. Zombies?

20. December 2010

William Anderson of the Mises Institute brought this to my attention via my RSS feed. Paul Krugman, the persistent pest that he is, writes in his column today of the failure of free-market economics to accurately predict the future. I can find no real event that gives cause to this little rant of Krugman’s, but really, when isn’t a good time to compose a half-cocked column for publication in a nationally-read newspaper to confuse the masses?

Of course, when one ignores pertinent information and incorrectly defines the problem, it seems as if Austrians (and quasi-Austrians in the Reagan tradition of thought) were just plain stupid. Let’s start at the beginning.

How, after runaway banks brought the economy to its knees, did we end up with Ron Paul, who says “I don’t think we need regulators,” about to take over a key House panel overseeing the Fed?

Well, let’s first take this in context. Rep. Paul, who currently finds himself at the forefront of the popular libertarian movement, is in favor of abolishing the Fed. As the newly appointed Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy, he’s going to try to shed some light on what exactly is happening in that veritable lockbox of secrets commonly known as “the Fed.” Now, some of my other younger libertarian friends are Ron Paul enthusiasts; I find and acknowledge many points of his philosophy that seem to contradict other parts, and as such, I cannot fully defend him. But I do think that an increase in the flow of information is a good thing, and would support Rep. Paul in his quest to bring a change about in this vein at the Fed. But this quote from Paul is taken out of context; at the very least, he wants more regulation of the Fed. He wants to restrict the ability of the Fed to act. And then there’s the debate about whether a decrease in regulation is a bad thing, but that’s just an idealogical point that will not be resolved.

For the fact is that the Obama stimulus — which itself was almost 40 percent tax cuts — was far too cautious to turn the economy around. And that’s not 20-20 hindsight: many economists, myself included, warned from the beginning that the plan was grossly inadequate. Put it this way: A policy under which government employment actually fell, under which government spending on goods and services grew more slowly than during the Bush years, hardly constitutes a test of Keynesian economics.

You know, I have to give Krugman something. He did say that the plan was grossly inadequate. I wouldn’t bandy it about that I was calling for more of a plan that wasn’t going to work, but Krugman seems to like to do things like that, and to each his own. However, he’s wrong about government employment falling; you can see here that he’s wrong. It’s grown since 2008, and that’s not even counting the temporary census workers. Krugman contends that “government spending on goods and services” has grown “more slowly than during the Bush years.” That is one of the vaguest contentions I have ever heard. Of course, there are no facts, no data by which I might look deeper into this claim. I’m not even sure exactly what he means by this, actually. Government spending on goods and services? Does this mean subsidization of the private sector? Bailouts? Overall spending? I don’t know, but this is a poorly-written, vaguely-phrased sentence of which I think no one can really make a definitive heads or tails.

For two years we’ve been warned that inflation, even hyperinflation, was just around the corner; instead, disinflation has continued, with core inflation — which excludes volatile food and energy prices — now at a half-century low.

As I stated earlier this year, the banks aren’t lending. All of the money they were given by the Fed is sitting in the Fed’s vaults as excess reserves, accruing interest, not being lent. There are a few reason for this, namely that interest paid by the Fed on excess reserves is effectively greater than the overnight rate, or the Fed Funds Rate. Ben Bernanke (who looks like my dog) has acknowledged this. If the banks had been lending, however, there would be a inestimably high rate of inflation. This is simple economics; when there is an excess supply of funds, the value of said funds is diminished, and when there is a huge excess supply of funds, the value of said funds are hugely diminished. Which leads to inflation. It’s only by the simple fact that the banks are reluctant to lend that we aren’t suffering from crippling inflation.

The free-market fundamentalists have been as wrong about events abroad as they have about events in America — and suffered equally few consequences. “Ireland,” declaredGeorge Osborne in 2006, “stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking.” Whoops. But Mr. Osborne is now Britain’s top economic official.

Well now. This seems to make “free-market fundamentalists” seem rather silly, doesn’t it. However, the Irish made the same mistake our American banks did. They lent money to those who shouldn’t have been lent to. The banks took actions inconsistent with the principle of self-interest and therefore with Austrian economics, or “free market fundamentalism,” as Mr. Krugman stated it. But other things about Irish policy, like their low tax rates, are good and in keeping with Austrian principles. The actions of the banks in lending to those to whom money should not have been lent could actually be construed as Keynesian; any spending is good spending, neh?

