Thursday, September 22, 2011

What was missing in tonight's Republican debate

The Republican candidates for president are doing a good job of honing their anti-Obama and pro-growth, pro-jobs arguments. The election is shaping up to be epic because the choices couldn't be more stark or fundamental, and the outcome will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the future of the U.S. economy.

Obama has defined the liberal position in no uncertain terms: There is no way we can make any significant cuts in current and projected spending; to close the deficit we will need more taxes, and only the rich can afford to play that role. Meanwhile, we can grow the economy by giving the government more opportunities to direct the course of the economy.

The Republicans are making the exact opposite point: There is no way we can allow the government to remain as big as it is (close to a post-war high relative to GDP), and there is no way we can impose higher tax rates on this economy; to close the deficit we will need to reduce the size and role of government. We can grow the economy by relying less on government to make decisions for us, and more on individuals and free markets to make the right choices.

If you believe that government can administer the economy's scarce resources better than the private sector, vote Democrat. If you believe the private sector administers those scarce resources better than government bureaucrats, vote Republican.

So far, so good, but the Republicans are making three huge mistakes.

The biggest mistake the Republicans are making is on the subject of immigration. The party is veering far too much in the direction of isolationism, and the party is much too anti-immigrant for my taste.

This country was built by immigrants. I believe the vast majority of immigrants are people who are willing to risk everything in the hopes of creating a better life for themselves and their family in a place they've never been. Immigrants bring new blood into the country, new ambition, and yes, they compete with legal residents for jobs. But prosperity is not a zero-sum game. We can have more immigration and more jobs for everyone, if we have the right fiscal and monetary policies and if government gets out of the way of the private sector.

Why do we have so many illegal immigrants? So far, the only answer I've heard is that the federal government has failed to secure our borders. We have failed to keep out the people who desperately want to get in, to find work, and to improve their lives. So, according to most of the candidates, we need to build a bigger fence and devote more resources to policing the border.

I haven't heard anyone say that maybe we unwittingly have created huge, perverse incentives for immigrants to come, because we have a huge social safety net that is not too hard for anyone (including legal residents) to game. Build it and they will come; offer generous handouts and subsidies, and don't be surprised if all sorts of legal and illegal people sign up for a piece of the action.

I haven't heard anyone say that maybe we have so many illegal immigrants because we are making it extremely difficult for those who want to come here, to come legally. We have an immigrant quota system of roughly 500,000 per year, but many more than that want to come. I personally know several people who have waited 5 to 10 years to get a resident visa, because the countries they came from had huge waiting lists. Would you be willing to wait 10 years to take your family to America if you were suffering and willing to work hard?

One solution to our immigration problem would be to drastically increase our annual quotas, especially for those who are offered a job here by an existing business. As it is, work visas are extremely limited in number, and are often allotted in a matter of days, leaving businesses who want to hire a foreigner (perhaps one educated at our excellent universities) in the lurch for the rest of the year.

Another solution to the immigration problem would be to reduce the size of our social safety net. Fewer handouts and fewer subsidies would reduce the incentive to come for those who just want to take advantage of our generosity. Why not tell today's immigrants what we told the massive waves of immigrants who came here around the turn of the century? Don't come here looking for a handout; you'd better have someone willing to sponsor you if you can't take care of yourself; and be sure to learn English as fast as you can so you can be a productive member of society.

In dollars and sense terms, a significant expansion of legal immigration is simply in our nation's best interest. That's because without immigrants, the U.S. population will soon start to shrink just as the populations of Europe, Russia, and Japan are now shrinking. Without an ever-growing population, we have no hope of delivering on today's social security and medicare promises. If we shut the door on immigrants we will be cutting off our own nose to spite our face.

The second biggest mistake the Republicans are making is with social issues.

Libertarians are the conscience of the Republican Party, and libertarian philosophy tells us that the government that governs the least is the best. Why, if Republicans are all for individual freedom and free markets, are they also calling for national rules governing abortion and gay marriage? Why should the government give me free rein when it comes to working, but stick its nose in my bedroom?

