too much government browsing by category


Belching Cows and Gassy Assumptions

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Give New York Times reporter Robert Pear, or perhaps an editor, credit for a provocative headline: “In Final Spending Bill, Salty Food and Belching Cows Are Winners.” This to explain a $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill.

Where’s the money going?

Not to salty food or belching cows. The Times explains that, “like many of its predecessors,” the bill bulges with provisions “to satisfy special interests.” For example?

Pear quickly highlights how “ranchers were spared [from] having to report on pollution from manure,” schools from having to reduce salt or increase whole grain in their lunches, insurance companies from relinquishing tax breaks. These provisions, which incur no new spending, are lumped with one that does involve spending at taxpayer expense, a subsidy for promoting Nevada.

There’s something odd about this sampling of budgetary ingredients. Isn’t there a difference between being left alone and receiving a subsidy or other favor at the expense of others? Because that’s the kind of fundamental distinction blurred or obliterated when all budgetary things applying to particular groups are treated as “stuff to satisfy special interests.”

Politicians concoct zillions of ways to burden and bully people; proposed targets are, sure, “special interests” who may then beg for reprieves. But unlike the beneficiaries of specific subsidies or competitor-stomping regulations, we’ve all got a stake in not being harassed.

Protecting our lives and freedom is what government is properly for. And minding our own business is the opposite of interfering with somebody else’s.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Rewarding Gruber

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Revealing to all the world the contempt for the American people that Washington insiders possess might garner for Prof. Gruber a future Medal of Freedom.

Perhaps by a president elected by the Irony Party.

What Gruber is unlikely to get, however, is a Nobel Prize for Economics.

Benjamin Zycher, writing at The Hill, questions Gruber’s astuteness as an economist. The MIT professor surely has the wit to sucker those representing American taxpayers out of six million bucks for his consulting, but, otherwise, reveals some blind spots about where incentives should be figured in.

“Economists may disagree about many things,” writes Zycher, “but absent among them is the central role of incentives as determinants of behavior,” a principle that “applies fully to government.”

To reward one constituency at the expense of others, health care bureaucrats will quickly come to regard limits to spending as a kind of “savings.”

From this type of rationing, Zycher suggests, there will be “a reduction in the flow of research and development investments in new and improved medical technologies, yielding fewer new medicines, devices and equipment.”

This means that the most negative effects will be seen down the road. While the easier-to-publicize positive effects of more people covered by insurance can be pointed to right now, as a “benefit.”

However, even that upfront goody isn’t what we might pretend it is. “Gruber seems actually to believe that an expansion of insurance ‘coverage’ is the same as an expansion of actual healthcare,” Zycher notes, with apt incredulity.

By ignoring negative effects of his convoluted program, and concentrating on a few dubious upfront benefits, Gruber proves himself more con artist than economist.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

As Stupid Does

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

“Stupid is as stupid does,” said the great American prophet, Forrest Gump.

Meanwhile, Obamacare maestro and MIT professor, the illustrious Dr. Jonathan Gruber, has declared in not one but a multitude of videos that the American people are, well, “stupid.”

You see, when the elites wielding political power lie to us, trick us, cheat us — as with Obamacare — they think that proves that “We, the People,” aka their victims, are all morons. I’m not a fan of fraud or fraudsters; I don’t think it forms the basis for a very happy, healthy society.

Still, I do get their perverted logic. Problem is that, even as far as it goes, the American people didn’t fall for the deceit at the heart of the Affordable Care Act. Poll after poll leading up to Congress passing the ACA demonstrated that most folks opposed it, disbelieving Gruber’s and Obama’s distortions.

Barely a majority of the clueless Congress even fell for the lies! All of them were Democrats.

No, stupid would do something like rake in $6 million from government contracts obtained from politicians with a direct probe into every American’s pocketbook and then call all those Americans paying his lavish tab names. Indeed, Gruber does make a cogent argument about the wisdom of purchasing his services.

Stupid also does stuff like deny even knowing that Dr. What’s-His-Name fellow . . . though previously raving, on camera, about what a wizard the stupid-slinging Prof. Gruber is.

Right, Mr. Obama, Mrs. Pelosi?

Goodness, the American people seem brilliant in comparison. But it’s a low bar.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Panty Raid 

Monday, November 10th, 2014

“We just thought it was something funny we could do,” Peregrine Honig says. “But it was so scary.”

Honig is part-owner of Birdies, an “intimate apparel apothecary and swimwear boutique.” The funny thing? Offer shorts with the letters “KC” and the phrase “Take the Crown” printed on them, to cheer on the Kansas City Royals in Major League Baseball’s World Series. The scary thing? The visit by two men who identified themselves as Homeland Security agents . . . who confiscated the underwear.

“I asked one of them what size he needed and he showed me a badge and took me outside,” Honig told the Kansas City Star. “They told me they were from Homeland Security and we were violating copyright laws.” Although Honig had designed the shorts herself, not simply mimicking a KC logo, the feds said that the intersection of the K and the C in the design was enough to cross the line.

