Another good reason to elect ex-military people to political office

I am something of a sybarite.  Not in a big way, but in a little way.  I like two creature comforts:  a very comfortable bed (a liking that grows more important as I get older and suffer from fairly chronic insomnia) and I like to have my own bathroom, complete with all the amenities.  Give me those and a computer, and I’ll be a pretty happy person.

I read in the WSJ today, however, that a lot of the incoming Representatives (i.e., Republicans) are planning on saving money and showing their commitment to their home towns by camping out in their offices.  My first thought was, “that’s laudable.”  My second was, “I”d never do that.”  I did get a little insight into the kind of people who can make this (to me) sacrifice, though, when I read this (emphasis mine):

Earlier this month, freshman lawmakers drew lots and chose the three-room suites they and their aides will inhabit in one of three House office buildings.

For many of them, a key selling point was not proximity to the House chamber, where they’ll vote, but to the House gym, where they’ll shower.

Rep.-elect Tim Griffin, an Army reservist, stood near the gym in the Rayburn House Office Building and used some compass software on his phone to navigate the paths to potential offices.

There’s your answer, right?  After the rigors of the military, an office near a shower is tolerable.  For me, after the luxuries of suburban life, anything less than mine, mine, mine is hard to contemplate.

Watcher of Weasels, post-Thanksgiving edition

The Watchers Council members tore themselves away from their turkey and stuffing just long enough to vote on the past week’s wonderful submissions.  Here are the results (also, be sure to watch the video the Watcher included with the results):

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

Changing American expectations

When I was a child, filling the gas tank was the cheapest part of owning a car.  Houses were also warm.  As long as my father was earning money (which wasn’t always the case), during the winter we heated our house to a comfortable 72 degrees.  Then, in 1974, the first energy crisis heat.  Gasoline got expensive, changing our car buying and our car driving habits.  And during the winter, our house went down to 68 degrees.

Fast forward almost 40 years and, while world leaders are fussing about global warming, ordinary people are contemplating alternative energy cars simply because they can’t afford to spend $120 a week to put gas in their fuel tanks.  We’ve also continued to downgrade our expectations within our homes.  My house is a toasty 62 degrees on this chilly day because the heating bills are too exorbitant otherwise.  We Americans have been scaled down.  Way down.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the expectations a nation’s citizens have will affect political structure.  The lower the expectations, the more willing citizens are to accept heavy, top-down control.  I ruminate on that at greater length here:

As is often the case, a great American songwriter nailed it.  Alan Jay Lerner, putting words in Henry Higgins’ mouth in My Fair Lady, had him sing:

An Englishman’s way of speaking
Absolutely classifies him
The moment he talks
He makes some other Englishmen despise him

If you know you’re going to be despised no matter what, you don’t aspire, you just gracefully expire, locked forever into your own low expectations.

Life just keeps interfering with blogging *UPDATED*

I’ve got to run an errand this morning — one of those time is of the essence errands — so the best I can do is to leave you with some choice material from other bloggers.

A good start is the Anchoress (Elizabeth Scalia) on Bono and other earth worshippers.  Or, as the New Editor reports, as far as Gaia-worshippers are concerned, we have met the enemy and he is us.

Roger Simon, with a little help, distilled the essence of the Wikileaks documents.

More to follow.

Here’s some of the more I promised:  Lee Smith and J.E. Dyer on the fact that what the Wikileaks information does primarily is vindicate the conservative view of foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Middle East.

Political Animal Totems

Many American Indians (I can’t speak for all) identified animal spirit totems that helped guide the individual in life and defined who they were. Animal spirit totems also helped other individual discern qualities in individuals. Often, spirit totems were animals defined by qualities that the American Indian admired and sought to emulate, such as craftiness (coyote), power and endurance (bear) or wealth and generosity (buffalo).

So, here’s my question: what animal totems would you associate with today’s current crop of politicians?

George W. Bush always reminded me of a hawk. Sarah Palin, married to an American Indian, has openly adopted the Mama Grizzly as her totem. After watching the 2nd of her “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” series (via Comcast), I am very much convinced that President Obama’s totem is a halibut.

Does anyone else want a go?

Wikileaks — obvious, yet still dangerous, stuff spread by wicked people and useful idiots *UPDATED*

I haven’t had time (nor do I have the will) to pay close attention to the myriad revelations in the Wikileaks documents.  My overall sense, though, is that, fact-wise, there is nothing new here — or, at least, nothing new to those of us paying attention.  All of us at Bookworm Room have known that Saudi Arabia is terrified of a nuclear Iran, and I’ve posited for years that this fear would drive the non-nuclearized Arab nations closer to Israel.  For all their huffery and puffery, the Arabs have always known that Israel will not use the bomb unless provoked, whereas they fully understand that a nuclear Iran is a truly armed and dangerous rogue nation.