The only sensible approach to social issues is this: they are not within the purview of the federal government. Perhaps they are issues best left to the states, or perhaps they are simply matters of conscience and morality. Personally, I am against abortion, but I'm understanding of the girl who was raped and can't abide the thought of having a baby whose father violated her. Regardless, I don't see why the federal government has a say in the matter or why federal money should be used to fund her abortion.

The third issue that is entirely missing from the debates so far is this: Should the federal government undertake works of charity? Liberals love to feel compassion for the downtrodden and the unfortunate, but when they create government programs to take care of these people, they are doing charitable works with other people's money. That's not charity, that's theft, and it's immoral. Charity is using one's own money to help the downtrodden and the unfortunate. Americans are famously charitable, and I'm convinced that there is no shortage of charitable funds in this country to deal with those who have truly suffered from bad luck or bad genes. There would be even more money available for private charity if we cancelled a good portion of the transfer payments that today represent well over half of total federal spending. Charity should be in the exclusive purview of individuals and the private sector.

In this same vein, it makes no sense for the federal government to design and administer a national healthcare system: that is better left to the private sector. A few simple changes would do wonders toward reforming healthcare: change the tax code to eliminate the huge incentive for employers to pay for employees' insurance, since that will give individuals responsibility for their own healthcare decisions; change the rules to allow insurance companies to offer policies across state lines; and stop governments at all levels from mandating levels and types of coverage. In general, anything that decentralizes decision making, gives individuals the responsibility for paying for their own healthcare costs, and opens the door to competition and market-based innovation is a good idea.

Finally, not only is government "charity" immoral (because it appropriates one person's money to pay for another person's idea of what is right), it is inefficient and destructive of the very fabric of society. When the government tries to take care of our every misfortune, we cease taking responsibility for ourselves and our loved ones. As Milton Friedman taught us years ago, you spend your own money on yourself much more carefully and thoughtfully than you would spend other people's money on other people. We need to get the incentives right, because today they are all screwed up.


netbacker said...

Thank you for taking the time to post a very well thought out summary of the debates.

elegantstroke said...


very well articulated and an intelligent analysis. There's no such thing as black or white in political issues and this divided nature is what's messed up the US politics.

All we need is a third party that takes the good values from both sides and goes on to win the legislative and executive branches. :)

Rick said...

The federal government is involved in social issues because of the Supreme Court. It made abortion a federal matter in Roe vs Wade when it held that the 14th Amendment trumps State law. The same applies to many other State laws. You see the same principles now being applied to California on the issue of gay marriage. The results of the referendum must be overturned in the name of a federal constitutional right.

Of course, the 14th Amendment was enacted to overturn the Dred Scott decision and to invalidate any debt incurred during the Civil War by those States that seceded. In the recent debt ceiling debate, you saw one political faction argue that this debt provision empowered the President to borrow any sums he deemed necessary without any authorization by Congress.

burmanhands said...

There is an argument for more taxes from the rich in all countries - but don't let governments get their hands on it. Let the rich decide where the money goes, they are the best judges as they made the money in the first place.
Society needs some compassion - again let charities organize themselves and attract funding from these taxes.

Frozen in the North said...

Dear Scott

Nice way to dress up a terrible philosophy.

(1) Government expenses -- read war, Medicare/medicaide and Social Security. Why is it the GOP that is for every trying to maintain the status Quo on a system that is fundamentally broken.

(2) You crouch the "look in the bedroom" as a state issue -- why is it a government issue at all? Frankly, why should anyone have any say about such issues. Governments have no affairs to police the bedroom -- period.

(3) America is not Sparta. If it were, the weakest member of society would be destroyed at birth. A society is not defined in how it treat its richest and healthiest members, but rather how it treat its most exposed and downtrodden. In fact, its a large part of the Judeo-christian social foundation.

BTW no one is "for" abortion, this is neither a desired situation or outcome. It speaks volume that in your mind, the one justification for abortion you find is rape, there can be many other reasons where abortion is a preferable outcome.

I am sorry but I must say I really despise your social stand, although I admire your candor!

Jon S. said...

Scott -- I like all of your policy prescriptions, but I can't agree that the party has become isolationist and anti-immigrant. Some contenders have, but none of the leading candidates can be so characterized. Disagreement with Obama on a few specifics, like Afghanistan, is not indicative of isolationism, nor is taking tough stands on illegal immigration -- key word illegal here, which so often gets left out of this discussion -- indicative of an anti-immigrant stance.

