Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Illinois Pension Reform Begins

It's sure to be a major battle.  This video from the Illinois Policy Institute outlines the prominent aspects of House Bill 149, a bill to bring reform to the pension system of public employees in Illinois.

The major questions over the bill that are tackled here are:

What will current employees keep?

How will the bill affect the public sector employee retirement age, currently 55, as opposed to private sector retirement age, currently 65?

What is the State Constitutional protection of pension benefits?

It's Ron Paul's World

We're just living in it.  Says...Juan Williams...

Very interesting conversation about the results of Paul's being the father of the Tea Party movement, and in particular following on the discussion of the legalization of drugs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Morality Over Freedom?

Michael Gerson wrote what amounts to a "for shame" kind of attack piece on Ron Paul in the Washington Post yesterday, decrying the Congressman's "second-rate values."  Gerson, as could be expected, seized on Paul's statement from last week's Republican debate that all drugs should be legalized, up to including cocaine and heroin.  Gerson rather ham-handedly goes at the argument by attacking what was actually one of Ron Paul's most poignant comments from the entire debate:
The freedom to use drugs, he argued, is equivalent to the freedom of people to “practice their religion and say their prayers.” Liberty must be defended “across the board.” “It is amazing that we want freedom to pick our future in a spiritual way,” he said, “but not when it comes to our personal habits.”
When you stop to think about it for a minute, this is a pretty obvious statement arguing for removing the authority to control drugs from the realm of the federal government.  What that one sentence does, quite matter-of-factly, is force a religious social conservative to look him or herself in the mirror and ask whether they would like there to be a federal law regarding whether or not they are allowed to choose their own religion.  Framed in this manner, if you are free to make the personal choice to fill your heart and soul with the holy spirit, or whatever deity of your choosing, why then should you not also be free to fill your lungs with smoke or your veins with poison?  Choosing to be a Catholic and live within the hard rules of Catholicism means that you have chosen to forgo many modern forms of birth control.  It is a choice you make, and if you find yourself with a child before you are financially capable of supporting one, you find a way to move on.  You may not be ready, either, emotionally, to raise that child, but you try, because you live with the choice you have made.  Perhaps over the years you damage both yourself and that child emotionally or even physically, due to the stresses a life of unreadiness brought you.  Perhaps you don't.  But it was your chocie to be a Catholic, and it was your choice, therefore, to live that particular life.

This may seem a strange example for comparison, but it holds as follows.  We do not view the choice of Catholicism and the subsequent lack of choice regarding when to have a child as being poisonous.  But if the family is not ready for it emotionally or financially, stresses and strains are applied to the family and the localized community that have the opportunity to eventually become poisonous, not only to that immediate family, but to that localized community as well.

The same is to be said of drug use.  Yes, it is a precarious choice to poison yourself, and perhaps eventually to destroy yourself, and in the process to have the opportunity to have a detrimental effect on the localized community, but should or should it not be your choice?

It is a question worth asking, though Gerson would have us believe that the concept itself is entirely backward, and that the mere suggestion of it by anyone is to deny the fact of addiction.
This argument is strangely framed: If you tolerate Zoroastrianism, you must be able to buy heroin at the quickie mart. But it is an authentic application of libertarianism, which reduces the whole of political philosophy to a single slogan: Do what you will — pray or inject or turn a trick — as long as no one else gets hurt. 
Even by this permissive standard, drug legalization fails. The de facto decriminalization of drugs in some neighborhoods — say, in Washington, D.C. — has encouraged widespread addiction. Children, freed from the care of their addicted parents, have the liberty to play in parks decorated by used needles. Addicts are liberated into lives of prostitution and homelessness. Welcome to Paulsville, where people are free to take soul-destroying substances and debase their bodies to support their “personal habits.”
I will forgo going into too much discussion about how Gerson ignores and therefore absolves entirely the economics behind why drug neighborhoods become drug neighborhoods, though this has far more to do with the "why" of things than does the actual drug use, and focus more on the fact that Gerson rests on the ever-popular "only government" argument, and specifically given his essay, "only the federal government," though he hides it within the cloak of the superiority of his own Republicn Morality.
Libertarians often cover their views with a powdered wig of 18th- and 19th-century philosophy. They cite Locke, Smith and Mill as advocates of a peaceable kingdom — a utopia of cooperation and spontaneous order. But the reality of libertarianism was on display in South Carolina. Paul concluded his answer by doing a jeering rendition of an addict’s voice: “Oh yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don’t want to use heroin, so I need these laws.” Paul is not content to condemn a portion of his fellow citizens to self-destruction; he must mock them in their decline. Such are the manners found in Paulsville. 
This is not “The Wealth of Nations” or the “Second Treatise of Government.” It is Social Darwinism. It is the arrogance of the strong. It is contempt for the vulnerable and suffering. 
The conservative alternative to libertarianism is necessarily more complex. It is the teaching of classical political philosophy and the Jewish and Christian traditions that true liberty must be appropriate to human nature. The freedom to enslave oneself with drugs is the freedom of the fish to live on land or the freedom of birds to inhabit the ocean — which is to say, it is not freedom at all. Responsible, self-governing citizens do not grow wild like blackberries. They are cultivated in institutions — families, religious communities and decent, orderly neighborhoods. And government has a limited but important role in reinforcing social norms and expectations — including laws against drugs and against the exploitation of men and women in the sex trade.
Without quite exactly saying it, because it would undermine his Superior Republican Morality to begin with, Gerson argues that only the federal government, led by Superior Republicans, has the ability to manage the issue of drugs with a "necessarily more complex" alternative to actual constitutional freedom, and so we come to the actual point.