Speaking of rogue nations, we have also known that China has happily provided nuclear technology to any bad actor willing to pay for it.  Nothing new here.  Move along.  Don’t crowd the sidewalk.

The fact that the Wikileaks material is factually uninteresting, though, doesn’t change its spectacular capacity for being damaging.  Max Boot, I think, puts it as well as anyone can, in a post telling titled “Journalism that knows no shame“:

One can understand if the editors of the New York Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel have no respect for the secrecy needed to wage war successfully — especially unpopular wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are, after all, the sorts of people who, over a few drinks, would no doubt tell you that diplomacy is far preferable to war-making. But it seems that they have no respect for the secrecy that must accompany successful diplomacy either. That, at least, is the only conclusion I can draw from their decision to once again collaborate with an accused rapist to publicize a giant batch of stolen State Department cables gathered by his disreputable organization, WikiLeaks.

I risk sounding like a stuffy, striped-pants diplomat myself if I say that the conduct of all concerned is reprehensible and beneath contempt. But that’s what it is, especially because the news value of the leaks is once again negligible. As with the previous releases of military reports, the WikiLeaks files only fill in details about what has generally already been known. Those details have the potential to cause acute embarrassment — or even end the lives of — those who have communicated with American soldiers or officials, but they do little to help the general public to understand what’s going on.

I urge you to read the whole thing.

In a way, these leaks give new meaning to Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase, “the banality of evil.”  She was talking about the horrible ordinariness of the Nazis, who clung to their middle class lives even as they engaged in unparalleled atrocities.  These leaks are a different banal evil:  even though the information released is known (Saudi fear of Iran) or stupid (e.g., Qaddafi’s blond nurse), making it mostly banal, the profound damage that results from these leaks (the deaths, the national humiliations, the destruction of necessary diplomatic ignorance) is profoundly evil.

I join with others in wondering why Assange is still alive.  I’m willing to bet, though, that now that it’s not just the Americans being humiliated, Assange’s days are numbered.

By the way, if you want more information about the leak’s contents and the security implications (worldwide) arising from the leaks, as well as links to good articles on the subject, you can’t do better than Melissa Clouthier’s post.

UPDATE:  A reminder that the newspapers aren’t utterly without morals or decency.  While they don’t want to exercise it when national security is at issue, they were happy to exercise it when climate change fraud was under legitimate attack.

UPDATE II:  Two excellent articles from Barry Rubin about Wikileaks.  As always, his optimism — allied with actual facts and sound analysis — is a useful antidote to the gloom and doom that characterizes most other writing on just about any subject.  Check out Spengler too.

UPDATE II:  Another “check it out” is Omri Ceren’s post on Israel and Iran as seen through the Wikileaks — and just how wrong the Obama administration was.  (As if that’s a big surprise.)

Back. Not yet in the groove, but back.

We just returned home after an eight hour journey up I-5.  Whew!  It wasn’t too terrible, though, despite the long drive.  We didn’t get stuck on the Grapevine, where a storm was brewing; the car performed perfectly; no one got sick; we had no scary traffic moments; and the kids watched the old Dick Van Dyke show, which is fun to hear, even if you can’t see what’s going on.

Barring a few glances here and there, I pretty much stayed away from the news for the whole five day weekend.  It seemed important to me to focus on family and take a break from my news obsession.  I returned as obsessed as ever but definitely feeling mentally refreshed.

I’m getting the house ready now for re-entry into normal life, and I’m assiduously avoiding the news now too.  Tomorrow morning is soon enough to break away from the Thanksgiving spirit and become acquainted again with all the ickies out there (including the Wikileaks garbage).

Until I get up and running, please feel free to treat this as an Open Thread.  Or better yet, if you haven’t already done so, enjoy reading the wonderful posts that DQ and Danny did.  I can’t thank them enough for taking the time and energy to make such thoughtful, erudite and enjoyable contributions to this blog while I was away, dining decadently on delicious turkey and other beautifully prepared Thanksgiving viands.

SADIE’S post on Iceland and the Fatal Conceit

SADIE submitted the following comment and link to one of my earlier posts, which merits its own discussion:

Iceland is drawing up a new constitution
(they’re currently using a revised Danish version)

The constitutional assembly will be made up of 25 to 31 delegates, the final number to be determined by a gender and equality ratio.

It will be made up of regular citizens elected by direct personal voting.

Anyone is eligible to stand for election, with the exceptions of the president, lawmakers and the committee appointed to organize the assembly.

