Saturday, February 20, 2010

Part 3: Drowning the Government in the Bathtub

The last few days -- because I'm bored -- I've been going over UT-3's (a.k.a. Jason "Hundreds of Billions for Defense, But Not One Penny for Pensioners" Chaffetz) "Contract for the American Dream.

Part 1: Pointed out that, back when the "American Dream" of shared economic prosperity was strongest, the government played a strong role in America.

Part 2: Took issue with both the sincerity of the "debt crisis"-mongers and the slash-and-burn approach they want to take to solving it.

Part 3 (current): Continuing onward, starting with the section entitled "Limited Government":

Further, it is not the government that will create jobs, wealth, or propel the United States of America to reach its fullest potential. It is the American people who will drive America forward.

I don't know which irks me more, the profound disrespect shown to the many positive roles government plays in our civic life, the implication that government employees are separate and distinct from "the American people", or the Trebuchet MS font-face it's written in. I mean, why not just mark it up in Comic Sans and be done with it?

Individuals should have the freedom to succeed or fail in this country. It is not the government's role to stand in the way of either outcome or to choose winners and losers.

Had he written that "corporations should have the freedom to succeed or fail," I might be inclined to agree. But that's not what he writes. He's saying government shouldn't help individuals who find themselves on the losing end of life. To describe government as "standing in the way" of a losing outcome is to imply that the outcome is earned, and that there is something morally suspect about preventing the suffering that accompanies losing. He's preaching Social Darwinism, the message that perpetrates so much of the misery and suffering that happens around our country: there is no such thing as systemic injustice, the world is fair, and anyone who is having a rough time of things has -- one way or another -- brought the misery upon him or herself.

Fortunately, not all Americans are as indifferent to suffering as Rep. Chaffetz. We decided, as a nation, to tackle the enormous problem of elderly poverty, by starting a program called Social Security to deliver the same. It has some kinks to work out, and yes, it's expensive. But you can't expect to lift millions of elderly Americans out of poverty on the cheap. The same goes for Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, welfare payments, and a whole host of other problems. As a tax-paying citizen, I'm glad that these programs are there to help people who need it. I want them to be run as efficiently as possible, and I'm eager to see any clever proposals for making them better.

The Contract says that it is in our nature as Americans not to sit around and wait for government to solve our problems. There is some truth to that. But neither is it in our nature to turn a blind eye to the needy and the suffering. I don't believe these two instincts need to be at war, but clearly Mr. Chaffetz wants us all to think that they are.

Jason, if you believe that Americans are a hard-working, ingenious people, ready to tackle challenges, then you should have faith that they can apply that problem-solving ingenuity in the realm of improving government. Instead, you propose that we throw in the towel; declare defeat, pare the entire thing down to the bone, sell big chunks of it off to private enterprises that literally cannot represent the best interests of the American people, and hope that somehow, somewhere, prosperity emerges.

More specifics!

  • Repeal TARP and commit to no more "stimulus" bills that are merely a ruse to grow government.

TARP was mismanaged from the get-go, like pretty much everything else Bush did. Obama at least came in and made it more transparent and increased oversight. Now the money is mostly being repaid, Obama is proposing a tax on the biggest banks to make sure we get the rest of it, and the Democrats are hard at work trying to craft regulations to make sure the financial industry can't wreck the country quite so badly next time. Not surprisingly, Republicans are stonewalling the effort, because despite Alan Greenspan's mea culpa, they can't imagine that the free market was capable of footbulleting itself the way it did.

In the mind of the free marketeers, the economic collapse was caused by the Feds forcing banks to give homes to black people. Or something.

The stimulus was separate legislation, though Republicans benefit greatly from public confusion between the stimulus bill (ARRA) and the bank bailout (TARP). My main complaint about the bill was that it was too small, and focused too heavily on tax cuts.

Now that we're through the worst of it, and we're pretty sure the economy is no longer going to tip over if someone exhales, the Republicans can yammer about how the money spent fixing Bush's mess was ill-spent. I'm glad things are going well enough that they have that luxury.

Meanwhile, they're in lockstep opposition to a jobs bill to help put Americans back to work. It was your own fault for losing your jobs, stupid unemployed people.

  • Appoint a bi-partisan "Sunset Commission" to identify at least 100 federal departments or programs recommended for elimination by December 31, 2011.
I'm all in favor of getting rid of programs that are ineffective or harmful. But when you throw out an arbitrary number to be decommissioned by an arbitrary date, you're just grandstanding.

My alternative would be, every three years each program and each department would create a report that basically justified their existence, and outlined any roadblocks they faced in fulfilling their purpose. The reports wouldn't give us all the answers, but it would give everyone in the federal government a chance to hash out which expenditures were important and why.
  • Reduce the corporate income tax to a flat 10%. This will eliminate the wide array of corporate loopholes, incentivize business in the U.S.A., and simplify the tax code.
Fewer taxes for megacorps, less spending on the education, health, and welfare of Americans. I'm starting to sense a theme. At least

  • Reject the "Cap & Trade" scheme and repeal all EPA funding related to carbon policy.

If you read this blog -- and I know both of you do -- then you know that this proposal should generate three or four blog posts in its own right. I'll just start it off by asking, does Mr. Chaffetz propose this because he doesn't believe CO2 emissions are a problem, or because he believes that free markets have the problem well in hand?

I'm guessing the former. Global warming is a textbook case of a serious problem that cannot be addressed by purely free market mechanisms. No wonder the drown government in a bathtub crowd has to keep telling itself that it's a giant hoax; if it's real, it's like the whole planet is telling them that their ideology is crap.

  • Sell back to private ownership the three million acres of federal land identified under the Clinton Administration as having no federal purpose.

I'd need more detail on this one. Just for reference, three million acres is about four times the size of Rhode Island. I would be surprised if Chaffetz were interested in getting maximum value from the sale, even though it would go a long way in getting us out of this manufactured "debt crisis."

I know that I've come across as a staunch defender of all things governmenty these last few posts. I'm really not. I was all over government's case back when Bush was in office, pointing out the litany of bad things government causes. I'm a huge fan of Glenn Greenwald, who is no friend to the Washington establishment.

I'd like to put my government boosterism into context. I think of government and the corporate world as two separate spheres of power with competing goals. Government at its best can act as a check on corporate power and temper capitalism with the bit of humanity it needs to avoid a violent revolution of the proletariat. But in order to do so, it has to be allied with the interests of the people, not the corporations, and it has to have the size and scope to make an actual difference. You lose the first principle, you get fascism. You lose the second, you get Somalia.

I'm on the pro-government bandwagon right now, because the current flare-up of anti-government rhetoric is so blindly, willfully stupid. Just one example: the health care bill represents a grand compromise, bringing insurance to millions of Americans while intruding minimally into our unique employer-based system, and putting us on equal footing with every other industrialized nation (who somehow manage to provide universal coverage at relatively low cost). But if you listened to the tea partiers, they sound like Obama called for the immediate government takeover of the health care industry, then started rounding people up and forcing them through medical school at gunpoint.

Government needs serious reform, but the Tea Party -- and the politicians who court them -- are indiscriminate in their outrage. In their narrow, unthinking view, all government programs are useless (except defense, which we should continue to fund at rates comparable to the spending of the whole rest of the world), all recipients of government aid are unworthy, and all the government ever does is keep free enterprise from solving our problems. That breeds cynicism of the worst sort, which discourages bright and talented people from joining public service, which eventually gives us the crappy, ineffectual government Republicans -- and their corporate masters -- want us to have.

No comments: