Sunday, December 20, 2009

The way the political map should be drawn

Now that the politicians of both parties have led us to the brink of fiscal destruction—the unfunded deficits of social security and medicare were already staggering, and now healthcare reform could up the ante by an order of magnitude, while attempts to "save the planet" could create a global government bent on transferring significant wealth from rich nations to poor nations while also mandating a switch to more expensive energy sources—the ideological battleground is emerging in stark relief. It's not about Democrats vs. Republicans, or liberals vs. conservatives, it's about government power vs. individual liberty.

Don Boudreaux explains it quite nicely:

The “conservative/liberal” division – although thought of in America today as the two alternative, relevant “sides” of political opinion – is no such thing.  If we talk seriously of two “sides,” a much more realistic division is between those persons with a fetish for centralized power and those persons who distrust such power.

Modern “liberals” long for Washington to design and control the economy in great detail.  Modern conservatives look to government to engineer the polity’s moral tone...  Despite their differences on particular policy issues, both modern “liberals” and conservatives have a fetish for centralized coercion.

So the side opposite both the modern “liberal” and conservative is occupied by those persons who are neither conservative nor “liberal” but, rather, deeply suspicious of entrusting government with power.

And these “power skeptics,” as we might call them, are far more willing than are “liberals” and conservatives to let individual men and women choose their own courses in life – to buy and sell and work as they wish; to save and invest – and ingest – as they choose; to partner with each other romantically, socially, and commercially in whatever peaceful ways they like and never in ways that they dislike; to keep the full fruits of their efforts and risk-taking, and not be coerced into subsidizing those who are less industrious or adventurous; and not to be forced to support military adventures that have no direct and compelling relationship to the protection of peace and property at home.

This is the nature of the political debate we should be having: Obama's agenda for a massive expansion of government, versus the platform that seems to be emerging from the Tea Parties. The Tea Parties are revealing a new political platform that has been obscured for decades by those who argue about whether the government should regulate such things as abortion, immigration, and marriage. Those debates were all about government intrusion in our lives. The new platform takes us back to our country's roots: less government, not more; less spending, not more; lower taxes, not higher; less coercion, not more; citizen politicians, not professionals. These are turbulent times, but, as Charles Krauthammer points out, they are also "politically and intellectually invigorating." Let the true battle begin. The stakes haven't been so high in generations.

22 comments:

Bill said...

Scott,

I know you've asked whether the health care legislation is unconstitutional. While I don't think the notion of taxing the American public for health care can be challenged successfully on constitutional grounds (we are already taxed for Medicare), I do think this Nelson compromise might present an equal protection claim because it gives his state a massive unfair advantage over others by exempting it from any medicaid taxes. So much for his principles.

Bob said...

Isn't Neslon's job to represent his constituents and do the best for them he can? Well he did a hell of a job. The blame for this abortion of a piece of legislation isn't his, it's Congress's, i.e. Reid, for making such a proposition.

At stake here is the very nature of representative government.

Thomas B said...

"Let the true battle begin. The stakes haven't been so high in generations."

There is some very good news this week: the UN world governance model failed miserably in Copenhagen. It is unworkable, the science is not settled, and even if CO2 contributes to alleged global warming, reduction in economic development is not the solution.

In spite of health care legislation passing the Senate later tonight (a truly Pyrrhic victory), the process has revealed the absurd ideologies and political processes behind this monstrosity of ineptitude. Truly historic ... as in a fossil of socialist ideology.

The question now is where the new leadership will come from. The Republicans are not seizing the moment. Where are the new leaders?

Tom Burger said...

People on both sides of the conservative/liberal divide also need to reexamine their willingness to support military interventions and foreign policy activism.

War is a condition that inevitably leads to rapidly growing federal power -- and that power is never entirely given up at the conclusion of hostilities. This has been true of the "good" wars, like WW II, as well as all the less necessary (or totally unnecessary) wars.

W.E. Heasley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
W.E. Heasley said...

Mr. Grannis:

Would have to strongly agree with you that the time for pure Economics has passed. Its time for some Political-Economy. If only Milton Friedman was still here……it would be the Super Bowl of Political-Economy.

Benjamin said...