They will use material from project earlier this year in which 1,000 randomly chosen Icelanders — aged 18-89 — offered their views on what should be in the constitution.

523 people are in the running. Truck drivers, university professors, lawyers, journalists and computer geeks are all among the candidates. All have been given equal air time on Icelandic radio to make their platforms known.

This is interesting to me, in light of DQ’s early comments regarding the appeal of socialism: Iceland is a tiny country, more like a small town. Its population of 300,000 is uniquely homogenous. On a trip to Iceland a number of years ago, my host pointed out Iceland’s president, seated in his car parked at the curb, reading a newspaper. More like a mayor, really. People would walk up to him and share their concerns of the day.

I submit that, in a small town, it is easier to govern in a socialistic manner whereby the “state” represents and is accountable for the electorate’s well-being. Those in need can be looked after by and held accountable to their neighbors. Those that fail to contribute can be shunned or penalized. Can this work in large, more diversified countries?

One of Friedrich Hayek’s other memorable publications (after Road to Serfdom) was The Fatal Conceit: the Errors of Socialism , in which one of the arguments he made was that socialism reflects an ingrained longing in people for the perceived simplicity and interdependency of small communities (villages or shtetls) , that have defined most of recorded human experience.

In small communities, decisions can be made by popular vote and it is easier thereby to achieve consensus. In large, diverse societies, consensus is much more difficult to achieve and government dictates must more often be imposed by force.

So, along comes Lichtenstein’s Prince Hans-Adam II, monarch of an even more homogenous (and very capitalist, with the world’s highest GDP) country /village of 35,000 people, introducing his new book, The State of the Third Millenium, as profiled in the very excellent National Review’s “Uncommon Knowledge” interview series hosted by Peter Robinson. If you aren’t yet familiar with the “Uncommon Knowledge” interviews, I highly recommend this series!

In this interview, Prince Hans-Adam II promotes the idea that societies like the U.S. or the EU have simply become too big to govern and that we should consider a decentralization of governance to more local levels where the diversity of preferences can better be accommodated. In states such as Massachusetts or Vermont, where there is a strong preference for socialism, the states can govern themselves as socialist communities whereas people are free to move to and assemble in more capitalist, free-market states such as New Hampshire. Let the best model win!

I confess to a certain appeal to this model: what if the Federal government was able to dismantle all of our social welfare programs and distribute available monies to states based on populations (like Congressional seats) to utilize as they they saw fit, based on more local needs and preferences? Wisconsin might opt to apply such resources to education, whereas New York might apply them to social welfare payments. Ditto with regard to the relationship between states and communities: why should the State dictate education instead of the local communities that know best what the needs of their students would be? We are a highly mobile society and people would have an option to change their local societies from within or move.

The Federal government, meanwhile, would be best left to concentrate on those roles that it was originally empowered to pursue, such as defense or negotiation of foreign treaties.

Is there merit to this? How could it work? I see the appeal in such a system but have trouble discerning all its implications.

For example, how could such a model accommodate the virtually certain bankruptcies of states such as California, New York and Illinois (not a matter of “if” but “when”)? Is it fair that people can feed off the benefits of socialist systems in California and simply pick-up stakes and move away to rich, capitalist states such as Texas and Arizona and let the surviving residents of their former homes absorb the penalty of their demise (while corrupting the voting bodies of their new homes with the same failed ideas from whence they left)?

Your thoughts?

Do we have free will? Does God?

One reason I ceased to believe in God was that I was taught as I was growing up that God knew everything there was to know — past, present and future.  This necessarily meant that the future could currently be known with certainty.  Thus, every apparent exercise of free will was illusory.  I might feel like I am choosing option A over option B but, in fact, God already knew I was going to choose option A and I was not at liberty to choose option B in defiance of what God already knew would happen.  Despite appearances, I did not have free will.

For that matter, neither did God.  Can you imagine what it would be like to know with absolute certainty everything you were going to do for all eternity?  How boring and pointless to travel a predetermined path, especially one you know about in advance!  How boring to know everything about the future already and to never learn anything new!  I almost felt sorry for God.

In the end, I could not accept that neither I nor God had any free will at all. 

This comes to mind now for two reasons.  A commenter a couple of days ago commented on someone he knew who swore we had no free will, but acted every moment as if he believed he had free will.  The day before that, I visited the web site of a small religious group/school that a cousin of mine is now associated with.  The group had an extensive mission statement that asserted that we have free will and that God knows everything that will happen in the future, without making any attempt to reconcile the two and without even acknowledging that the two are inconsistent. 

