February 06, 2003
No, I'm Not Being Ironic. I Genuinely Do Not Understand

No, I'm Not Being Ironic. I Genuinely Do Not Understand

Mark Kleiman writes that my Bush budget proposal headline, "I Really Cannot Understand Why Anyone Would Do This," is "no doubt ironic. Brad understands perfectly well why somone would do this"--that is, set the U.S. government on a course toward national bankruptcy by creating a huge disparity a generation from now between the finances and the commitments of the U.S. government. To plan on quintupling the debt of the United States in 2050--raising it to 250% of GDP--is truly extraordinary.

In Mark's view, they--the Bush Administration, and its Republican Congressional allies--would do it for:

...the partisan advantage of being able to spend lots of money and cut taxes at the same time. (As the very senior Senator said to the freshman who asked him about the secret of political longevity, "Son, I never voted against an appropriation -- or for a tax.") Yes, this approach has the side-effect of bankrupting the government. But if you believe in the Reaganite mantra "Government is the problem," that looks like a feature, not a bug. (Of course this depends on a formulation in which the military and the domestic-security apparatus and anything else you're in favor of aren't part of "government," which means the National Endowment for the Arts, IRS agents, OSHA inspectors, and checks to poor folks, but the whole point of being a true believer is that you don't have to do a lot of reality-checking.) Or you just fantasize about a game of "train wreck" in which you merely set up the threat of national bankruptcy and that forces your political opponents, who on this theory have to be much more patriotic than you are, to agree to butcher all their favorite programs in order to avoid the train wreck. (That's what you get when you're finished unpacking Mickey Kaus's defense of Bush, for example.) The good news is that the bad news is finally getting through. I got a phone call last night from a hard-core conservative friend, now doing a non-political job in Washington that puts him face-to-face with the budget numbers. "I hate to say it," he said, "but these people are completely out of control."

Mark Kleiman is wrong. I truly don't understand why anyone would do this. I understand why, once the administration has decided to do this, someone like Mickey Kaus would choose to run interference for them--for him policies are not real, but just a game, epater le liberaloisie and all that--plus running interference for Mitch Daniels and company gets him points he can spend on getting future interesting news leaks from Republican hacks.

But everybody who goes into politics for real--who runs for the Congress, or takes a senior job in the Executive Branch--is a patriot. There are other careers one can enter with a much hihger probability of success that promise more in the way of fame, wealth, and the absence of boredom. Only a deep love-of-country can make someone become an Assistant Secretary of HHS or a Director of OIRA or a Representative from the area around Knoxville.

Nobody enters politics seeking to make their country poorer, weaker, and more miserable. Only patriots enter American politics. And trying to mold America's mid-twenty-first century politics into a pattern like that of present-day Argentina is not a patriotic thing to do.

Posted by DeLong at February 06, 2003 05:01 PM | Trackback

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Brad DeLong writes that he really (really!) doesn't understand what the Bush Adminstration is doing.

The real, real answer is contained in the wisdom of that (apocryphal?) senator:

"Son, I never voted against an appropriation -- or for a tax."

That's why G.W. Bush does what he does. He cuts taxes, because he thinks (correctly!) that people like tax cuts. And he increases spending because he thinks (correctly!) that people like spending increases.

The part I really, really, don't understand is why Dr. DeLong thinks Al Gore would have been any different. Al Gore promised to do the very same things Bush is doing. Al Gore proposed to lower taxes (although less than Bush) and increase spending (more than Bush).

That is what politicians do. Especially when they know they will be President for only 8 years.

That's why it's so important for The People restrain them. The only way to do that is for The People to elect candidates who promise to CUT spending. And then vote those people out of office when they don't cut spending.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on February 6, 2003 05:17 PM

... and then there is the surreal possibility that these guys are deluded hyper-supply-siders. Like they believe that if the Administration takes steps today to bankrupt the government today, then rational economic agents should be able to increase savings today to make up for the loss of retirement income (talk about the S-word...)

I have to force myself to believe this to some extent to avoid a panick attack.

Here is yet another explanation: could these people be driven by the idea that our modern society is deeply pervert and immoral. I mean, you hear similar arguments on the extreme-left as well. Arguments that imply that we pretty much have to take down the American society as we know it, and rebuild it on a "better" set of principles (say, "harmony with nature".)

Maybe our key leaders believe some of their citizens have got to be "remoulded" (or "purified"?), e.g. by going cold turkey on all kinds of social programs, including social security, if we want their true American soul to be reborn...

