Monthly Archives: January 2010

Is The PAYGO Rule Fiscally Responsible?

On Thursday, the US Senate voted to restore pay go rules on a party line vote. President Obama praised the restoration of the PAYGO rule. Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan used the vote as a club to attack Republicans. Republicans opposed the restoration of pay go calling it a backdoor attempt to raise taxes. However, the PAYGO rule is at best a dual edged sword. While PAYGO is an excellent for controlling and limiting deficit spending, it does very little to limit the size and growth of the Federal government.

The PAYGO or “pay as you go” rule simply calls for any increase of mandatory spending or reduction in revenue (ie. taxes) must be offset by decreases in discretionary spending or increases in revenue (taxes). Mandatory spending is things like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, pay for Federal employees, paying debt, and other welfare programs such as Food Stamps and Veterans benefits. Mandatory spending is nearly 60% of the Federal budget. Discretionary spending is everything that Congress has to pass legislation to authorize.

How PAYGO Is Fiscally Responsible:

The PAYGO rule requires spending to be budget neutral and budgets to be balanced. This is generally a good thing since it does not require increasing debt which has to be paid back by taxpayers. It requires that if government cannot pay for programs it appropriates, either taxes must be raised or programs and spending be cut. It also forces Congress to prioritize which programs are important them and can lead to much needed reforms in the Federal government which reduces its cost to taxpayers and ultimately the power it wields. In a Congress where the majority of members put limited government and the interests of taxpayers first, PAYGO can be a very important tool in the rollback of the Federal government.

However, PAYGO Also Promotes Big Government:

The PAYGO rule also promotes the welfare state and big government. The PAYGO rule only calls for cuts in so-called discretionary spending while leaving untouched the welfare programs that are so-called mandatory spending. This in affect leaves nearly 60% of the Federal budget (and growing every year) untouched. In order to ultimate reduce the size and scope of the Federal government, reforms must be enacted to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and the other welfare programs which are “mandatory”. The cost of not doing anything to reign in mandatory spending will mean ultimately higher taxes and more poverty as jobs and opportunities are lost by a revenue hungry Federal government.

In addition, Republicans are right when they suspect that PAYGO in the hands of the current Congress and President is nothing more than a tool to raise taxes. Other than various gimmicks that do nothing to address the fiscal problems this nation will have, the Democrats (and Republicans alike for that matter) have shown no serious interest in reducing the size of government.

Finally, PAYGO has a loophole. It can be suspended for “emergency appropriations”. For example, if Congress and the President want to have another round of bailouts and nationalizations, all they have to do is declare an emergency.

Ultimately, PAYGO can be an excellent tool for fighting waste, fraud, and corruption; however it is useless in the hands of this Congress and President because they have neither the will nor the ability to cut the Federal budget where it really matters.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

“Are these Republicans Walter”? “No Donny, these men are just nihilists”

“I mean, say what you like about the tenets of the Republican party, Dude, at least it’s an ethos…”

Apologies to Joel and Ethan Coen…

There has been a recent meme circulated by the leftosphere, that the Republicans… in fact any opponent of the Obama agenda… are nihilists.

Now, I have to say, I don’t think most of the people promoting this idea even know what a nihilist is (and if they did, many of them would realize THEY are the ones that come close to fitting that bill), never mind that current republican ideology is nihilist. Current republican ideology is empty, obstructionist, and reactionary; but that’s not actually nihilism… or even close to it.

A few days ago, a person whose intellect I generally respect, John Scalzi, randomly tossed off a comment calling Republicans (and Obama oppositionists) Nihilists.

Well.. at least John knows what a nihilist is… which is why I was disappointed in his statement… because as far as I’m concerned that analysis is just lazy.

Then a few days later, as part of his commentary on the state of the union speech, he wrote this:

“As for the Republicans, a recent reader was distressed when I said they were “hopped-up ignorant nihilists,” but you know what, when your Senate operating strategy is “filibuster everything and let Fox News do the rest,” and the party as a whole gives it a thumbs up, guess what, you’re goddamned nihilists. There’s no actual political strategy in GOP anymore other than taking joy in defeating the Democrats. I don’t have a problem with them enjoying such a thing, but it’s not a real political philosophy, or at least shouldn’t be.”

Ok… not much of the core of the analysis there I can disagree with… but again, it isn’t nihilism.

Today however he posted a link to further explain the position he was trying to express in shorthand by calling the Republicans nihilist.