Anyway, on this Sunday it seems reasonable to ask those of you who do believe in God, and especially those of you who believe in both God’s knowledge of the future and man’s free will — how do you reconcile the two beliefs?  The only answer I ever got when I was young and searching for answers was that some things are beyond our understanding, an answer which was always highly unsatisfactory to me. 

While I’m at it, two other quick questions about God.  First, if God is perfect, why did he create human beings (supposedly in his likeness) who are imperfect?  Why would perfection create imperfection, or even the possibility of imperfection?  If it is our fault that we chose a path of imperfection (eating the apple, as it were), why was God angry?  He already knew what we would do when he created us.  Why did he create us to make the worng decision, not the right one?

Second, we are constantly criticizing liberals for making their case based on emotions and belief, rather than cold hard facts.  Isn’t that what believers in God do?  Isn’t it ironic that conservatives who trust in fact-based arguments in this world are more likely to believe in a non-fact-based God than liberals, who trust to their emotions and beliefs in this world but reject a belief in God as not supported by the facts? Where are the cold hard facts supporting the existence of God?  Isn’t the fact that even believers have such trouble agreeing on who/what God is compelling evidence that man created God and not the other way around?

As always, thanks in advance for your comments and I hope I have not offended anyone with these ruminations.  If so, I apologize.  Please know I am seeking, not criticizing.

Need some answers about the national debt

In the comments in the Bookwormroom about liberals one common theme is that liberals cannot and will not argue from the facts.  I was planning to write a post about the national debt when I came across this web page.  Here is a liberal with facts.  For the most part, the discussion is pure, class-envy, rich-bashing, demagogic, liberal pap.  But the facts that are expressed in the charts are not so easy to dismiss. 

It is true that the national debt exploded under Reagan and the Bushes.  Either lowering taxes did not result in the expected increase in income, or the Congresses (Democrat and Republican) and Presidents (all Republicans) wildly overestimated the effect and overspent like crazy people.  By the way, the comments on post-WWII are interesting as well.  It is undeniable that the late 40s and the 50s were, despite a couple of recessions, a time of explosive growth, even though (and correct me if I’m wrong on this) marginal income tax rates were much higher than they are today.  Granted, other taxes like state income and sales taxes, and social security were lower, but still . . . 

This raises a number of interesting questions.  In light of the fact that the national debt increased so dramatically under Republican presidents, why should we expect Republicans to come any closer to getting a handle on that debt than Obama is doing?  Given that, as the charts demonstrate, the national debt is rapidly increasing even as a percentage of our national income, when do we reach the point of no return where merely paying interest on the debt makes addressing the problem impossible?  This problem has been put off temporarily by historically low interest rates.  But those won’t last forever.  Where does the government go to file for bankruptcy?

And, finally, to the point I intended to write about before I found that site.  What does it say about American that we have allowed this debt to exist?  We are piling up debt our children will have to pay for.  If we had simply stolen our children’s credit cards, gone on a spending spree and given the cards back for the children to pay for, it would have been considered immoral.  Why is it not equally immoral to do the same thing as a society?  Yet I rarely hear the national debt discussed in moral terms.  The discussion is all about the interpretation of the facts and what, if anything, can be done.  It seems that no one is willing to draw a line in the sand and say this must stop!  We cannot and will not as a society do this to our children!  I think that’s shameful. 

Of course, I shouldn’t just blame America.  It seems that every Western society has gone the route of living beyond its means.  What is it about our human nature that apparently not only allows us, but compels us, to harm our children in this way?  Are we really that selfish?

As to all of the above, especially the answer to what happened under recent Republican presidents, I look forward to your ideas.

What’s important to conservatives and liberals, or why they talk past each other

Recently, there have been many comments on this blog and elsewhere disparaging Liberals. It is difficult to have a conversation with them because they are too emotional and don’t think rationally like we do. They refuse to accept facts. Even more extreme charges that they are out to destroy marriage, destroy morality, destroy America.

Perhaps we should pause for a minute, take a deep breath, and talk about the real differences between conservatives and liberals. After all, we conservatives aren’t always all that realistic ourselves. A rising tide does not lift all boats; it drowns those who can’t or won’t swim hard to keep up (or whose boats leak).

Though there are variations within each group, conservatives are essentially capitalists and liberals are socialists. Capitalists emphasize the overall health and growth of the economy and argue, undoubtedly correctly, that capitalism best achieves this end. Socialists emphasize the equality of distribution of the assets of the economy and argue, undoubtedly correctly, that socialism best achieves this end. Put differently, conservatives believe the fairest system is, “From each according to his ability; to each according to his contribution to society.” Liberals believe the fairest system is “From each according to his ability; to each according to his existence.” (Note: not necessarily “according to his need,” which is why liberals can deny medical care to people who unquestionably need it, solely because it would not be cost effective and would take from everyone else.)

