- Catch-22 government—Tuesday, December 10th, 2013
The catch-22 of politics is that you can’t trust anybody who wants political power. Someone like Sarah Palin garners a lot of trust today because she doesn’t want to be a politician, and so people want her to run. But if she were to acquiesce and run for office, she’s no longer trustworthy, because at that point she wants political power.
So much of government is catch-22. Politicians create problems, and then politicians and the media cry for more government to solve those problems. Their solution: more of the same, bigger and harder. Government is uniquely unqualified to govern, because those who win elections are likely to be those who believe that government is the solution to every question.
- Government policies cause health care costs to rise dramatically, discouraging personal policies and personal choice in favor of employer-managed and controlled policies. The artificial rise in health costs is used as an excuse for government-managed and controlled health insurance that, itself, causes health care and health insurance costs to rise even more, which in turn results in media calls for fully-socialized health care.
- Government drug and social policies cause a rise in violent crime, which in turn results in calls for gun control laws which either create a nexus for catastrophic violence (gun-free zones) or allow the violent to prey on the week (waiting periods and other means of discouraging at risk individuals to take self-defense seriously), which causes media-friendly violence to rise, which in turn heightens the call for more gun control which will either do nothing to stop the tragedies like the one used as an excuse for more gun control, or even will make such tragedies more likely.
- Government prohibitions—beer, the coca leaf, the poppy—result in the twisted combination of high-strength derivatives and dangerous adulterations that plague the prohibition market. The new higher-strength and dangerously adulterated drugs—ginger jake, bathtub gin, crack, heroin—are themselves used to justify more punitive prohibitions against the lesser forms, which in turn results in a more violent drug trade, which in turn proves that the drugs cause violence and results in more punitive laws. Whenever you see news reports, in the wake of polls showing greater acceptance of marihuana, that marihuana is 10 times more powerful than it was thirty years ago, remember: if true this is likely because of prohibition. Alcohol prohibition resulted in stronger forms of alcohol; repealing it has resulted in people slowly switching back to beer and wine. When I go out to Nunu’s and drink Singapore slings, I’m being retro. Beer and wine are the drinks of the day.
- The price of politics—Friday, December 6th, 2013
Worse, the more authority the government claims for itself, the more parts of society it affects. This rouses otherwise dormant factions to defend their interests. Thus, the price of politics rises higher and higher. More federal power means more interest groups and therefore still more side deals. If you want to know why the population of metropolitan Washington has skyrocketed, in numbers and wealth, over a generation, this is the answer. An ever-more ambitious government has drawn more and more interest groups to the capital to make sure they get their cut of the federal pie.
This is an apt description of the bureaucracy event horizon. But he goes on to write,
This helps account for the disaster of Obamacare. There are, of course, vigorous debates to be had about whether government should be responsible for everyone’s health care. But for our government to accomplish this goal, Obama and congressional Democrats had to buy off a motley crew of factions. Indeed, this was one of their principal concerns: luring on board the “stakeholders” who had stymied reforms before.
Cost is making a basic mistake in causation here. He argues that this “price of politics” is a feature of our system of checks and balances.
What we the people have done over and over since ratifying the Constitution is expand the power of the federal government without revising its structure… As Washington’s reach has been extended, instead of overhauling the structure, we have merely tinkered at the margins, modifying the Electoral College, instituting direct election of senators, limiting presidential terms, and so on.
The result is a profound mismatch. We expect an essentially pluralistic government to behave as a national one. It cannot do this, and so public policy is characterized by inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and even at times injustice.
This is where Cost assigns blame for the problem that passing legislation requires buying off multiple energized constituents. Implicit in his argument is that some other system designed for powerful rather than limited government would not require such payoffs.
- Government-assisted water shortage—Thursday, December 5th, 2013
I saw several signs like these on the trip up to San Francisco for the Thanksgiving holiday. After about the third or forth time, it struck me that this is an example of Milton Friedman’s dictum that “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.”
If you put California in charge of the ocean, in a generation or two you’ll have a shortage of water. Obviously it’s not quite as simple as that, because the near-infinite water supply about forty miles to the west is salt water. But still: the basic technology to turn salt water into usable water is something that’s been understood for centuries.
Throughout the world, however, governments control water usage. In the United States, almost all water supplies are government-managed. Even the act of capturing rainwater is heavily regulated in some parts of the country.
Put governments in charge of a planet whose surface is 70% water, and you’ll end up with a shortage of water.
