Archive for April, 2010

Trying to Stifle Dissent

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Recently, former President Bill Clinton gravely warned that the anti-government sentiment could incite people to violence. Clinton was directing his criticism against the Tea Party protesters, whose demonstrations have proven remarkably peaceful. No one wishes to encourage violence, but we suggest here that Clinton’s warning is more about discrediting legitimate dissent than a warning against violence.

If Clinton were sincere about his concern, he might have spoken out against incendiary speech against President George Bush. Not only was Bush regularly compared to Hitler, but prominent people made accusations designed to engender anti-Bush hatred. The late Senator Ted Kennedy called the Iraq war a “fraud” cooked up in Texas. Air America radio talk show host Randi Rhodes speculated about a mafia style elimination of Bush. The 2006 movie the Death of a President graphically depicted the fictional assassination of the very real President Bush. Can you imagine the righteous (and justifiable) hand-wringing if there were such a graphic depiction of a similar incident with regard to President Barack Obama? It would probably not win the same number of international film awards.

The truth is that the Tea Party protests have been largely peaceful with far fewer arrests and incidents than usually accompany the same number of protesters for other causes. Just consider the Left-wing violent protests that typically happen whenever the G8 meets. According the New York Times, Tea Party protesters come from the middle classes, slightly more affluent and more educated than the population as a whole. Perhaps the most we can learn from Clinton’s remarks is that the Tea Party movement is threatening because it is so representative of a large swath of America.

Clinton has a history of exploiting domestic terrorism for political advantage. After a the destruction of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people.  Clinton and his political strategist Dick Morris, consciously used the tragedy to suggest that Conservatives, particularly those on talk radio created an environment conducive to violence. Unfortunately, we have come to expect such cynicism from politicians. It probably says more about Clinton and other Democratic leaders that they are so fretful about a group that has as the first element of its program:

“Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.

Only Growth Will Ease Our Economic Future

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

No small amount of energy and intellectual effort is devoted to determining what impact climate change will have, or on scanning the heavens for a near-Earth object bound for collision with Earth. These are noble and important pursuits, but there is another disaster facing the country no serious person disputes.

While it is not quite as certain as the sun rising tomorrow, the next few decades will bring a demographic time bomb. Baby boomers are by Census Department definition are those born between 1946 and 1964, the fecund product of millions of young Americans during that period more than compensating for the Great Depression and World War II.

During their working lives these boomers have made it possible to fund social security and Medicare with modest levels of taxation. In part because this cohort was so large, in part because baby boomers had fewer children, and in part because the life expectancy is increasing, the number of workers required to support as single retiree has decreased from over six in 1941 to about 3.5 today. After 2020, this number will fall below three. No matter how wealth is divided and re-apportioned, workers will be burdened with the support of the elders. The problem grows worse if you factor in Medicare and if don’t believe the recently-adopted health care plan will reduce the cost of medical care.

The number of people we will have in the country (except if we accept even larger rates of immigration) available to support the elderly is fixed. There are at least a couple of ways of mitigate the potential economic and social disaster.

One is delay retirement. This will increase the worker to retiree ratio. If the retirement age were 70 now, the number of available workers would be over 5 per retiree.

Secondly, the Boskin Commission reported that the traditional CPI over states inflation by about one to 1.3 percentage points each year. If the CPI increases by 2% the real rate of inflation is closer to 1%. If the inflation adjustments to Social Security were accordingly adjusted, it would medicate the burden of Social Security over time.

These last two suggestions, however, are essentially different ways of allocating a finite set of resources. In such cases, there will be incredible political battles between generations. The only way to alleviate that problem is robust economic growth. Taxes and other economic incentives must be structured to foster growth. With higher rates of growth, it is possible to both alleviate both the reductions in benefits the elder will have to bear as well as decrease burden on workers.

Real growth rates have averaged about 3.5%, and we will need sustained growth rates more than 4% to prevent long-term decreases in the standard of living. Unfortunately, real growth rates might be constrained by increased entitlements and higher deficits enacted by the Obama Administration. Potential constraints on energy output imposed to mitigate climate change will also slow growth.

Growth is the only socially stable way out of the upcoming fiscal crisis and it does not seem that the current Administration is willing to pay much more than lip service to the notion.

Regime Change?

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between genuine and manufactured outrage. On MSNBC recently, commentary Chris Matthews was upset about the use of the word “regime” with regard to the Obama Administration by Rush Limbaugh. Matthews is correct in that the use of the word “regime” in this regard is useless partisan hyperbole. However, in Matthew’s anger could only make sense context of political amnesia.

Matthews said:  “I’ve never seen language like this in the American press…referring to an elected representative government, elected in a totally fair, democratic, American election — we will have another one in November, we’ll have another one for president in a couple years — fair, free, and wonderful democracy we have in this country…. We know that word, ‘regime.’ It was used by George Bush, ‘regime change.’ You go to war with regimes. Regimes are tyrannies. They’re juntas. They’re military coups. The use of the word ‘regime’ in American political parlance is unacceptable, and someone should tell the walrus to stop using it.”

During the 2004, elections there were many signs at political rallies calling for “regime change” with regard to the Bush Administration. While it is hard to draw too many conclusions from signs held by anger partisans at demonstrations, Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry in a speech to a Democratic gathering in Peterborough, New Hampshire encourage supporters  by saying, “What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States.” Byron York reports that Maureen Dowd in the New York Times used “regime” in reference to the Bush Administration from 2001 to 2009.

Republicans were duly outraged at the time, but why is Matthews so upset now when the usage is marshaled against the politician that caused “thrills up” his leg ? There have a few signs (but by no means many) at Tea Party demonstrations conflating Obama with Hitler which have drawn the ire of the Left. However, during the Bush Administration such vitriol was a dominant theme from the Left. It was even common to hear such anger among temperamentally moderate Liberals who are now upset when harsh words are said about President Barack Obama.

It is not just a case of willful forgetfulness, rather is part of an internal narrative that Liberals, abetted by other Liberals in the press, have deluded themselves into believing that confuses Liberals like Matthews. There is no real conviction that different people can reasonably disagree and hold different political position. Conservative are Conservatives not because in the trade-off between freedom and equality of outcomes, they lean toward freedom, it is because they are mean-spirited bigots. There are Conservatives who have the same affliction with regard to their assessment of those on the Left, but the contagion is not nearly so virulent among Conservatives, because this narrative is not repeated in the mainstream media. As the media bifurcates into Left and Right, the affliction may become a more evenly distributed.