Well, actually, federal taxes as a fraction of GDP has been roughly constant for decades and decades--I am not sure we are in a crisis-mode now.
Remember Nixon and wage-and-price controls? Talk about government control! I think we have made tremendous progress since then.
Also, we have an entire younger generation that is obsessed with enterprise. Jeez, when I was growing up, we were all against "the war" (a truly stupid war-Vietnam) and wanted to do socially worthy things.
Now, everyone is a business hustler. Our culture has changed for the better. This is a positive usually overlooked, along with huge drops in crime rates in last 20 years. Crime in the 1970s was getting worse every year--that was a crisis, and killing business in cities.
As to Nelson: The primary purpose of rural representatives is to bring home the bacon. The federal budget subsidizes rural economies--we have created an entire knock-kneed, enfeebled rural economy, in which crop prices, roads, power, water, postal service, telephone service ($8 bil a year!) military bases and who knows what else is subsidized. Nelson is piling on, that's all.
If you check out Tax Foundation data you will find rural areas receive back much more from federal government that they receive. They are hooked, like an heroin junkie.
I totally agree we need to bring the federal budget into balance, or at least back to the Clinton era, in which federal debt as a fraction of GDP was contracting, not growing.
It can be done--there appears no will. We fight poverty and wars with borrowed money. We have a $100 billion Department of Agriculture and a nation of fatties. Food is cheaper than ever--still no whacking Ag Dep't. I mean total elimination, food stamps and all. No support for that, 70 years after the Dust Bowl.
Our military spends $1 million a year in marginal costs to put a soldier on the ground--yet no one will every challenge military spending effectiveness. (For that matter, how will we ever win a long war, which is the only kind we have anymore, without drowning in debt and spending?). Defense Secy Gates calls our force structure a Cold War relic, and Congress will not change it one iota. Huge bases in S. Korea--and S. Korea has an economy 40 times that of N. Korea. They can't defend themselves?
And now national health insurance?
Well, we will see.

Scott Grannis said...

Bill: As you suggest, it is not clear that a mandate to buy health insurance is constitutional, there is a good chance it is. This is not a tax, and it does not fall under the "commerce clause" because it is an obligation that is imposed on people simply because they are alive. There is no parallel to this, so the courts are going to have to decide. The case of Nebraska is simply outrageous as you note.

Scott Grannis said...

Bob: you are absolutely correct

Scott Grannis said...

Thomas B: you are very right. Everything hinges on a credible candidate who supports limited government.

Scott Grannis said...

Benjamin: You are correct in pointing out that federal revenues as a % of GDP have been fairly stable for many decades. But spending is way above post-war levels, and sooner or later huge spending must be paid for by higher taxes. Unless, of course, we manage to bring spending back down.

I share your optimism which is based on the entrepreneurial spirit that is a tradition in our country. It's very hard to snuff out, and that is why I remain optimistic even though fiscal policies are so outrageously bad these days.

One other reason I remain optimistic about the future is that there are so many things that are bad in Washington--like agricultural subsidies and bloated bureacracies and our byzantine tax code--that just fixing a few of them would be a tremendous boost to confidence and economic efficiency.

Jeff V said...

Don Boudreax doesn't understand that there is right and wrong. Social conservatives are not the problem and are not diminishing personal freedoms. Homosexual marriage is wrong. Traditional marriage should be defended. To kill an unborn child is wrong. Abortion should be fought.

You cannot group the "personal freedom" to do whatever you want (sex, drugs, kill, et al) with the REAL personal and economic freedom to "buy sell, work, save, invest" and to keep what you earn.

I can't agree with this one totally. I have a libitarian leaning, but I also head the warning from the book of Judges, "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." (Jud 21:25)

brodero said...

Bottom Line is How is the Hispanic vote going to go in Florida,Texas,
and California....discussion of ideology is fine but a discussion of the electorate is reality....

Public Library said...

100% agree. It seems the less government crowd has fully disappeared from this country.

Fat cat conservative bankers want subsidies just like the rural Midwest farmer. They are one in the same people.

The liberals want government to help every Tom, Dick, and Harry regardless of cost if only because the conservatives are getting their fair share of the party supplies.

What is completely missing from the debate is whether the ever increasing size of the black hole called BigDotGov is actually going to make this country a better place.

We need only look to our forefathers to answer that question.

