Thursday, September 18, 2008

Liberal Feelings from a Libertarian

Yesterday, I was walking my dog when a homeless person asked for spare change. 

For once, I wasn't in a rush so I gave him a dollar and asked what his situation was. He explained that he's a laborer and been unable to get work. 

I asked why? He said, because employers prefer Latinos over Blacks--"They work like dogs for minimum wage." 

That reminded me:
  • of the tension between Blacks and Latinos, who often compete for the same jobs.
  • of the costs and benefits of uncontrolled immigration. 
  • most emotional to me, that real estate developers live in mansions on the backs of poor people willing to kill themselves for minimum wage. 
Today, I dropped my dog at Alfonso, the groomer. (I don't like primpy dogs but I don't want my baby, Einstein, to get matted--it's uncomfortable.) I asked Alfonso if the slowing economy is hurting his business. He said no but that the cost of food and other basics was making it difficult for him to get by. Alfonso is the best-regarded dog groomer in Oakland, who owns his own business, and even he struggles to get by. 

Something is wrong. Something is wrong when real estate developers, lawyers, bond traders, and insurance salespeople are rich and the best groomer in Oakland is worried about whether he can afford to eat.

I do believe that small government and free-market solutions are, in the end, best. I was just listening to Obama call for yet more regulations to try to keep financial firms from failing. And that reminds me of how harmful government regulation so often is. For example, corporations spend billions trying to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley's phalanx of accounting requirements, and by all accounts, it has done little good other than to waste money and force thousands of human beings to devote their lives to filling out meaningless paperwork. Government cannot control greed or incompetence.

In another part of Obama's speech today, he promised to bail out all those investors and homeowners who used "no-qualification" loans to pay for a house or other real estate they knew they couldn't afford, but hoped would go up in value.  It's wrong for government to take tax dollars from honest people to prop up those who chose to speculate with money they don't have.

And I'm virtually certain that Obama's expensive schemes to fund alternative energy, yet bigger spending on education, and mass legalization of illegals will be very poor uses of taxpayer dollars and a net negative on the nation.

And yet maybe, just maybe, in light of the huge gap between rich and poor, it's time to see what would occur under that perfect storm of liberalism: a hard-lefty Obama, with a liberal congress, and an ever-more-baldly liberal media.


Anonymous said...

We have 50 states, > 300M population and one of the largest economies on the planet.

We are too big for small government. A small government argument could have been made strongly up until 1865, when a man who's considered one of our greatest presidents fought a long and bloody war for large government, a victory generally celebrated today.

A less enormous government argument might have been viable up until World War 1, when we emerged as a military power. Once we decided that we wanted to be able to project force essentially anywhere in support of our interests, the small and even the less enormous government arguments were done.

So, the question is, what kind of large government do we want to have? Do we want to have one that doesn't know what it's doing and does it badly?

Case in point: farm policy. We have a centrally managed farm policy. We don't like to admit it, but we do. Since we don't like to admit it, it was once described to Congress as the worst centrally run policy since Stalin.

While true, this unfortunately didn't make Congress want to do a better job; it made them want to pretend they didn't, in fact, use blunt economic instruments to set production targets for farm goods.

Case in point: Military America. We have an enormous investment in our military. As of now, we can put bombs anywhere on the planet in a matter of minutes. If our conventional air force were offline, our naval forces would be able to do much of that job (though with far cruder instruments, nuclear armed submarines.)

That level of ability means that our investment in our defense industry is off-the-charts immense, so much so that we encourage the industry to sell to other nations to help defray the R and D costs for the high end gear we're using primarily for ourselves.

Are we governing our military well? How many of us are aware of the number of bases we have constructed in Iraq, and of the thinking that many of them are intended for indefinite US use?

In both farming and our military, we are not governing well, if we define 'governing' as "making and administering public policy and affairs." Congress chooses not to be willing to look at farm policy for what it is, and is kept from looking at military policy in those cases where it isn't already choosing not to look at it (the spending on the domestic infrastructure for the defense industry.)

We are in denial. We want to go back to founding documents that argued not just for small government but for a small country which did not meddle in others' affairs.

We don't actually want to live in the small country. We want the benefits of living in the superpower, but not the responsibility to govern it. We love Sarah Palin for reifying the myth of small town america and in so doing, letting us keep denying the largeness of the country.

I see small government arguments in the US as continuing our refusal to shoulder our obligation to govern the colossus we have built.

Marty Nemko said...

The trouble, as I see it, is that government does everything terribly inefficiently, and the bigger the government, the more labyrinthine and contradictory, and thus the less efficient.

And it is the working and middle-class that pays the most painful share of taxes, that yield so little benefit for the painful dollars they're forced to fork over to the government.

And if we soak the rich, we are damaging the most powerful engine for job creation, and in turn, standard of living.

Jeff Shore said...

I agree with the contention that our horribly inefficient government is making the difficult choices before us even more of a challenge. The crisis in healthcare, for example, is real and potentially catastrophic. But the argument that says, “The healthcare system is broken, therefore let’s turn to our highly inefficient government to fix it” makes no sense to me. Until we have very real legal reform that system will remain broken. This problem is indicative of all the ails Washington, DC – the people most responsible for making change have built a system that is adversely affected by said change.

But as long as the populace is more absorbed by Brittney Spears’ DUI than by the future of the country, an increasingly self-serving congress (on both sides of the aisle, I might add) will fatten up their re-election coffers while ensuring that the change both Presidential candidates so prominently speak of will never happen. Bottom line: the two-party system has grown into a morass of self-interest.

And Marty, to address your pot-shots at real estate developers, it is true that real estate developers made gobs of money from 1995 to 2005, but it is also true that they employed millions of people in the process. But the entrepreneurial developers that got fat in the boom times are dropping like flies in the bust. I can provide you with a list of developers here in the Sacramento area that have filed personal bankruptcy and lost their companies over the past couple of years. The bust is hurting everyone in the industry.

Finally, if that ‘perfect storm’ of liberalism occurs I will not be moving out of the country (I noticed Alec Baldwin never left when Bush was re-elected), but I do believe I will be ratcheting down my own business. Why bother to exceed Obama’s $250,000 income cap if it only means shooting me into an astronomical tax bracket. I will simply make less… and spend less.., and further drag down an already depressed economy.

Marty Nemko said...

Great points, Jeff.

I would, however, hope that no matter how heavily the government taxed your income over $250,000 that you'd realize that your work on this earth is not just for money, but to make the world better. So, as long as your work does that, in my judgment, you should continue to work hard.

Also, remember that it's not just your skill and hard work that enabled you to make good money. For example, you should be grateful that you lucked out being born in the U.S. vs. Zimbabwe, and that were born healthy and smart enough to have the potential to be successful. I hope you'll continue to work hard, if only to pay the cosmos back for the gifts that have been bestowed on you.

Anonymous said...

I've become highly discouraged this week. This country is failing and nobody seems to care.

Most ordinary people, like the homeless person and your dog groomer, are just trying to get by. We're all worried. The only people that don't worry are the corrupt people in business and the government (and yes, I know that not EVERY person in business and government is corrupt) who are covering their backsides at the average person's expense. But because the average person is just trying to get by, nothing changes. They can't pay attention.

I don't think there's an easy way out of this. I don't think either of the major party candidates will lead us out of this. Sooner or later, the federal government will collapse under its own weight and take the rest of the country with it. And it will probably happen sooner than we think.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Marty, but it's obvious that McCain is saying and would do the same thing this administration is doing. Bail-out after bail-out. There really just aren't clear cut conservative and liberal ideas anymore. We're a purple people.


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