And then the panick attack starts again, no irony implied. Government as the "incarnation of Communism in our own Nation." Recall that the same guys are against promoting the use of condoms in AIDS-affected LDC's. Talk about being insensitive to human suffering for the sake of Higher Objectives.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on February 6, 2003 05:20 PM

With all due respect Professor, and much as I would like to agree with you, I do not believe that the members of the current Administration are patriots. I have worked in the executive offices of a mayor, a governor and a president. I agree with you that patriots would not present a budget like this. People who really believed they were elected to make life better for all Americans would not propose a budget like this. But this Administration was not elected and does not care for most Americans. People take some of these jobs for the power it brings. And some of the people take lower jobs hoping that it will bring them power later, or because they have been promised something else. The connections between the regulators and the regulated industries are too close in this administration, and I believe people are taking those jobs with particular private purposes in mind. The year I spent dealing with this Administration from a state house only made me see how much we underestimated the ruthlessness and small-mindedness of our current leaders.

Posted by: lisse on February 6, 2003 06:23 PM

lisse is correct. Bush is not a President who governs for the common good but sees his presidency as a chance to run the government for the benefit of his supporters.

Posted by: Jim Nickens on February 6, 2003 07:25 PM

The other patriot-based explanation is that the principals just don't understand the concepts; it's not like getting elected President requires a degree in economics. Reagan, for example, appeared not to understand the requirement that the government, in general, offset tax cuts with spending cuts.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on February 6, 2003 07:33 PM

"Only patriots enter American politics." from your last paragraph should come with the caveat "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." I'm not being ironic either.

Posted by: tjg on February 6, 2003 07:42 PM

I don't doubt for a moment that we should believe many Republicans at their word: bumping up military spending while cutting taxes squeezes out $ for entitlements and other non-discretionary social spending that the right, ideologically, does not believe should exist anyway. Social Security, Medicare, etc., are very popular however and would be difficult if not impossible to abolish politically. But might they abolished "fiscally?" Its the same song and dance from the Reagan years.

Posted by: Jon Levy on February 6, 2003 07:53 PM

Professor DeLong says >Nobody enters politics seeking to make their country poorer, weaker, and more miserable. Only patriots enter American politics. <

Um.

You *are* putting us on, right?

Have you ever worked in the private sector?

Do you have an inkling of how men like Ken Lay come to the position of power that allows them to wreck the lives of *millions* of shareholders, employees and Californians?

The short answer is that they lie. Not in the normal way, in which a lie detector would splatter recorder ink off the ceiling. They lie in a sociopathic manner, in which the lie detector would show barely a tremor. The lie is so deeply ingrained in them that they don't know the difference between the truth and a lie.

Take a sociopathic liar and put him in the White House and you have the current president.

Does he *want* to make his country poorer, weaker and more miserable? The answer is he doesn't care. As a sociopath, he is incapable of caring. If he thinks that making the country richer will make him richer, he will do that. If he thinks that making the country poorer will make him richer, he will do that.

You *are* putting us on, aren't you?

Posted by: Charles Utwater II on February 6, 2003 08:09 PM

I agree that politicians--and really, anyone who has very strong political feelings--is a patriot. Well, maybe not anyone--maybe most. That's why I absolutely hate the "us vs. them" attitude. I think they (right-wingers) really do believe that tax cuts pay for themselves and then some, despite all evidence to the contrary. There's a very strong correlation between people who believe this and people who believe evolution is a scam--not, I think, coincidentally.

Posted by: Stoffel on February 6, 2003 08:31 PM

Is it time to flood the zone regarding the faults? Granted, it's a tougher game than "Blame the Racist" but someone needs to get it some attention.

Posted by: Left in the West on February 6, 2003 08:51 PM

Only patriots enter American politics? I think your views on this matter have been skewed by your service in the Clinton administration.

I see little evidence of genuine patriotism in the senior levels of this administration.

Posted by: Fabio on February 7, 2003 12:09 AM

Only patriots enter American politics? I think your incurable sense of optimism has finally metastasized.

I see little evidence of genuine patriotism in the senior levels of this administration.