But hey, they were nice!

Apparently even somewhat abashed, like “kicking a puppy,” as Honig puts it; very nice as they took away the merchandise. Which I’m guessing — now stay with me here — was not a threat to national security.

What we have here is called overkill.

At worst this is a minor and inadvertent infraction of copyright law. What’s that worth? A phone call. A visit. Maybe a cease-and-desist letter.

So, do we file this under Silly? Or Ominous?

Or round-file it as just one more little example of the governmental excesses we’re supposed to accept as normal?

Though they lost in the seventh game of a first-one-to-four-wins series, I was rooting for KC.

Oops, did I just commit a crime? I mean I was rooting for K . . . C.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Creeping Horror

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Which came first, the dead chicken or the rotten egg?

A bit gruesome. Sure. But it’s Halloween, no? Trick or Treat time.

Anyway, the subject for today’s exploration into contemporary horror is the modern city, so expensive it frightens middle-income earners away.

But wait. It’s not all cities. Only some are horror shows.

Particularly, I’m referring to those in “blue” states, the ones run by “liberal” Democrats.

It’s been pretty obvious for some time — especially as we witness hordes of everyday folks moving to parts South, particularly to Texas’s sprawling cities. But if you needed some statistics and graphs and the like, Derek Thompson provides them over at The Atlantic. His title addresses his basic question: “Why Middle-Class Americans Can’t Afford to Live in Liberal Cities.” Citing economist Jed Kolko, he notes the most astounding thing about housing in modern cities: “Liberal cities seem to have the worst affordability crises.”

Or, as Kolko puts it, “[e]ven after adjusting for differences of income, liberal markets tend to have higher income inequality and worse affordability.”

Why? Thompson contemplates the chicken-and-eggness of it all. Do liberal progressives congregate in coastal cities with limited land availability, and just happen to find themselves crunching out home growth, thus raising prices and reducing affordability? Or do they cause it?

Considering the nature of their favored policies, they almost certainly (if inadvertently) cause it.

Big government inevitably yields big bad effects. Support big government? Expect more inequality, not less. Then demand more government to “solve” the problem. Which causes yet more bad effects.

This trick-and-treat trap should horrify big government advocates.

It certainly horrifies me.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Is “Less Big” Possible?

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

The idea of a streamlined welfare state is utterly foreign in today’s political climate. Offering some social services, but not others? Anathema — at least to our “progressives.”

It is also, even more obviously, not nurtured by current political process.

After all, we’ve witnessed two major expansions in “welfare” programs in the last decade, the bipartisan Medicare “Part D” and the Democrats’ “Obamacare.” The first was underfunded from the start, and the second was and remains a mess. Both are financial time bombs.

But if you think America has it bad, it’s worse in France.

Jean Tirole, the new (just announced) Nobel Laureate in Economics, calls the condition of the French labor market “catastrophic.” And he thinks France’s government has to be smaller.

Now, he’s no heir to J.-B. Say and Fredéric Bastiat. He does not support an extremely limited government, a “nightwatchman” state. He says he likes France’s basic model. But it has grown too far in size and scope:

Tirole remarked that northern European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, had proven you could keep a welfare social model with smaller government. In contrast, he said France’s “big state” threatened its social policies because there will not be “enough money to pay for it in the long run.”

He’s basically just demanding that government live within its means.

It’s not too far from common Tea Party sentiment.

But tell that to your average progressive pol. Or blogger. Or activist. Given protective cover for ever-growing spending by the likes of New York Times’s Nobel columnist, Paul Krugman, any idea of federal spending cutbacks have been and remain off limits.

Maybe Professor Tirole can convince them.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Red Light Robots

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Since we constantly battle against bad government — it being necessary to pare government down to its essential kernel, where it protects rather than tramples our rights — we sometimes lose sight of the fact that good government is both possible and necessary.

Now, many folks will raise an eyebrow, here. “‘Good government’ isn’t just about protecting our rights,” they might say. “It’s about providing key services. Like roads. Traffic lights. That sort of thing.”

Sure, we need roads. And safety measures. Nevertheless, good government is not about overkill.

Take automated intersection policing. That is, the infamous “red-light cameras.”

The New York Post reports that one camera — one intersection robot (better term, eh?) — snapped 1551 infractions on July 7. That was $77,550 for one camera for one day. No wonder that one city councilman likes it. And says it makes roadways safer.

But over at Reason, Zenon Evans marshals some skepticism. “A British study on speed cameras last year determined that ‘the number of collisions appears to have risen enough to make the cameras worthy of investigation in case they have contributed to the increases.’” These dangerous effects don’t appear to be limited to the other side of the pond, either: “[M]any reports,” Evans concludes, “have indicated that red light cameras in the U.S. increase accidents.”

More policing isn’t necessarily better policing. The old rule about traffic safety is that the rules should be set to what most people would drive without the rules.

Let’s remember: rewarding ineffective, counter-productive policing with lots of money is a bad way to govern the governors.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.