Conservatives are correct that the capitalist system produces the most health, growth, progress, etc. Liberals will try to argue the point because they can’t very well concede it, but they do not have the facts to support them. To conservatives, these liberals appear to be “stupid” or “emotional” or even “dishonest,” and conservatives come to the conclusion that we can’t have an intelligent, rational conversation with liberals. But the truth is, the liberals don’t care about health, growth and progress nearly as much as they do about “fairness” defined as equal distribution of wealth. They’ll argue, even without facts, just because they don’t want to admit conservatives are right about capitalism, but even those who know they are wrong, simply don’t care.

Liberals hope that people will work hard and produce just as much as before even without being rewarded for it, just out of a sense of obligation to the community or some such, a hope which conservatives know defies human nature. But liberals believe that even if they are wrong about this, the socialist system should be adopted anyway, because it produces the “fairest” outcome and that’s more important.

Liberals are statists because it is only though a controlling central government that the redistribution of wealth needed for their idea of “fairness” can happen. They attack religion, not because they really have anything against religion, but because it competes with the government for power and definition of morality. A citizen’s first allegiance must be, not to God, but to the liberal, redistributive state. They attack marriage, not because they have anything against marriage but because it, too competes for power. A citizen’s first allegiance must be, not to the family, but to the liberal, redistributive state. They support education because they have completely taken it over and made it an arm of the state. They oppose vouchers because that would encourage an educational system not under the state’s control. They control the vast majority of the media and openly attack that part of the media they do not control.

I should stop here to point out that I’m obviously playing with stereotypes above. People’s goals and beliefs run on a continuum, with most people trying to find a hybrid that derives a maximum amount of benefit from both systems. Few people believe in pure capitalism and complete anarchy. A larger number, but still a very small number, believe in pure state dictatorship and a completely equal distribution of an ever declining pot of state assets.

The problem arises most seriously now for two reasons. First, the scales have been so long tipped in the socialist direction that a huge amount of damage has been done to our society. Institutions like religion and marriage have been severely weakened. The economy suffers under an unsustainable overhead burden imposed by a large, redistributive state. The morality of our society has been warped beyond recognition. A liberal controlled media and a liberal controlled educational system have taught the people to believe that profits are bad, corporations are greedy, success is a mark of dishonesty and selfishness.

Second, those who control our government (Pelosi, Reid, Obama) are far on the left of the continuum I just mentioned. Granted, they are hard to take seriously because they are such hypocrites – Pelosi jetting around on government planes at huge expense, Obama taking an entourage of hundreds wherever he goes, etc. But they really believe, as to everyone else anyway, in destruction of all other institutions, accumulation of all power in the state, and equal distribution of assets.

One problem conservatives have is that the idea that “I can get all this stuff from the government without doing anything to earn it, simply because I exist” is quite appealing to a lot of people. Just as conservatives believe that people will work hardest if they can keep the fruits of their labor, it follows that people will not work, and accept the fruits of other people’s labor, if they are given them without being required to work, especially if they are constantly told there is nothing wrong with that, they deserve it just for being born. The conservative message depends on people understanding that if people do not get to keep the fruits of their labor, people will not labor, and there will be nothing to distribute. This is a common sense notion, of course, but why believe it as long as the government continues to dole out the fruits? Surely the system will work just fine if only those rich people aren’t so greedy. Won’t it?

Well, no, but that is the subject for another post. Meantime, I’d be interested to hear your comments, especially on how you can improve on my surely over-simplified analysis above. I’m always impressed by the sophistication of the thinking of the visitors to the Bookwormroom and can’t wait to read your responses.

Happy Thanksgiving!

DQ here.  Just want to pop in to say Happy Thanksgiving to you all.  Perhaps for this unique holiday we can share with each other what we are thankful for.  I’ll start.  I, of course, am most thankful for my beautiful wife.  We’ve been married 36 years and each has been better than the last (and the first one was pretty fantastic!).  I’m thankful for my two boys, both of whom took a while to get their feet under them but both of whom are now well headed in the right direction and fine young men I am quite proud of. 

I’m thankful that, unlike Bookworm, I’m not a blogger, but I get to sit in and sometimes contribute to the discussion among all the wonderful people she has gathered here.  I’m thankful for Bookworm herself, a marvelous person who, next to my wife, is my best friend in the world. 

I’m thankful that the false “hope” for “change” of two years ago appears to be being replaced by a real hope for a real change in the right direction. 

I’m thankful I’ve been blessed with a life full of nearly everything life has to offer.  I have no one to blame but myself if I have not taken full advantage, because my life has been filled with boundless opportunity.