Frozen: federal government expenses, constitutionally, include war ("providing for the common defense"). They do not include social welfare programs, at least not until the 1930s. You also seem to conflate all government spending as US government spending, but our federal system relies on states and localities being free to pursue their own visions (within limits, of course) and accordingly their own spending programs. If New York wants to have a large welfare system, so be it, but the federal government ought not to be involved. This does not mean we are Sparta; it means we are not the Eurozone.

John said...

"when they create government programs to take care of these people, they are doing charitable works with other people's money. That's not charity, that's theft, and it's immoral."

But then, there's this, Scott, from Article I of the U.S. Constitution:

"Section 8. Clause 1. The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;"

One of the things I like about the Tea Party is they keep making reference to the Constitution, which, ironically, refutes many of their own arguments.

Jon S. said...

John: I think at least one of Scott's points here is that you cannot call it charity when you are using other people's money. As for the Article I clause you invoked, the same one I cited in my post, the original meaning of providing for the "general Welfare" was not that Congress could spend on anything and everything, but rather that they could spend money on activities specifically provided for in the Constitution. It was seen as a limit on federal power, not an expansive do-anything-you-want provision. Clearly, for 75 years now the Court has decided anything goes, but this does not make it prudent, wise, or even constitutionally correct.

RichmondG30 said...

Nice try John, but a complete misrepresentation of Article I. I do not believe that when the framers referred to "general welfare" they envisioned a behemoth federal government and IRS that extracts hundreds of billions of dollars of earnings from the productive class and, through the efforts of hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats, redistribute it to the non-productive class.

The federal government is completely out of control and its power needs to be radically reduced.

Jon S. said...

Richmond: furthering our common point about Article I, even Alexander Hamilton (who opposed Madison's arguments about the limitations of Congressional spending) conceded that there are limits to such spending, specifically that spending had to be limited to "general" -- understood by one and all to be national, not local -- welfare.

For our purposes here, however, the idea that propels the tea party is one of Madisonian, not Hamiltonian, origins, and the next great battle needs to be waged not just on specific programs and cuts, but rather on the entire edifice of New Deal and post-New Deal Court decisions that have rendered limited government obsolete.

Frozen in the North said...

Watching the debate here on the meaning of the constitution is like counting the number of angels that would fit on the head of a pin -- mostly a waste of time.

The constitution was intentionally left vague, first because it was the only way it was going to be ratified by all the states, but also because the writers understood that they could not predict the future, and the excessive precision would hamper the growth of the union.

John said...

There are six businesses in our little town that accept Supplemental Nutrition Aid Program (SNAP) (food stamp) payments. The "nonproductive class" has to eat, too. Somebody sells them stuff.

Even the BP gas station accepts SNAP. It doesn't have to. It makes money off of the SNAP.

Frozen in the North is right about the vague and flexible aspect of the Constitution.

Public Library said...

The government needs reconfiguring, reduction in size, less power, and access to money.

However, neither the Democrats or Republicans are set to achieve any of it. If you feel the need to applaud the better of the worse so be it, but these types of hard-line beliefs about red and blue are keep the beast fed.

Republicans will be equally adept at social engineering us into a blackhole. We have history to prove it.

Will someone step up a please say what really needs to change in this country? I can hear pin drops beyond the typical rhetoric.

David Waltz said...

Immigration seems like such a slam-dunk cause, yet it has been stymied since Bush's time.

More immigrants will create economic growth. More people to buy food, and bikes, and cars, and toys for the kids, and houses...and depending on your point of view - more people to be in the army when things with China come to a head.

Benjamin Cole said...

I wish the real GOP was the one described by Scot Grannis.

Ethanol? Mandated use of ethanol? The Interior Department? The USDA?

$3,333 fro every man woman and child in the United States for the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and the VA? Every year? That's $13k for a family of four, Every year. That's double (in real terms) of 10 years ago. That's $3,333 for every resident taken out of the private sector and into the gaggle of grifters attached to DC. That's GOP money to GOP districts, by and large.