Posted by: Fabio on February 7, 2003 12:14 AM

If there is anythting Patriotic about this administration and it's messianic minions, we should all be on our way to the Canadian border seeking refuge. There is but one real guiding light for ALL the Bushmen. "Give tax cuts to the wealthy, for they are the ones who fund, feed, house and keep us". There really is not any real rational explanation otherwise. Don't strain yourself trying to imagine one. This is a return to the 'robber baron' ethos. Kevin Phillips is right, we've seen it before in other administrations, and we are seeing it again. Might they IMAGINE that they are doing patriotic duty by relieving the tax burden on their rich cronies? Well I guess so. Is this in any sense true patriotism? Well no. Was it true patriotism to use war as a purely partisan political issue, and with full anticipation, relish and abandon? Well no again. What do we call states that seek to foment wars where none are needed, and where no real imminent threat exists? And ones where the state or a powerful clique of likeminded corporate powers are in control of most of the unquestioning mass media? Might then we thing again what real patriotism means, as David Neiwert and others have suggested for this administration? I think you are searching for an explanation that lies in your grasp. Patriotism means caring about something greater than yourself, something beyond your class and your friends and supporters. Sorry, but we've never seen any actual demonstrable evidence that our current fearless leader is actually capable of this feat. In his short and happy public career, there are simply no known examples of it. I'm sure they will be at the ready with media manufactured semblances of this thing you speak of, but nothing that say Everett Dirksen would recognize as being the genuine article. So Double Dip here we come, and double down on all the bets in Vegas, it's the only way we are ever going to see any money for retirement.

Posted by: VJ on February 7, 2003 12:32 AM

I think part of the problem is that these people are all fuzzy majors, and worse, proud of their ignorance of technical matters. There are people who know what they're doing, but they're afraid of speaking out and losing their jobs and social standing within the Movement.

something Krugman once wrote about the French makes the point about these people much better than I could:

" Fifteen years ago, just after François Mitterrand became president of France, I attended my first conference in Paris. I can't remember a thing about the conference itself, although my impressions of the food and wine--this was my first adult visit to the city--remain vivid. The only thing I do remember is a conversation over dinner (canard aux olives) with an adviser to the new government, who explained its plan to stimulate the economy with public spending while raising wages and maintaining a strong franc.

To the Americans present this program sounded a bit, well, inconsistent. Wouldn't it, we asked him, be a recipe for a balance of payments crisis (which duly materialized a few months later)? "That's the trouble with you Anglo-Saxon economists--you're too wrapped up in your theories. You need to adopt a historical point of view." Some of us did, in fact, know a little history. Wasn't the plan eerily reminiscent of the failed program of Leon Blum's 1936 government? "Oh no, what we are doing is completely unprecedented."

The French have no monopoly on intellectual pretensions or on muddled thinking. They may not even be more likely than other people to combine the two. There is, however, something special about the way the French political class discusses economics. In no other advanced country is the elite so willing to let fine phrases overrule hard thinking, to reject the lessons of experience in favor of delusions of grandeur. . .


. . .But let us not blame French politicians. Their inanities only reflect the broader tone of economic debate in a nation prepared to blame its problems on everything but the obvious causes. France, say its best-selling authors and most popular talking heads, is the victim of globalization--although adroit use of red tape has held imports from low-wage countries to a level far below that in the United States (or Britain, where the unemployment rate is now only half that of France). France, they say, is the victim of savage, unrestrained capitalism--although it has the largest government and the smallest private sector of any large advanced country. . .

But if it turns out that Chirac's political debacle is the beginning of a much larger disaster--the collapse of the whole vision of European glory that has obsessed France for so long--we can be sure of one thing: The French will blame it all on someone else."

How true.

Posted by: roublen vesseau on February 7, 2003 01:28 AM

Sorry. the last post was too long, but do you notice the parallel between the French Minister dismissing the "theory" that one cannot simultaneously raise wages, increase spending and maintain a strong franc, and the Bushies dismissing the "theory" that increased Government borrowing raises interest rates?

"You economists are too wrapped up in your theories. You need to adopt a historical view. . ."

The link to the Krugman article is here:

http://web.mit.edu/krugman/www/gauls.html

Posted by: roublen vesseau on February 7, 2003 01:37 AM

You may be giving too much credit to the last refuge of scoundrels. Even assuming that those who govern us believe what they do is in the interest of the country, think what that could mean. For starters, the people in question include Dan Burton and Tom Delay. A close advisor to a president who served within your lifetime advised (after returning to private life) dealing with federal law enforcement officers with “headshots, headshots, headshots” (he wasn’t talking about photography). We have in recent years been through a real orgy of hatred toward an elected president, with elected officials engaging in all kinds of hypocrisy in pursuing his downfall. We have seen the Supreme Court split right down ideological lines in deciding that that president’s official duties would not be impaired by forcing him to submit to a civil trial and in determining the outcome of an election. Most of the folks involved in these actions probably told themselves what they were doing was for the good of the country. “Patriotism” offers little comfort.