The argument here is not one of whether drugs are bad for you, as Gerson would clumsily lead you to believe.  The argument, rather, is one of who should decide whether drugs are bad for you.

The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution tells us that this is an issue to be decided at the local level, within the local governments and within the states.  Michael Gerson and others of the Superior Republican Morality would have things decided at the federal level, because, of course, just like the Superior Democrat Morality regarding the environment, they just know better than you.

A conservative will join a libertarian in thinking that the federal government largely oversteps its bounds by doing something like limiting the gallons-per-flush on a toilet, or making 100 watt light bulbs illegal.  These are not, after all, life-altering choices of a moral bent for conservatives.  But drugs are.  And because the Superior Republican Morality comes into play, ultimately you just don't know what's best for you.

But the federal government sure does.  And it ain't Freedom.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Damn These Elites

From the humble, proletarian pen of a hard-working man of the people Nobel Prize Winning Professor of Economics at Princeton and the London School of Economics, to the lowly pages of a little known newspaper with small circulation New York Times comes a damning of the elites that run our lives yet another tired blaming of the Bush Administration for our economic woes.

Paul Krugman must receive a per-word raise every time he finds a way to write something less coherent than his last piece.
So it was the bad judgment of the elite, not the greediness of the common man, that caused America’s deficit. And much the same is true of the European crisis.
Needless to say, that’s not what you hear from European policy makers. The official story in Europe these days is that governments of troubled nations catered too much to the masses, promising too much to voters while collecting too little in taxes. And that is, to be fair, a reasonably accurate story for Greece. But it’s not at all what happened in Ireland and Spain, both of which had low debt and budget surpluses on the eve of the crisis. 
The real story of Europe’s crisis is that leaders created a single currency, the euro, without creating the institutions that were needed to cope with booms and busts within the euro zone. And the drive for a single European currency was the ultimate top-down project, an elite vision imposed on highly reluctant voters. 
Does any of this matter? Why should we be concerned about the effort to shift the blame for bad policies onto the general public? 
One answer is simple accountability. People who advocated budget-busting policies during the Bush years shouldn’t be allowed to pass themselves off as deficit hawks; people whopraised Ireland as a role model shouldn’t be giving lectures on responsible government. 
But the larger answer, I’d argue, is that by making up stories about our current predicament that absolve the people who put us here there, we cut off any chance to learn from the crisis. We need to place the blame where it belongs, to chasten our policy elites. Otherwise, they’ll do even more damage in the years ahead.
While the general point that we shouldn't be listening to most of the now-reformed "fiscal hawks" telling us what to do now is a good one to take from this article, the fact that Krugman couches that same argument in a finger pointing tirade at some shadowy elites (read: EVIL REPUBLICANS) is not only purely irresponsible, it's also hypocritical, particularly his shot across the bow at Alan Greenspan.
Let me give a particular shout-out to Alan Greenspan, who played a crucial role both in financial deregulation and in the passage of the Bush tax cuts — and who is now, of course, among those hectoring us about the deficit.
Apparently Krugman has forgotten, or maybe wishes all of the rest of us had forgotten, about his own prodding of Greenspan to do exactly what led us into the housing bubble and eventual crisis in the first place.
KRUGMAN: I think frankly it’s got to be — business investment is not going to be the driving force in this recovery. It has to come from things like housing, things that have not been (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 
DOBBS: We see, Paul, housing at near record levels, we see automobile purchases near record levels. The consumer is still very much in this economy. Can he or she — or I should say he and she, can they bring back this economy? 
KRUGMAN: Well, as far as the arithmetic goes, yes, it is possible. Will the Fed cut interest rates enough? Will long-term rates fall enough to get the consumer, get the housing sector there in time? We don’t know
That particular exchange took place back in 2001, prior to 9/11, where Krugman surveyed the post-internet recession and proclaimed that the Fed had to pump up the housing sector.  The Nobel Prize Winning, New York Times Contributing, Princeton and LSE Economics-Teaching ELITE Krugman, was one of those people pushing us further down the Keynesian Road to Serfdom to the point we find ourselves at now.

I remember some lowly prole writing something pretty smart recently...
But the larger answer, I’d argue, is that by making up stories about our current predicament that absolve the people who put us here there, we cut off any chance to learn from the crisis. We need to place the blame where it belongs, to chasten our policy elites. Otherwise, they’ll do even more damage in the years ahead.

Vegan Bacon

And the appropriate response to it...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fight of the Century

In January 2010, launched a now infamous campaign to bring the story of the Hayek vs. Keynes economic debate to the masses via the rap battle.  "Fear the Boom and Bust" went viral, and has since garnered over 2.1 million views.

Five days ago, they released their follow up, a spectacularly deep video, both musically and visually.  The video presents the debate between Keynes and Hayek, beginning with a dual grilling before a Congressional panel, and moving to the boxing ring as they trade economic theory blows.  We end with Keynes being patted on the back by the Fed Chairman, Wall Street types, and the media at large, while Hayek is shunned, but suddenly embraced in full by a crowd of Regular People.

The message is fantastic throughout, and is an excellent continuation of the debate.  It's already gotten over 450,000 views.  Why not give it a few more?  Enjoy "Fight of the Century!"

BONUS:  Lyrics with hyperlinked relevant articles and posts from