But enough about me.  What are you thankful for?

P.S.  Because Bookworm is on vacation and may (or may not) have trouble blogging, I’ll be posting a bit in the next few days.  Please check back and join in what I hope with be some fun and interesting conversations.

A comment re Danny’s Sarah Palin post

I can’t get my comments feature to work on my iPhone, so I’m going to use my blogger’s prerogative to use a new post to comment re Danny Lemeiux’s post re Sarah Palin. The gal writing in the Atlantic felt that it was unfair that Palin hadn’t been exposed to mean men.

It seems appropriate to say here that, in my limited experience as a conservative, I’ve observed that conservative men seemuch less hostile to wen than liberal men. The latter seem to resent the He’ll out of them, even as they loudly trumpet their commitment to women’s rights.

iPhone blogging

Spent the day on I-5 heading down to my wonderful in-laws (all neocons) for Thanksgiving. I-5 is always a slog, but it’s a depressing slog lately because so much land is fallow thanks to federal water/environmental policies. Makes me wonder, again, how Boxer won, again. She’s killing the state visibly

Once in LA, I saw 3 Jerry Brown bumperstickers, but I think that, given the number of cars on the LA freeways, the law of averages made that inevitable.

I’ll try to get to a computer tomorrow but, if I don’t, a very Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. You know how much I value your place in my life. Blogging is a compulsion because of me, but it’s a pleasure because of you.

More Palin Derangement

Just came across this opening paragraph from an article on Sarah Palin, in the Atlantic (via Hot Air):

“To paraphrase Lillian Hellman, I don’t agree with a word that Sarah Palin says, including “and” and “the.” And as a liberal feminist, it drives me absolutely bonkers that Palin is the most visible working mother and female politician in America, that she is the best exemplar of a woman with an equal marriage, that she has put up with less crap from fewer men than those of us who have read The Second Sex and marched in pro-abortion rallies and pretty much been on the right side of all the issues that Palin is wrong about.

re. the author….

ELIZABETH WURTZEL – Elizabeth Wurtzel is the author of Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America and More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction.

Does anyone but me see hysterical humor in this juxtaposition?

Watcher’s Council nominations for 11/24/10

If you’re wondering what to read in the next few days as bloggers slow down to spend time with family and friends, and to give thanks for the many blessings we have (despite and, sometimes, because of our new administration), the Watcher’s Council provides a collection of good stuff to read:

Council Submissions

Non-Council Submissions

A strange dream

I had a truly strange dream last night.  I dreamed that I was singled out for a TSA pat-down.  I went reluctantly, telling them that I sing when I’m nervous.  (This is not true in my waking life, by the way.)  As they started to pat me down, I started to sing The Star-Spangled Banner.  The more they patted, the louder I sang.  And since this was a dream, I was singing in tune.  Gradually, all airport noise around me stopped, and everyone started singing The Star-Spangled Banner with me.

Then I woke up.

A tuneful protest?  An acknowledgment that this world of invasive physical searches is, of necessity, the new American way?  The result of too much Haagen Daaz Chocolate ice cream at bedtime?  I honestly don’t know.  I pass it on to you for what it’s worth.

Taxes, government dependency and happiness

Two interesting things rolled across my desk today, interesting because they address the same topic — dependence on Big Government — but reach diametrically opposite conclusions.  The first is a Dennis Prager column that examines why American conservatives are happier than American liberals.  This isn’t just Dennis’ opinion, by the way.  Instead, several recent polls have shown that, on the whole, conservatives are happier people.

Dennis opines that the matter essentially boils down to a few key differences in outlook.  One is a sense of victimhood.  In America, those who turn to the government for succor are those who feel betrayed by the American system, whether because they’re blacks invested in the notion of racism, or people of any color feeling that they haven’t succeeded in the American system as they deserved.  Another is the notion of utopianism.  Liberals believe in perfectibility, and are constantly disappointed; conservatives recognize flaws, and are always thrilled to live in the society that best harnesses negative human traits and gives the most rein to positive traits.  Conservatives are also more generous — they give their money away to causes, rather than waiting for the government to take it.  That affects how they feel about their own contributions to societal good.

The other article that came to me, via a very Progressive facebook friend, is one by Thom Hartmann that argues in favor of huge taxes on the rich, with the assurance that, in Denmark, people are happy because they pay such high taxes, with the rich taking the greatest hit, but not feeling it, while everyone else gets cheap, high-quality government services.  It’s a very sophisticated argument, and often a correct one, about the differing effect taxes have on the rich and the poor.

As I understand it, Hartmann argument boils down to this.  The rich earn far more than they can ever spend.  This means that taxes affect only their non-discretionary income, not their discretionary income.  If they’re taxed more, they might save less, but it won’t affect the money they spend annually on both life’s necessities and its reasonable frivolities.  The non-rich, however, spend everything they earn after taxes.  If taxes are raised, they have less after-tax money to spend, which hurts them.  BUT (and this is the kicker), Hartmann contends that, invariably, the market adjusts so that, after a few years, the non-rich end up getting from their employers precisely the same amount in adjusted dollars to bring them to spending parity with their situation before the tax increase.

This means, says Hartmann that, if top marginal tax rates are increased, only the rich will suffer.  Everyone else will remain the same, except that the government will have hugely greater number of dollars at its disposal for free health care and education. Further, the less money the rich people have to throw around, the more stable the economy is, because it prevents bubbles.  This means that there is no great wealth creation, but there are no collapses either.

A large chunk of the article is concerned with trying to figure out why non-rich people are so stupid that they don’t want to tax the rich at a higher rate, considering that, in the long run, higher rates will leave non-rich people with pretty much the same amount of disposable income.  Scaife comes into all of this, of course, as does the Heritage Foundation, William Kristol, and the usual conservative suspects. I found that part of the article uninteresting.  When Hartmann got back to substance, he started making thought-provoking points again.

Thus, Hartmann asserts that, if you increase tax rates, government actually shrinks, which is what sensible conservatives should want.  I can’t summarize the argument adequately, so let me quote it here:

From 1985 until 2008, William A. Niskanen was the chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, and before 1985 he was chairman of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers and a key architect of Reaganomics. He figured out something that would explode Reagan’s head if he were still around. Looking at the 24-year period from 1981 to 2005, when the great experiment of cutting taxes (Reagan) then raising them (Bush Sr. and Clinton) then cutting them again (Bush Jr.) played out, Niskanen saw a clear trend: when taxes go up, government shrinks, and when taxes go down, government gets bigger.

Consider this: You have a clothing store and you offer a “50 percent off” sale on everything in the store. What happens? Sales go up. Do it for a few years and you’ll even need to hire more workers and move into a larger store because sales will continue to rise if you’re selling below cost. “But won’t the store go broke?” you may ask. Not if it’s able to borrow unlimited amounts of money and never—or at least not for 20 years or more—pay it back.

That’s what happens when we have unfunded tax cuts. Taxpayers get government services—from parks and schools to corporate welfare and crop subsidy payments—at a lower cost than they did before the tax cuts. And, like with anything else, lower cost translates into more demand.

This is why when Reagan cut taxes massively in the 1980s, he almost doubled the size of government: there was more demand for that “cheap government” because nobody was paying for it. And, of course, he ran up a massive debt in the process, but that was invisible because the Republican strategy, called “two Santa Clauses,” is to run up government debt when in office and spend the money to make the economy seem good, and then to scream about the debt and the deficit when Democrats come into office. So while Reagan and W were exploding our debt, there wasn’t a peep from the right or in the media; as soon as a Democrat was elected (Clinton and Obama), both the right-wingers and the corporate media became hysterical about the debt.

And when Clinton raised taxes so that people actually started paying the true cost of government (a balanced budget as in the years 1999 and 2000), they concluded that they didn’t need as many services, so government actually shrank—in terms of both cost and the number of federal employees.

As a non-economist, I have to admit that what Hartmann says makes a certain amount of superficial sense.  I suspect, though, that there’s more to it.  For example, Laffer’s curve may be involved.  That says that lower tax rates create greater wealth, which actually increases government revenue.  With greater government revenue, profligate politicians and greedy citizens have more to play with. The problem, then, isn’t the tax structure; it’s the boondoggles, and earmarks, and “other people’s money” syndrome that inevitably plagues an organization that lacks fiscal discipline.

My core problem with Hartmann’s whole premise, though, is that it works because his allusion to Denmark shows that what he really wants is a world in which the government is responsible for all income that’s not dedicated to life’s necessities.  Under the current American system, that “excess” money that the “rich” have floating around — the money that Hartmann thinks the government should take and redistribute — is money that goes to banks that lend it to future homeowners and entrepreneurs; it goes into businesses that hire people; and it goes into funding innovation that improves people’s lives.

Having wealth circulate in the marketplace increases the risks of a slap happy economy, but it also vastly increases the possibilities of life improvement.  It increases innovation and, yes, greed, which is a powerful motivator.  In the Scandinavian countries, which until recently had stunningly homogeneous populations, no defense budgets, and no sense of obligation to the rest of the world (which we, in the U.S., heavily fund), it’s easy to have a tight little loop of shiny, clean, teeny houses; lean, mean Danish modern furniture; health care for that homogeneous population; and an almost zero track record on innovations that improve life for most of the world’s population.