No vouchers for the VA?

The Bush deficits in a growing economy?

Not one but two un-funded wars, cost $4 trillion?

On immigration, I agree the GOP is pushing a huge structural impediment--reduced immigration.

I find the anti-science bent of the GOP alarming as well. Creationism as science?

We have an anti-business D-Party, and a GOP run by obstructionist nihilists and lunatics, and a dithering do-nothing Fed.

Besides that, everything is fine.

Rick said...

John, you should have read Federalist 41 written by James Madison before you posted your opinion about the general welfare clause that begins Article I, Section 8. He wrote:

"It has been urged and echoed that the power 'to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States' amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections than their stooping to such a misconstruction."

"...For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power?"

John said...

I'm not aware of any majority opinion or even a significant minority that advocates "unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare."

Having said that, the $1-3 trillion spent to invade and occupy Iraq hasn't made me feel any safer. 56,000 troops stationed in Germany don't make me feel any safer. I agree we can cut the federal budget.

Jeff said...


I finally have to disagree with you strongly. Abortion is not a "bedroom" is a life issue. And if an unborn child is a "life" then the federal government not only has the right, but the constitutional obligation, to protect that life.

And gay marriage shout not be a federal issue at all, states regulate marriage. But federal (and state) judges are busy legislating gay marriage as valid under law. Few legislatures (the peoples representatives) have done so. What the federal government MUST do is decide weather other states are obligated/forced to accept other jurisdiction gay marriages.

Regarless, this is not a "bedroom" issue either. It's an issue of weather one jurisdiction can retain a traditional definition of marriage (which 34 states have!!!) or weather they will forced to accept a new definition of marriage by judical action.

Scott. I am surprised at you. Niether of these are that difficult to understand. Nobody is talking about legislating what goes on in a bedroom!

BTW, I agree with all your immigration discussion...except that in addition, we need to build the dang fence!!! That's part of the solution as well.

Jeff said...


Creation is not anti-science. Evolution is!

In the fairy tales a princess kisses a frog and it turns into a prince. But in the real world you say a frog turns into a prince and call it science.


Unknown said...

Frozen in The North,

Agreed we should not aspire to model the US after Sparta but that does not necessitate that the government has to be involved in how aid to those-less-fortunate is allocated.

Before England decided to become a nanny state there was a very robust network of charities, or “Friendly Societies” as they were called. In 1877 there were 9 million people in England covered by private social welfare programs. Samplings of wills from the time also indicate that around 13% of bequeathings were to charities.

See Niall Ferguson's The Cash Nexus.

Benjamin Cole said...

BTW, has anyone told Rock Perry that a huge structural impediment is that wall we are building on the Mexican border?

Immigration fuels population growth and terrific supply of labor.

So, we can't boost the money supply due to structural impediments, but by the way, please keep out immigrants?

Douglas said...


You are certainly one of the smartest people I know, but the question you ask about who is better able to manage the economy comes up with a big "Neither!" and I am surprised you framed it in the way you did. It does not seem to me that the private sector has EVER earned kudos for "managing the economy" and certainly not recently. Government is a necessary symbiont with business in the best of times and we are currently entering uncharted territory with the various limits being bumped up against in the natural world.

For all,

Matters of morality are a rabbit hole it doesn't pay to go down, and it is best to leave government out of the picture as much as possible, particularly in issues of adult sexuality and marriage, and abortion which no one has a right to decide but the woman involved and her medical provider.

I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat and I have never been an Obama enthusiast (though not for the same reasons most here have), but the current crop of Republican contenders are a true horror show. And the whole "taxation is immoral theft" riff is just so not for real. It is time to leave off this kind of rigid, fossilized ideological blather about how if the government would just get out of the way the private sector would much more efficiently take care of all the state functions like "charity" and protecting the environment (that's a laugh!), emergency management, etc., etc. Get real. We are in a hell of a mess, and there is no easy way out, but right-wing social ideology certainly won't do it: that way lies danger.

And Jeff's grotesque oversimplification of creationism v the science of evolution notwithstanding, the anti-science stance of the current GOP hopefuls is not reassuring for dealing with impending planetary problems. These issues will test the strength of our institutions as they have never been tested. And denial will get us nowhere at all.