There is the possibility that not everybody who has risen to high office has better opportunities elsewhere. Their choice to go into government service may not represents a sacrifice, evidence of patriotism. Aren’t there opportunities for a sort of indirect rent-seeking that may promise more wealth than some of these less than stellar thinkers could hope to garner in the private economy? Is power less desirable than money, when there is money enough at hand?

Examples of our leaders making decisions not in the best interest of the country about like keeping unnecessary weapons programs alive or imposing trade barriers and other economic policies that are directly damaging to the economy. It is important to understand why our leaders do what they do, but it is not necessary to handcuff our understanding by starting from the assumption they understand what is best for the country, or that they are motivated to do what is best for the country. The assumption of high-mindedness seems unrealistic, with so much evidence to the contrary.

Posted by: K Harris on February 7, 2003 05:10 AM

"Only patriots enter US politics"

That is brilliant. Up there with that quote by the West Wing president that assasinating someone 'makes us like other countries'

Priceless.

Posted by: Matthew on February 7, 2003 06:15 AM

I think that saying everyone who becomes a politician is a patriot is similar to saying that everyone who becomes a cop is a patriot. Some of them just want to wear a gun and push people around and act like a big man. Janet Rehnquist is almost the perfect example.

Posted by: Christopher McGrath on February 7, 2003 06:17 AM

Whether they're patriots when they start doesn't matter: politicians who don't cut taxes and raise spending get weeded out. (Walter Mondale anyone?) It's a collective action problem.

Posted by: M. on February 7, 2003 06:38 AM

>> ... set the U.S. government on a course toward national bankruptcy by creating a huge disparity a generation from now between the finances and the commitments of the U.S. government. To plan on quintupling the debt of the United States in 2050--raising it to 250% of GDP--is truly extraordinary. ..<<<

It's never going to happen, and never was. *Both* those lines on those graphs, before and after, are unsustainable. The "disparity ... between the finances and the commitments of the U.S. government" already exists, you don't have to wait a generation.

What is going to happen on present law is that in 15 years or so Social Security and Medicare and related entitlements are going to start consuming general income tax revenue on a large and perpetually growing scale, since the further out you go the more imbalanced they grow.

At *that* point people are going to start asking a very sensible question -- why the heck is Warren Buffett and all his friends "the rich" collecting retirement subsidies from general revenue through taxes imposed on people poorer than they are, in an era when there's not enough money to pay for welfare for the truly poor, to fix up poor schools, to provide agricultural subsidies to needy farmers, pay for whatever war is going on, etc.?

It's a fair question too: As a matter of both justice and economics, it makes no sense at all for the rich to be collecting retirement subsidies by direct transfers from everyone poorer than themselves. The next obvious step is means testing of benefits, and with only moderate means testing to make the rich pay their own freight, *poof* the entitlement-driven deficits (like SS 25% underfunding) largely go away and those lines flatten out nicely. And the justice of the system is improved nicely as well.

The Bush budget changes have no effect on this at all. Well, maybe bigger deficits will accelerate the process by a couple years -- accelerating the improvement of the justice and economics of the system marginally. But the political fundamentals are a sure thing either way -- FDR said so explicitly back in 1935, which is why he insisted that SS be funded only with dedicated payroll taxes and on an actuarially sound basis too, just as *his* SS was.

Of course, means testing means great change in SS and Medicare as we know them -- but they've been changing all along, the programs we know would be unrecognizable to FDR and LBJ. So there's no reason they shouldn't continue to change to improve their justice and economics. And we've already moved significantly down the means-testing street for SS, albeit in ways the politicians have taken great pains to hide.

A little irony here is that those who insist SS as we know it must be "saved" with general revenue are accelerating its inevitable change much faster than the Bush deficits are, as FDR would have warned them. If they really wanted to save something as much like today's SS as possible they'd support something like the Feldstein or Moynihan plans to bring about long term balance by adding modest private savings in the program -- like those radical right-wing Swedes have done. And they'd look for similar ideas for Medicare.

In any event, about those deficit lines, they both shoot off in the wrong direction at an accelerating rate *forever* (they don't just stop in 2050) which is impossible, and so ain't going to happen. So it's a bit unrealistic to say the second impossible line is better than the first. To the extent it enables politicians to defer for a little bit facing what makes those lines impossible, it is worse.