Again, there’s nothing I can really disagree with in this analysis:

[N]othing could be worse for the GOP than the illusion of success under present circumstances. Worse than learning nothing from the last two elections, the GOP has learned the wrong things… Not recognizing their past errors, the GOP will make them again and again in the future, and they will attempt to cover these mistakes with temporary, tactical solutions that simply put off the consequences of their terrible decisions until someone else is in office. They will then exploit the situation as much as they possibly can, pinning the blame for their errors on their hapless inheritors and hoping that the latter are so pitiful that they retreat into yet another defensive crouch.

Is the GOP in a worse position than a year ago? On the surface, no, it isn’t. Once we get past the surface, however, the same stagnant, intellectually bankrupt, unimaginative party that brought our country to its current predicament is still there and has not changed in any meaningful way in the last three years.

The best thing though, is the source of that quote: The American Conservative

Thus showing, once again, for those who don’t already know; that Republican does not necessarily mean conservative or libertarian, nor does conservative necessarily mean Republican.

Oh and continuing in that vein, conservative doesn’t necessarily mean religious either; nor does religious always mean conservative (especially if you’re Catholic).

I am neither a Republican, nor a conservative; but I DO register as a Republican because my state has closed primaries, and I like to vote against John McCain and Joe Arpaio.

I am a minarchist, which is a school of libertarianism that pretty much says “hey, leave me alone as much as is practical, and I’ll do the same for you, thanks”.

I’m well educated (perhaps overeducated), high earning, catholic, married with two kids, and a veteran. I was raised in the northeast but choose to live in the Rocky Mountain west, because I prefer the greater degree of freedom and lower levels of government (and other busybodies) interference.

I don’t care who you have sex with or what you shove up your nose, down your throat, or into your lungs so long as I don’t have to pay for it, or the eventual medical bills you rack up.

I KNOW from direct personal experience we need a strong national defense, but that freedom and liberty (which are two different things) are rather a LOT more important than internal security.

I have no faith in the government not to do with… really anything other than defense… exactly what they did with Social Security, or AFDC, or any number of other programs that they have horribly screwed up, wasting trillions of dollars in the process.

Yes, there is great benefit to some of those programs at some times (and I was on welfare and foodstamps as a child, I know directly this is true); but the government couldn’t make a profit running a whorehouse, how can they be expected to run healthcare, or education, or anything else for that matter.

Oh and for those of you who believe that government really can do good, without a corresponding and greater bad… I’m sorry, you’re wrong.

It’s a sweet ideal, but it just isn’t true. Good intentions don’t mean good results, unless combined with competence, efficiency, passion, compassion… HUMANITY in general; and the government is not a humanitarian organization.

Governments are good at exactly two thing: Stealing and Killing. Yes, they are capable of doing other things, but everything they do proceeds from theft, coercion, force… stealing and killing.

That doesn’t mean that good can’t come out of it; but everything the government does has an associated harm that goes with it. Sometimes that’s worth it, sometimes it isn’t and it’s DAMN hard to figure that out. Who gets to decide? You? Your friends?

Do you have the right to tell me what to do, how to live my life? Do I have the right to tell YOU how to live YOUR life?

So why is it ok if you get a few million of your friends, and I get a few million of my friends, and just because you have more friends than I do you get to tell all of us how to live and what to do?

Sorry but, HELL NO.

I want the same things you want. I want people to be happy, and healthy, and have great opportunities… But the government doesn’t have the right to steal from me to help you do it; anymore than you would have the right to hold a gun to my head and take the money from me personally.

Actually, the government doesn’t have any rights whatsoever. The PEOPLE have rights, the exercise of which we can delegate to the government.

It absolutely amazes me that both liberals and conservatives understand that the government isn’t to be trusted; they just believe it’s not to be trusted over different things:

Liberals trust the government with your money, education, and healthcare; but don’t want them to interfere with your sex life, or chemical recreation.

Conservatives on the other hand are just fine with the government making moral, sexual, ethical, and pharmaceutical choices for you; but don’t trust it with your education, healthcare etc…

Well, I don’t trust them with ANYTHING except defense (which they also screw up mightily, but which is at least appropriate to the coercive and destructive nature of government).

It’s axiomatic that the intelligence of any committee is equal to that of the least intelligent member, divided by the total number of members.

There are 435 members of the house of representatives, 100 senators, 21 members of the cabinet, 9 supreme court justices, a vice president, and a president; for a total committee size of 567.

Now, if we’re charitable and say they’re all geniuses with IQs above 140 (don’t hurt yourself laughing), that’s an overall government IQ of .25

Why on earth would you want THAT spending your money, or making any decisions for you whatsoever?

Now… Given that thumbnail philosophy, who am I supposed to vote for?

I certainly can’t vote Democratic; they want to take all my money and either give it to other people, or use it to force me (and everyone else) to behave as THEY decide.