The disquieting subtext in many of the comments here and elsewhere is that democracy is an inconvenient and even undesirable construct. When the Randian verbiage comes out and we start to talk about the "productive" and "non-" or "un-productive" classes we should all see red flags popping up all over the place. And then there was the (in KY? TN?) incident where a man's house was allowed to burn because he had failed to pay a fee, even though he was willing to pay it on the spot: welcome to the Libertarian Future.

I have been engaged in physical labor my whole adult life helping members of my community safely heat their houses, rich or poor, conservative or liberal… all those labels are irrelevant when I come to your door. Every once in a while I fix a life-threatening situation, and every day I am working outdoors in the beauty of the several rural areas I have lived. Once I am unable to do my trade because various bits of my body are wearing out do I qualify as part of the unproductive class as I frugally live out my life? What about the financial sector wizards who screwed millions of people out of their homes, pensions, retirement savings, retirement hopes and plans, to slake their own greed? Are they included in your "productive" class? A little self-reflection might be in order.

John said...

Like Douglas said.

Jeff said...

Douglas said...

"and abortion which no one has a right to decide but the woman involved and her medical provider"

The constitution says...

"...nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

It is not the right of a woman to decide constitutionally. According to the constitution no one can be deprived of life without due process.

This is not hard. Abortion has nothing to do with the supposed rights of the mother. It has to do with the constitutional rights of the unborn.

To ignore the social issues of our day for the economic is to pursue the mighty dollar over 1.2 million children killed this year alone!!

Scott, you want people to come into the country via immigration. Well, I have to ask you what about the 53 million people killed in this country since Roe v Wade!!

53 million killed!

There is your missing population!!!

I know you are not going to respond to this, but it makes my stomach sick to type that number. 53 million babies killed. That is over 1 million a year for 40 years.

The people who are missing from this country that you want to replace with immigrants have been killed. Legally. With the consent of our government. And under the so-called constitutional protection of "privacy" and in direct contradiction to the actually constitutional protection of life!

God help us.

Jeff said...

And can believe a frog turns into a prince if you want. But the science behind that fairy tale is not even close to convincing.

Just ask Dr. David Berlinski...

(it is a multi-part video)

Douglas said...

Oh well, down the rabbit hole we go...

If you are going to define any particular bunch of cells as a person whether or not they are viable outside the mother land us in a quagmire constitutionally and legally speaking, it would seem to me. And ascribing personhood to a fetus from the moment of conception is a philosophical/theological assertion which is unprovable. My moral judgment about the wisdom of having an abortion has nothing whatsoever to do with the decision any particular woman may make in consultation with her own conscience and her healthcare provider.

I have never heard that frogs became princes in any accounting of the scientific schema known as evolution, so that's news to me. I don't have the bandwidth here beyond the DSL magic circle so I won't be watching the video. I was a theology major back in the day when I was classmates with Scott at Pomona College, so I suspect I understand the arguments. Arguments against the theory of evolution usually involve a certain amount of intellectual disengenuousness, a deep misunderstanding of the theological issues and a misconstruction of what science is as well.

Douglas said...

OK Jeff, I am watching/listening to the video clips as I write. I am not impressed. Aside from his arrogance this *mathmetician* is applying inappropriate standards to biology, I would be happy to pursue this discussion out of the comments of Scott's blog. My email is nosoot(at)

Jeff said...

"any particular bunch of cells".

Wow. I think we know the difference between a tumor and a fetus.

A fetus (pronounced /ˈfiːtəs/; also spelled foetus, fœtus, faetus, or fætus) is a developing mammal or other viviparous vertebrate after the embryonic stage and before birth.

Webster says an unborn mammal...starting at 2 months.

And I love it when abortion is called "healthcare". Removing a tumor is healthcare. Removing an unborn human mammal is killing.

I will email soon when I set up an account.

PD Dennison said...

Republicans have supported higher LEGAL immigration quotas.

Democrats have OPPOSED higher LEGAL immigration quotas, because Democrats gain from illegal immigration.

Douglas said...

PD Dennison, do you have something to back up that assertion? I'd be interested in seeing some kind of information confirming this.