Posted by: Jim Glass on February 7, 2003 07:08 AM

My father spent his entire career in public service, and he is a deeply patriot man and probably realized that he was sacrificing something in terms of income to make Indiana a better place.

But the rise of crony capitalism in the U.S. complicates the formulation that public service equals patriotism. I think far too many people in this administration have bootstrapped themselves upwards by trading their government connections for corporate positions, then their corporate "credentials" for a more senior public postings. Indeed, it's hard to say how patriotic someone like Cheney or Daniels or O'Neil or White have to be, since their eventual corporate payday more than made up for whatever income they sacrificed while in public service.

It used to be said of the Quakers that they "did well by doing good." With this lot, the same could be said, though with much more irony than you might find palatable.

Posted by: jlw on February 7, 2003 07:28 AM

I have no doubt that without reforms on entitlement programs ANY budget projection is going to be unstable. The argument that somehow hastening the point of no return is (or may be)a better outcome still makes very little sense to me.

First of all it is irresponsible, the government that hastens the demise of SS is typically not going to be the one that has to pick up the pieces, and the generation that goes on the binge is not the one that has to deal with the hangover. Second, I am also not persuaded that economic decisions are best made under severe uncertainty. And third, as I said earlier, if the goal is to accelerate the demise of scoail security there are a lot more equitable ways of going about it, with the abandonment of the payroll tax being the best option. I would much rather sacrifice social security on the altar of lower payroll taxes than on the altar of zero dividend taxes. It would be equitable, provide a boost for employment and give the economy stimulus.

So I think the argument that allowing the fiscal situation to deteriorate in the intermediate run is pretty much equivalent to making sure that the fiscal situation is balanced in the intermediate run is terribly flawed.

There are other reasons to be concerned too. Japan is a good example of a country that ran out of ammo too soon. I agree with the Fed and the government going all out to stabilize the economy and prevent it going into deflation. But running large fiscal deficits (that don't provide a stimulus boost) over the intermediate run will leave us very vulnerable to neagtive shocks. Also, if any meaningful reform of social security involves modification of its pay as you go aspects, then we need to have the resources to compensate the transition generation. Jim has a lot of faith that society will rise up against a system in which resources that the poor need instead go to the rich that don't need it. I am less sanguine. (BTW, I learned that word in my ESL class, Patrick.) The more likely outcome i sthat the money needed to finance the transition will simply be borrowed, crowding out more investment than we would if we had something left in the tank.

Posted by: achilles on February 7, 2003 07:52 AM

> Whether they're patriots when they start
> doesn't matter: politicians who don't cut taxes
> and raise spending get weeded out. (Walter
> Mondale anyone?) It's a collective action
> problem.

Yes, there's a big collective action problem here. But I can't agree [if this is the implication] that somehow the American public is forcing Bush to push these huge high-end-skewed tax cuts. In fact, the survey data indicate that the public didn't much like the first round of tax cuts (except of course for the part they got) and doesn't much like this round. (By the way, bear in mind that in 1996 Bob Dole ran on a platform of IMO blatantly irresponsible tax cuts -- and it didn't seem to do him any good.)

There's also the interesting focus group study from 2001 in which participants refused to believe that the moderator was correctly describing the Bush tax cuts. Given the populist rhetoric Bush used to pitch his next round in the State of the Union address, we can expect another bout of unwillingness to accept just how skewed the actual proposals are. Like Brad -- heck, like me -- they just find it hard to understand that someone who seems fundamentally decent and well-intentioned can do some of the things he does.

That (IMO understandable) failure of imagination aside, our political system is not designed to make it easy for the public to say, "Enough is enough." And of course we can find other fair criticisms of average Americans. But I don't think we're getting the government we deserve; I think we deserve better.

Posted by: Mark Lindeman on February 7, 2003 08:08 AM

Shorter Jim Glass:

The quicker to crisis the smarter the fix.

True patriots approve of the Argentinian model, it seems.

Posted by: Russell L. Carter on February 7, 2003 08:42 AM

I too have to take issue with the patriotism of the current administration. After all this president has revived a practice of paying homage to the rebellion of the southern states, the single greatest threat to this country in its history.

Posted by: Sander Ash on February 7, 2003 09:16 AM

If they really wanted to save something as much like today's SS as possible they'd support something like the Feldstein or Moynihan plans to bring about long term balance by adding modest private savings in the program -- like those radical right-wing Swedes have done.

When I see a *single* suggestion from a politican for a private accounts system that doesn't double count or double spend, I'll support it.

The Bush budget changes have no effect on this at all. Well, maybe bigger deficits will accelerate the process by a couple years -- accelerating the improvement of the justice and economics of the system marginally.

I think a $300 billion structural deficit will accelerate it by more than a couple of years.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on February 7, 2003 10:43 AM

Re the comments about lying at a sociopathic level; I think this might be quite right. I think that what we are seeing is the slow road to oligarchy. Crony capitalists (lets call them Double C's) back politicians with the implicit understanding that the politicians will go to bat for them. Double C's fund student groups, think tanks, and media institutions that will reinforce the Double C's message. At all levels of the debate, Double C's dominate. They have acchieved total veritical integration, all the while focusing on the tiny (and often just as poisonous) groups that stand in the way; I'm thinking primarily of the so-called "liberal elite" and "liberal dominated college campuses." Money is overwhelming democracy, this much is clear. We may live in an age of democratic capitalism, but the second is overwhelming the first. And I'm fairly conservative (not that you could really tell by this). But I think we are drifting towards capitalist oligarchy. And until there are any signs pointing otherwise, I will be worried about our nation. I hope I don't sound like a flaming communist.

Posted by: Friction Wheel on February 7, 2003 05:33 PM

If there is anythting Patriotic about this administration and it's messianic minions, we should all be on our way to the Canadian border seeking refuge.

I hate to hear this. Why should we seek refuge? It's our country too. We should force administrations like this out of our government. We need to continue to criticize, to increase the heat if possible, and continue to shoot down these idiotic ideas when they are proposed.

There is no reason for the informed public to be complacent on this.

Posted by: Joseph R. Dietrich on February 7, 2003 07:06 PM

Friction Wheel says "Re the comments about lying at a sociopathic level; I think this might be quite right. I think that what we are seeing is the slow road to oligarchy."

Fast road, but otherwise no dispute.

What is going on should concern genuine conservatives first and foremost. Not just the Administration but the whole country has accepted lying as an acceptable means of doing business. The fiscal integrity of the nation has been attacked in what the Financial Times lampooned as a budgetary work of fiction. The Bill of Rights is under attack. Genuine conservatives should be frothing at the State's plans to seize property without a judicial proceeding, search without warrants and convict without due process or the right of appeal. Conservatives, fretful ever of the concentration of power, should be alarmed by the fact that a dozen media corprations control every newspaper, television station, radio station, magazine and movie studio. But the universal acceptance of the Culture of Lies should be paramount as repellent to genuine conservatives.

I don't use the word "sociopath" lightly. I believe the Mayberry Machiavellis in the White House have so lost touch with the truth that they cannot tell the difference between truth and lies.

Posted by: Charles Utwater II on February 7, 2003 07:45 PM

Brad's argument is, to a point, sound: compared to private industry, the business of government in the US (and the UK, unless you're Derry Irvine) requires something of a sacrifice in favour of service. Tony Blair would earn far more, and have a far easier life, had he followed his wife into silk and possibly the judiciary. (Power isn't always capable of being capitalised, I appreciate, but still.) To that extent, politics remains somewhat vocational, especially at the lower tiers.

The Bush administration appears to want to change this, by making the business of government such that a Kenneth Law or Bernie Ebbers would consider it familiar. And yes, it's a fast dash to oligarchy.

Posted by: nick sweeney on February 8, 2003 08:25 AM

what the hell? is this democrats undergournd?

i know brad teaches at berkely, but... did you really have to turn this into another sproul?

as for why is bush doing this? maybe because people understand that everything outside of defence isn't necessary spending (though unfortunately these guys believe in the dea, mostly) and that when times get tough, some things get thrown overboard (say ss, hhs, hud, yada yada yada)

budget projections are crap, and ferment as they get longer (it's all sh*t past 2 months), but in the real world, the longer ss is perceived as a stable program that can deliver on its current promises, the more people get screwed (by not saving or properly planning for their later years)... accelerating the problem reduces its impact, rather than increasing it (since i'll be around in 2050 and most of y'all won't, and i'll be paying your fing benefits, you worthless.... i'd like things fixed now rather than later)

as for crony capitalism... the more government, the more corruption... "why'd you rob the bank?" "That's where the money is!"

if you get the government out of the economy, you'll get corportions out of the government... when people have to deal with the crap that comes from nancy pelosi et al. who would like to go back to the kennedy era 90% tax rates, 95% capital taxes, dictatorship of the proletariat, etc... well then business people get involved in politics.

also, see the microsoft trial, where sun used the courts to compete against microsoft... businesses seek every advantage (its called competition, aka what you hate but engage in in the faculty lounge)

if gov't limits spending to police, courts, prisons, and defence, corruption will be limited to those areas... the larger the government, the more corruption.

where you really get cc is when government intrudes completely... see california and anything within the coastal commision's purview. you need access to make things happen, because so much is up to unelected commisioners and staffers (zoning inspectors, etc)... so developers invest massive money in grayout davis, so that they can get their proposals through...

the other major scam is in condemnation... hmm government can take whatever it wants, when it wants to... how about we donate to politicians and get them to condemn that really awesome piece of property, just off times square, for our new building (so though punch sulzberger [sp] for the new NYT headquarters) and we'll get a sweetheart price on the land too!

no government, no corruption... now go back to trying to kill jews on sproul

CHOMSKY!!!

Posted by: Libertarian Uber Alles on February 8, 2003 10:55 AM

"Conservatives, fretful ever of the concentration of power, should be alarmed by the fact that a dozen media corprations control every newspaper, television station, radio station, magazine and movie studio."

Take it up with the FCC - they're the ones that leave the spectrum mostly empty in nearly every market, thus reducing the number of players it can support.

"maybe because people understand that everything outside of defence isn't necessary spending (though unfortunately these guys believe in the dea, mostly) and that when times get tough, some things get thrown overboard (say ss, hhs, hud, yada yada yada)"

We're still waiting for something to get thrown overboard. Smaller government my ass.

Posted by: Ken on February 8, 2003 01:35 PM

I CLEARLY understand what the BUSH administration is up to and your comments indicating you Don't understand have actually hit the right nail on the head.

This administration is carefully working to so limit the government's ability to raise taxes for anything but national defense that it cripples its ability to effectively regulate everything from energy, to the environment, to the securities market to...fill in the blank. Look at what Bush has been doing repeatedly. He makes big sweeping announcements in speeches like his State of the Union address touting all the wonderful initiatives and big plans he has for everything from getting drugs to senior citizens to helping fight AIDS overseas to leaving no child behind to national security.

But then go read the fine print of his budgets. In fact, in case after case, he actually cuts the funds he promised, or it turns out that half of what he promised is actually funds that were already in place and not really increases.

The outgoing head of IRS admitted that his agency lacked the resources and manpower to effectively pursue the kind of nut job tax shelters which have been cobbled together with (it now turns out) the help of some of our favorite accounting talent at places like Arthur Andersen and KPMG.

Same thing is the case at the SEC which is grossly understaffed and those who are there earn salaries which are vastly under competitive. How effectively do you think these folks can really get after the slick suits who helped decimate the market over the past two years. Not much. And Bush first announced he was going to put a lot more money into the SEC to rectify the problem but (you guessed it) once the press conference was over, actually wound up trimming the funds.

Everybody loves cuts in taxes folks (especially the rich) but as we have learned under both Reagan (savings and loan scandals) and Bush (Enron, energy market manipulation, etc.) you leave markets unregulated at your peril and we and millions of folks nearing retirement are paying the penalties in terms of reduced savings, increasingly polluted and decimated environment, expanded energy exploration in sensitive areas and absolutely NO effort to take step one to reduce our energy dependence by using our scientific skills to produce higher mileage vehicles and alternative energy sources.

I could go on for months, but we are being raped while the nation stands with its mouth open trying to figure out WHY we are about to invade IRAQ. I despair for this country.

Posted by: Doug on February 8, 2003 10:45 PM

Nick comments:

the microsoft trial, where sun used the courts to compete against microsoft... businesses seek every advantage (its called competition....

Nick...there is a wee bit if difference between competition (I'll make a superior product and win market share as a result) vs. bludgeoning competitors by sheer weight of your fiscal size, muscle and power and THAT is clearly what Microsoft did (and in many cases is STILL doing.)

I worked at one point for a publication covering the computer industry and happened to have a reunion with one of its former editors within the last couple of years. He told me that he could fill a large address book with the names of leaders of companies which were or were considering development of products in the computer software field, and who in case after case, had Microsoft engage in practices which had nothing whatever to do with "competition" and everything to do with bullying its way into control.

Microsoft has long had a pattern of creating products which are less than the best in a field (how long has Outlook had gaping security holes in it which MSoft is constantly offering "patches for) but that doesn't matter because they now so dominate many markets through their sheer size that others follow along because "everyone else has Microsoft and I guess I better get it too so it is easier to exchange data."