- San Diego Palms—Friday, November 22nd, 2013
Is there anything more iconically San Diego than an adobe structure with palm trees and a blue sky beyond it? We’re a Caribbean island in the middle of the California Ocean. There’s a tidal wave out there threatening to engulf us; yesterday was wet, grey, and wet. Today there are storm clouds over the ocean but the eastern sky is fluff.
- Fixes, fast and furious—Friday, November 15th, 2013
The executive summary is that Ron Johnson wants to ensure that individuals can keep their current plans and also add family members as necessary. Mary Landrieu wants to ensure that individuals can keep their current plans, but nobody else can get on. And Fred Upton wants to ensure that individuals can both keep their plan and that new individuals can continue buying plans, but only through 2014.
And President Obama hasn’t proposed any changes to the law, but he is crossing his fingers behind his back and telling insurers that even though these plans will remain illegal, he’ll wink at any transgressions and not enforce the law, no way, won’t you please break the law for me? You can tell he’s sincere because he’s promised to veto the law congress wants to pass to legalize what he’s asked insurers to do.
States and insurers are oddly not lining up for the President’s “fix”. If you think it’s confusing, imagine that you’re the state regulator having to take it into account, or that you’re a member of an insurance company’s legal staff tasked with giving advice to the board on whether they should or should not break the law at the President’s request.
Meanwhile, Marco Rubio has noticed that there’s an unlimited bailout for insurance companies hidden in Obamacare’s two thousand pages. His bill—not yet introduced—will remove that provision to ensure that taxpayers are not on the hook for lowballed insurance rates causing a bailout later. Maryland has already attempted to force insurance companies to lowball their rates; at least one, Aetna, chose to leave Maryland rather than join Maryland’s scam on taxpayers.
Since it’s the states that have set up exchanges that are most likely to try this scam, it’s important that Rubio’s bill not allow states to force insurance companies to make off-exchange policies pay for exchange policies. That is, the bill needs to make sure that insurance companies will have to charge enough on the exchanges to cover what they are going to pay out under the exchanges. Otherwise, the true cost of the exchanges will be hidden.
- A Reporter’s Life—Tuesday, November 12th, 2013
Cronkite starts his life story in Moscow, in 1948. He worked for UPI. He tells us that his wife took a job with the US embassy while they were there, but,
Although my United Press salary wasn’t exactly munificent, it wasn’t the extra income that attracted her to this job. It was more a matter of necessity to keep us fed.
He then explains how they had to buy food just as other Muscovites did, which is to say, through Soviet food rations and what little they could acquire through the Soviet markets. Only on the next page does he explain that “not for the money but to keep us fed” meant that the embassy provided their employees with food from the states. They did not provide this food to private citizens in Moscow, something he still holds against them:
The only other Americans living in Moscow were the eight news correspondents, but the State Department, in its bureaucratic wisdom, determined it would somehow violate its sacred rules to take care of us as well.
I can understand the desire to be taken care of by one’s government, but it’s a little ironic that, seeing how poorly the Soviet system worked, he wanted the US to emulate it for him. He doesn’t claim to have asked UPI to provide some of his pay in the form of care packages; the government should have provided.
Cronkite then returns to his formative years in Kansas City, Missouri. About his high school mentor, Houston journalist Fred Birney, Cronkite writes:
Birney, as far as I know, was never taught to teach. His strength was in his deep practical knowledge of his subject, his love of it, and his intense desire to communicate that knowledge and that love to others. That must be the secret of all great teachers, and the shame is that there are probably thousands of them out there who are denied a chance to practice that talent because of crowded facilities, disciplinary overload and stultifying work rules imposed by bureaucratic administrations and selfish unions.
After newspaper work in Houston, he went to work as the news staff of a Kansas City radio station. Here, he was also shanghaied by the police to take part in vote fraud for Kansas City’s Boss Pendergast, voting at least twice when they drove him to the polling place and gave him the name of the people he was voting as each time.
And then he goes to World War II, where his anecdotes read even more like urban legends; having read the entire book, I’m still not sure I trust them.
- Sultan Knish—Sunday, November 3rd, 2013
- Government is Magic—Sunday, November 3rd, 2013
“Competence is built on the unhappy understanding that things won’t work because you want them to, they won’t work if you go through the motions, they will only work if you understand how a thing works and then make it work by building it, by testing it and by expecting failure every step of the way and wrestling with the problem until you get it right.”