On the other hand, I can’t much vote for Republicans, because they still want to give my money to other people (just mostly different other people than democrats), and use my money to force me (and everyone else) to behave as they decide…. They just want to take a little less of it.

And I really can’t vote for Libertarians, because they are profoundly unserious and incapable of effecting any real political change. I want to vote for someone who will PREVENT the worst abuses of government, and sadly, voting libertarian has no hope of accomplishing that goal.

I end up voting for whoever, or whatever, I hope or believe will reduce those undesirable characteristics of theft and coercion inherent to government.

Often that means voting Republican, but that shouldn’t be taken as an indication of my support for Republicans.

So tell me, is that nihilism? I don’t think so. I think it’s playing defense, which isn’t a winning strategy; but it’s not nihilism.

Nihilism would be standing by the sidelines say “there’s no point in playing, you’re all going to lose anyway”… which coincidentally is the position of a lot of Libertarians.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

A Bit of Unexpected Wisdom from a Friend

You might have heard the old saying “The best measure of a mans intelligence and wisdom, is how closely he agrees with you on any given subject”…

Well, by that measure, Kommander is a damn genius (from a thread discussing Obamas abandonment of manned space flight):

The problem with exploring and colonizing space, as opposed to exploring and colonizing the “New World”; is that there is, right now, little commercial benefit for doing so.

Remember that the first colonists to the Americas were not doing it “For Science!” but “For Money!” Until there is money to be made in space it will continue to be dominated by various governmental agencies.

Spaceship One and the space tourism are a good start, be we need more. The future of the space program does not lie with governments, but with commercial interests who will be willing to take risks where governments are not.

Indeed. I’ll take Branson and Rutan over Bolden and Garver in a split second.

Just let me know when I can sign up for the trip to freehold… or anywhere… or nowhere and back for that matter (when it costs less than a nice used car anyway).

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Is America Ungovernable?

Arnold Kling relays the case that many of you who follow the lefty blogs have probably seen:

It’s the latest meme. The U.S. is ungovernable, because of
a) Senate procedures
b) Republican obstructionism
c) polarization
d) special interests

I’ve seen it from Marc Ambinder, Steven Pearlstein, and others. I’m too lazy to copy links, but my guess is that you have seen it, too.

Well, there are two different questions here that liberals conflate inappropriately:

1) America is ungovernable.
2) Structural government issues prevent the government from getting anything done.

Yes, all the points above explain why #2 is true. But even if all that were “fixed”, #1 would be true, for the very reason Hayek states:

To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.
-Friedrich August von Hayek

To put it simply, it is impossible for a bunch of lawyers and bureaucrats in Washington DC to adequately govern — aka rule — the activities of 300 million Americans. The system — “system” meaning free actions of individuals, not meaning directed and ruled action — is so complex that the best any government can hope to do is to set very general rules making force or fraud illegal*, and set up a fair and just court system to arbitrate. Washington simply cannot integrate the information needed to make decisions at that level effectively.

To be fair, Arnold Kling reaches the same point, but he expands more fully on the idea of decentralization and the idea of federalism or competitive government as an answer. I suspect he does so because he believes competitive government will result in libertarian government — as those who earn refuse to “join” the governments of those who rely on handouts, and thus the non-libertarian governments cannot sustain their goals. This is partly true for territory-based governments (becoming more true as the territory shrinks), and undoubtedly true for non-territory-based governments.

But I find that argument** to have one major weakness. The idea of federalism and local control is largely predicated on the idea that the people in Washington aren’t very good at making decisions for me, and that by moving those decisions closer to me it’s a lot more likely that the decisions my government makes for me are effective ones. But should government make my decisions at all?

Personally, regardless of whether they make good or bad choices, I do not outsource my decision-making to the government. Even if they will make good choices, I do not want them choosing for me. This is a moral statement, and it is just as true of the government of Washington DC as of Sacramento as of Laguna Niguel, CA. It is true that I have more control over the government of Laguna Niguel than of DC, but fundamentally that doesn’t change the fact that my one vote is not determining my decision — it is weighed against the votes of others who do not have the right to decide for me.

If the US is ungovernable, so is the state of California, and so is the city of Laguna Niguel. No matter how small of a government you draw, it cannot have all the information it needs to make decisions for me. Fundamentally, decisions are the marriage of facts and values, and although any government may have access to the facts, it does not have access to my values. Therefore they do not have the information necessary to make decisions for me.

Liberals are upset that the government is structurally biased towards inaction. But action doesn’t equal governance. For something to be governable, the governing authority must have access to both the facts and the values of those it governs. Unfortunately since the latter is never possible, it substitutes its own values (dictatorship) or the average/majority values (democracy). Either is insufficient, and thus America is ungovernable.
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