Archives: 07/2011

Mitch Daniels and the Federal Money Grab

For much of the nation’s history, policymakers recognized that the federal government’s powers were “few and defined,” as James Madison noted. Issues like education and community development were largely left to the states. Unfortunately, the separation of responsibilities between the federal government and states has been eroded to the point that federal funds now account for approximately a third of total state spending. A consequence is that federal aid to the states has fostered bigger government at all levels.

State policymakers are addicted to federal money. The appeal is obvious: they get to take credit for all the wonderful things they do with money that they didn’t have to tax out of their state’s voters. Thus, it has been interesting to observe Republican governors who willfully fed at the federal trough now pontificate on the dangers of Washington’s spending addiction as potential or declared candidates for president.

Although he ultimately decided against running for president, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has carefully crafted a public image as a voice of reason when it comes to addressing the federal government’s budget problems. When he was flirting with a run for president, Daniels received fawning coverage from various observers for labeling the federal government’s debt the “new red menace.”

One problem with this image is the fact that Gov. Daniels has been a “just another politician” when it comes to grabbing federal dollars. Indeed, Daniels signed an executive order on his first day in office creating a state agency devoted to increasing Indiana’s take from the federal honey pot. As an official with the Indiana state Office of Management and Budget, I can attest that it was the Daniels administration’s policy to find ways to use federal dollars instead of state dollars where possible.

Last week, a local Indianapolis television channel ran an investigation of the state’s Office of Federal Grants and Procurement. Although the agency has cost Indiana taxpayers almost a half-million dollars, the investigation team couldn’t figure out what it has been doing with the money. State legislators that were interviewed didn’t know much about the agency even though they continue to fund it. I admit that I can’t remember dealing with it (other than to be completely disgusted by its existence).

Daniels declined to be interviewed for the story, and instead sent out his deputy chief of staff, Cris Johnston, to take the heat. Johnston’s best defense was that Indiana has improved its ranking when it comes to bringing in federal taxpayer dollars. I suppose that means Daniels’s red menace isn’t such a menace when the federal spigot’s flow is being directed toward his state’s coffers.

I’ll wrap this up by making a suggestion to the journalists out there covering the presidential candidates with a background in state government: did they eschew federal handouts or did they have their hands out? It’s an important question because the next president is going to be facing an epic fiscal mess and we really can’t afford another politician who talks the talk but didn’t walk the walk.

See this Cato essay for more on the importance of fiscal federalism and why the flow of federal funds to the states needs to be shut off.

DSK and the Pernicious ‘Perp Walk’

My column at the Washington Examiner (and Reason.com) this week uses the collapse of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case to argue against the “perp walk,” which has become a form of pretrial punishment and a way for spotlight-hungry prosecutors to grab attention—whether the ‘perp’ turns out to be guilty or not:

Back in May, when New York law enforcement paraded DSK before the cameras, hands cuffed behind his back, the French were outraged. “Incredibly brutal, violent and cruel,” France’s former justice minister gasped.

Irritating as it might be to admit it, the French have a point. The “perp walk”—in which suspects are ritually displayed to the media, trussed up like a hunter’s kill—has become common practice among prosecutors. But it’s a practice any country devoted to the rule of law should reject.

Of course, DSK isn’t the most sympathetic victim of the perp walk ever, nor, given paramilitary policing and “no knock” raids, is the perp walk the most abusive police/prosecutorial practice out there. But it’s at best a pointless indignity, and at worst a threat to due process—which is why it should be reined in. For Cato work on police tactics and misconduct, go here; and also see Reason’s recent “criminal justice” issue.

Biggest Keynesian Stimulus, Slowest Recovery

The Wall Street Journal provides a page of charts today illustrating the remarkable weakness of the current U.S. economic recovery. A twin story in the paper provides comments on the recovery from two of the nation’s top macroeconomists:

Taken together many economists agree on how this recovery stacks up: “It is the worst, no question about it,” says Robert Gordon, a Northwestern University professor and a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s business cycle dating committee, which is widely considered the official arbiter of the beginning and end of recessions. His colleague, Stanford professor Robert Hall, who runs the committee, says it’s “absolutely right” that this is the worst recovery yet.

Yet this was the recovery that was aided by the largest Keynesian-style big government “stimulus” since World War II. Since 2008, total federal “stimulus” has been $4.6 trillion, as shown in the chart. As a share of GDP, recent deficit spending has been far greater than during all other recessions since the war.

Biggest Keynesian Stimulus + Slowest Recovery = Time to Rethink Keynesian Theory.

That math seems pretty straightforward to most people, but not to one of Obama’s chief economic architects.

Ryan Plan Would Reduce Medicare & Medicaid Fraud

That’s the theme of my article in the current issue of National Review:

The budget blueprint crafted by Paul Ryan, passed by the House of Representatives, and voted down by the Senate would essentially give Medicare enrollees a voucher to purchase private coverage, and would change the federal government’s contribution to each state’s Medicaid program from an unlimited “matching” grant to a fixed “block” grant. These reforms deserve to come back from defeat, because the only alternatives for saving Medicare or Medicaid would either dramatically raise tax rates or have the government ration care to the elderly and disabled. What may be less widely appreciated, however, is that the Ryan proposal is our only hope of reducing the crushing levels of fraud in Medicare and Medicaid.

The three most salient characteristics of Medicare and Medicaid fraud are: It’s brazen, it’s ubiquitous, and it’s other people’s money, so nobody cares…

The full article is now available at the Cato website.

10 Years of Drug Decriminalization in Portugal

Ten years ago this month, Portugal rejected the conventional approach to drug policy–more laws, stiffer prison sentences, more police–and went the other way by decriminalizing all drugs, even cocaine and heroin.  The drug warriors predicted a disaster.  They said drug use would spike and there would be a public health crisis.  That did not happen.  As Glenn Greenwald showed in a 2009 Cato report, Portugal is doing better than before and in many respects is doing better than other countries in the European Union that take the hard-line, criminal approach to drug use.  The buzzword in Washington these days is “evidence-based research.”  Well, there you have it.

More here and here.   Thanks to the Huffington Post for the pointer.

Communism, Capitalism, Incentives, and Irony

This excerpt, from an article in the Washington Post on the 90th anniversary of China’s communist party, amused me:

“A real Communist Party member should always remember that their aim is to serve the people,” said Li Qingrong, who owns a travel agency in Yan’an, the city known as the birthplace of the communist revolution. “Nowadays, when you read the newspaper, you see so many cases of corruption. Maybe they should come here to Yan’an to see if their soul can be touched by the revolutionary spirit. Then maybe they would change their behavior.”

Li, who is not a party member, has seen her business double over the past year, with the influx of mostly communist tour groups organized by schools, government offices and workplaces to glimpse the party’s more humble early years.