And then there’s the grand finale: zombies.

But such failures don’t seem to matter. To borrow the title of a recent book by the Australian economist John Quiggin on doctrines that the crisis should have killed but didn’t, we’re still — perhaps more than ever — ruled by “zombie economics.” Why?

Zombie economics are so called because they keep rising from the dead. Presumably, Krugman means free-market/Austrian policies as zombie-like. I must warn you, at this time, all pretense of being an economic column is dropped and Krugman begins the outright fawning over President Obama.

People tend to forget that Ronald Reagan often gave ground on policy substance — most notably, he ended up enacting multiple tax increases. But he never wavered on ideas, never backed down from the position that his ideology was right and his opponents were wrong.

President Obama, by contrast, has consistently tried to reach across the aisle by lending cover to right-wing myths. He has praised Reagan for restoring American dynamism (when was the last time you heard a Republican praising F.D.R.?), adopted G.O.P. rhetoric about the need for the government to tighten its belt even in the face of recession, offered symbolic freezes on spending and federal wages.

None of this stopped the right from denouncing him as a socialist. But it helped empower bad ideas, in ways that can do quite immediate harm. Right now Mr. Obama is hailing the tax-cut deal as a boost to the economy — but Republicans are already talking about spending cuts that would offset any positive effects from the deal. And how effectively can he oppose these demands, when he himself has embraced the rhetoric of belt-tightening?

Translation: Obama’s a great guy who’s trying to work with these terrible Republicans who adhere to these stupid zombified economic policies, except that they don’t because they support things that aren’t justifiable with a free market outlook. And Obama, this great man, really isn’t all that great because he’s acting more like a free marketeer than the damnable Republicans, but he’s still our great Keynesian savior except that he needs to do more.

Now, I know that Krugman being wrong about things isn’t really groundbreaking, but this was one of his more obscenely wrong posts in a while.

On the Futility of Term Limits.

7. November 2010

There’s a big divide within the conservative/Republican/tea party world about term limits. I’ve seen signs at tea party rallies calling for term limits on Congressmen and I’ve talked to others about why term limits are the wrong choice in trying to control Congress. After hearing what people have to say about term limits, I’ve reached the conclusion that they are wholly unnecessary.

Those who support instituting term limits generally hold Congressmen like Barney Frank and the late Sen. Kennedy as examples of the perpetual incumbency allowed by our current system. They say that the presidency has been term limited, and that it should rightly follow that the Congress ought to also be limited in that fashion. These are good points and show failings inherent in our political system.

What those people forget is that the burden of ensuring good governance lies not on the heads of the governors but on those of the governed. We cannot rely on the mechanisms of government to save us from scheming politicians, or even ones who have simply outstayed their usefulness in Washington. To do so would go against the spirit of the Constitution, imbued in it by the Founders during its construction. A successful democracy depends on active participants both elected and electing.

We have faith in elections and respect their results because we know that they reflect the wishes of those who made the effort to voice their opinion. If the same people keep winning their seat we must only assume that it is because their constituents are satisfied with their performance. The only effective means to voice dissatisfaction is to vote the politician in question out of office. Term limits barricade the people from voicing their true opinions. What happens if, like in Rep. Ron Paul’s district, the people actually like their elected official? He has been reelected a number of times, but would have been forbidden to do so had he been subjected to term limits. In short, it is up to the people to elect a new representative if they believe the current one is not doing his job well enough. If no one is running against him, they must find and elect someone who will.

As a response to the argument about the presidential term limits, I can only implore people to remember that his term limit was imposed not by the Founders but as an amendment in the twentieth century. It was not in the original design of the Constitution and while it may suit the office of the President, it is not as easily applicable to Congress. A President is not directly elected by the people and it could therefore be argued that a term limit should be imposed to serve as a barrier to abuse of power. Congressmen of both houses are elected directly now, and it is in this way that we can ensure that the representatives will be voted out of office when the time comes.