It leads to corruption, waste, and a reduction of personal freedoms. If only those pushing us off the cliff would realize where they are taking this wounded ship.

Public Library said...

And Scott, while Bernanke may have avoided disaster with his interventions, what we can be 100% sure of is, central power has expanded, not receded in all facets of the government.

We should have taken the medicine when the Doctor came knocking on our door.

Instead, the powers that be took full advantage of a crisis when it came knocking on the door.

CDLIC said...

Scott,

The following 42 second cartoon video cuts to the very core of what the politicians in Washington do not understand or understand but want to secure their piece of the earmarks pie and power.

Enjoy!

http://www.yaliberty.org/posts/government-competition

Benjamin said...

Scott-
I like you optimism too. If we stop hitting ourselves in the head with a hammer, then we will feel great!

Maybe we (those who want a limited federal government) should try a new tack--cap federal outlays at 20percent of GDP through some sort of Constitutional amendment.

Stimulus will have to come from tax cuts, monetary policy.

I know this is a pipe dream--but so is hoping for either existing political party to cut spending.

Who was the last R-Party president to even propose a balanced budget?

His name begins with a "E."

DouglasR said...

The Corporate state requires big government. Corporate capitalism has demonstrated over and over that without the restraint of laws it will ravage the environment and enslave the labor force until it begins to stagger under its own weight and the force of public outrage. It spends vast sums of money avoiding responsibility for past abuses and looking for ways to minimize the cost of adhering to the laws imposed as a result of those abuses.

Now the "Financial Sector" has shown the same lack of restraint. Greed and foolish hubris have landed us back in a place where the result is more regulation.

The mythical "Free Market" has been unable to correct the abuses because it doesn't exist. Left to itself Capitalism will always lead to excessive concentration of wealth (=power) just as left to itself Marxist socialism will lead to excess concentration of wealth (=power), simply in a different location. Both will destroy the environment to the extent that the populace permits.

The idea of a return to some agrarian equilibrium and balance is a myth, very pleasing to those to pretend that somehow greatly reduced government will result in greater freedom. What a joke. The way the system works now it will just mean subordination of all functions to the multinational corporations and their pawns in government. The tea-baggers have been duped by the biggest scam going. There ain't no turning back the behemoth without stripping the Military-Industrial-Governmental complex of a great deal of its power.

The greatest smokescreen is the myth that reducing government will increase freedom. Please explain how this will happen in the real world. Please explain how this will expand the real freedom and dignity of the everyday citizen.

Scott Grannis said...

Doug: You assert that capitalism fails because big corporations will engage in rapacious behavior. You overlook the many instances in which big government has imposed rules and restrictions and subsidies on an industry or market that have prevented free-market forces and competition from working their magic. The roots of the recent financial crisis go back to government intervention, not corporate greed or misbehavior.

DouglasR said...

No Scott, I don't overlook those instances at all. I just see that the various corporate entities or corporate associations have their fellow travelers in the legislative bodies and regulatory agencies charged with overseeing their activities. I see that, as currently constituted, the corporate-governmental complex works, in general, for the benefit of the corporations. with the legislators favorable to the corporate project working at every opportunity to modify the legislation to minimize any negative effects on their patrons, then, often if not always, sympathetic executives will regulate in ways beneficial to the corporations. This symbiotic relationship takes place to a greater or lesser extent regardless of political party "in power" as neither party is free of the influence of the corporate leviathon. This seems so obvious as to barely require mention. The mutual back scratching and nourishing between the corporate/financial world and government is something taken for granted in our day, hype and faux-protestation by the parties involved notwithstanding.

The concept of a free-market or a market without "government intervention" is a purely hypothetical beast, and one about which it is possible to make any number of assertions, but these assertions are akin to the unprovable assertions of religious faith, based as they are on purely theoretical foundations.

DouglasR said...

W.E.Heasley said:

"Would have to strongly agree with you that the time for pure Economics has passed. Its time for some Political-Economy."

But there can be no such thing as "pure" economics, as economics is always Political-Economics, which always has a political dimension, and the early practitioners had the honesty to call it that.

Scott Grannis said...

Doug: I agree that the relationship between politicians and business interests is unhealthy and probably impossible to sever. But I think the politicians are the guiltier party.