Hartmann envisions a world in which everyone is happy with a brightly colored Danish modern version of very little.  Hartmann also fails to take into account dynamic populations.  The Scandinavian countries worked so well for so long because they were populated by people with precisely the same values and precisely the same life habits, habits that happened to be particularly neat and self-disciplined.  The tremors are starting, though, as these same countries struggle to deal with newcomers who have nothing in common with this nice, neat, egalitarian very white world view.  The welfare scams, violence, polygamy, cultural incest, etc., that the Muslim populations are bringing to Denmark and Sweden, and other northern countries, are all going to place a very interesting burden on these happy little taxpayers who could always rely on each other for homogeneity and on Papa America for world stability.

Before being quite so smug, places such as Sweden and Denmark might want to cast a jaundiced eye on Holland and Britain and France, all of which started with less homogeneous populations than the northern countries; all of which have had a head start on the challenging task of incorporating Muslims into their closed world views; and two of which (Britain and France) actually had to set aside defense budgets.  Hartmann, too, might want to consider that America is Holland, Britain, France, etc., on speed when it comes to population diversity; constant immigration; and defense spending upon which the entire Western world has relied since 1942.

At bottom, I’d rather be a happy American iconoclast, living with a fairly low level of risk (heck, we’re not yet Argentina, Greece or Ireland) and wedded to the infinite possibilities of a dynamic economy that trusts the innovation and drive individuals, rather than coping with a government’s overarching static, inefficient bureaucracy.  I’d also rather be in a surging country that, better than any place in the world, incorporates incomers, even illegal ones, as opposed to a country that is, for the first time, has to deal with profound outsider disruptions to its cozy little system.  I’m happy here.  Not droned, not pacified, not opiated, but happy.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

Regrouping Open Thread

As you may have guess from my blog silence yesterday, it was a very long weekend, which left no time for blogging.  Even if I’d had the opportunity to write, I didn’t have the time to ruminate, which is a predicate to any writing I do.  (Yes, I know that’s not always obvious.)

This morning, too, has been busy, although not in any very productive way.  I’m heading off to lunch with DQ, though, which is always revitalizing.  In the meantime, there are a few things I was saving for your attention:

Mr. Bookworm, who is an ardent Jon Stewart fan, got very agitated when he watched Jon Stewart’s attacks on Glenn Beck’s attacks against George Soros.  As far as Mr. Bookworm is concerned, Glenn Beck is a Nazi who, by showing Soros as a Jewish puppet master, is engineering another Holocaust.  I agree that, as a Jew, it’s disturbing to me that Soros is Jewish — but that’s in large part because there is no one more dangerous than a self-hating Jew.  It is Soros who funds some of the worst antisemitism in America, and backs some of the most anti-Israel groups (including the now discredited J-Street).  It was a fruitless conversation for me to point out that Beck, a Mormon, has shown himself to be a friend of Israel and a friend of Jews, while Soros has consistently been a heavy-duty enemy.

Anyway, I thought of this foolish go-round when I read Barry Rubin’s amazing essay about Friedrich Nietzsche.  I had no idea that Nietzsche was an ardent philosemite.  Because he got co-opted by the Nazis, I blithely assumed that he was as antisemitic as the Nazis.  What a surprise to learn that it was Nietzsche’s hostility to Christianity that gave him cachet with the Nazis and led to him being forever conflated with the Holocaust.

On a totally different subject, unless we’re talking in generalities about the Leftist police state, if you want your liver curled, read about the excesses of Child Protective Services in England.  I thought it was bad here, but the neuroses that characterizes local parents when they think of that heavy-handed organization is nothing compared to the real fear parents in England feel.

Sadie sent me a link to a scathing indictment of the new TSA tactics.  I think you’ll find it as interesting as I did.  I continue to hold my position that I don’t mind enhanced security, as long as it’s meaningful enhanced security.  This demeaning charade, however, doesn’t make me feel safer about flying, but it leaves me increasingly scared of my own government.

Bruce Kesler is right — state bankruptcy is the way to go.  Bankruptcy is an orderly way to deal with crushing debt.  It will allow states to get rid of destructive pension plans and the other economic poison.  Of course, what’s going to happen instead is costly bailouts that merely reward utterly irresponsible behavior.  Both bailouts and bankruptcies are painful, but bailouts will ultimately lead to economic death, while bankruptcies are a pruning process that will allow new, green shoots to grow.

After all this, do you need a laugh?  Tom Elia has one, courtesy of Dave Barry and his blurred . . . well, you’ll see.