It's not just small companies...it is BIG companies and in many cases companies that WERE big until Microsoft effectively raped them or threatened to do so. Few CEOs can risk trying to go head to head with a company which has SO much money that it can just keep threatening, filing legal actions, stealing secrets and ideas and taking over as it wishes.

Sun's long standing bitch was that Microsoft was SUPPOSED to implement Java into its products, but instead, Microsft created a kludged version which never worked properly and effectively strangled growth. Same with Netscape....remember what a large browser product that was.....not today.

If you think Microsoft was just engaging in "competition" then read Mr. Gates' testimony in the anti-trust suit. A guy whose genius led to the development of one of the WORLD's largest and most successful (forget how it got that way) companies, suddenly sounds like an advanced AIDS patient...and the company was caught doctoring its own video tapes demonstrating why it was simply impossible to unbundle Internet Explorer from its operating system.

Competition....Nick don't make me laugh.

Posted by: Doug on February 8, 2003 11:07 PM

you really don't understand? it is revealed truth. that is, it doesn't matter if we see the economy going to hell in a hand basket, it doesn't really matter if every economist says that this must be bad. Bush and his handler's KNOW the truth because it has been revealed to them. lower taxes for the wealthiest is good period. no facts will convince them otherwise. so wha they are doing is really for the best, you'll see in the long run.

there is of course the other possibility, that they do not consider most of use really anything other cyphers, only the top 5% count, they are really america, not the rest of us.

Posted by: ron on February 9, 2003 04:09 PM

Its all about power, not patriotism, at the top. Though of course you don't get to the top unless you've a fine capacity for self-deception - I'm sure they all believe they're serving the public interest because they genuinely can't distinguish their own interests from it.

To get or retain high political office you have to play the hypocrite, forgo a family life, schnooze up to fools and villains and work crushing hours. Anybody so power-obsessed that they are willing to do all this is clearly unbalanced and is therefore unfit to exercise power. High office should be filled by conscription.

Posted by: derrida derider on February 9, 2003 09:35 PM

I think it's significant that this administration is full of retreads from the days of Ford and Bush I. Both economically and militarily, for years they've been perfecting plans to fundamentally uproot the existing order and introduce a radical new order in its place. This is their chance for one last big score ideologically. It's apocalyptic without even (necessarily) being Christian.

Posted by: Brett on February 10, 2003 06:56 PM

"if gov't limits spending to police, courts, prisons, and defence, corruption will be limited to those areas... the larger the government, the more corruption."

Harry Browne made this point in Judicial Watch's "Ethics in Government" presidential debate (in 2000). Mr. Browne noted that the solution to government corruption was not to attempt to restore ethics in government (i.e., to change human nature), but to limit the power of government so that the level of corruption did less damage.

A similar case could be made in response to Dr. DeLong's concern. Dr. DeLong is worried that Bush Adminstration will bankrupt the country, by introducing/maintaining large spending levels, while cutting taxes. But it would be impossible for the Bush Adminstration to bankrupt the country, if federal spending was sufficiently low. (For example, even if the budget was in deficit by 20% of spending, if total federal spending was only $300 billion per year, the debt would only increase by $60 billion per year.)

Harry Browne's suggestion didn't go over very well at the Ethics in Government debate. I suspect that's partly because Judicial Watch wouldn't even exist, with a sufficiently small federal government (because no one would care about their ethics).

I suspect that the response on this blog will be the same. Dr. DeLong and most people on this blog seem to like a big federal government...perhaps so they can complain that the (Republican) government is bankrupting us all? ;-)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on February 13, 2003 09:46 AM

Mr. Bahner: Two Republican administrations have already proved the fallacy of your comments that by limiting government spending to police, courts, prisons and defence, corruption will be limited to those areas...particularly since corruption is hardly a function solely of government.

Consider the home savings and loan debacle under Reagan, and the Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, et al problems of late.

In both cases, weak regulatory oversight opened the floodgates for huge scams which have rocked financial markets.

Recently, the outgoing head of the IRS admitted that his agency lacked the resources to effectively monitor the kind of elaborate tax shelters being created by major accounting firms. The cost to the Treasury from this weak enforcement is counted in billions of dollars. Meanwhile the IRS concentrates on making sure some poor schlump didn't violate the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Now the Administration is proposing that the timber industry take on the task of "managing" federal forests. Now THERE is enlightened thinking. Putting the fox in the henhouse. Not that it makes much difference since the industry already pretty much runs the Interior Department anyway.

Posted by: Doug on February 14, 2003 08:41 AM
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