Tag: central planning

Science Fiction Authors Lost in the Myths of the 1950s

I’ve been watching “Childhood’s End” on the SyFy channel this week. I remember the book, a 1953 novel by Arthur C. Clarke, being a big deal when I was in junior high school. My bookish friends and I all read it. But I had little memory of the plot, so watching the show is an entirely new experience. It’s well done, mysterious, maybe a little slow. But I noticed one thing that reminds me that it was written by a British author educated in the first half of the 20th century.

The technologically superior alien Overlords arrive, take control of earth, and impose their rule on us without any real challenge. They announce that they will end war, poverty, and injustice. And they do, just like that. Sure, a few cranks in the #freedomleague complain that we’re not free, but nobody denies the peace, abundance, and good health that the Overlords have delivered. Earthlings don’t even have to work any more. That is, the book and the miniseries don’t even stop to ponder whether absolute centralized government – terrestrial or alien – could deliver more peace, harmony, and abundance than a market system. It’s just taken for granted. 

And that’s a common theme in mid-century sci-fi. In his Foundation series, Isaac Asimov imagined a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory that could predict the future. Because human action, taken en masse, can be predicted for millennia.

And as I wrote on Ira Levin’s death, his wonderful libertarian novel This Perfect Day reflected similar assumptions about centralization and government planning. The novel is set 141 years after the Unification, the establishment of a world government guided by a central computer. The computer, Uni, provides all the members of the human race with everything they need - food, shelter, employment, psychotherapy, and monthly “treatments” that include vaccines, contraceptives, tranquilizers, a drug to prevent messy beard growth, and a medication that reduces aggressiveness and limits the sex drive. Everyone loves Uni, which gives them everything they could want, except for a few hardy rebels who just value freedom.

China Persists in the Myth of Planning

The government of China has launched its 13th five-year plan (known as 13.5), sticking with the form if not the substance of Stalinism. But in our modern and networked world, China wants the world to understand its planning process, so it released this catchy video in American English:

The video explains how comprehensive the planning process is: 

Every five years in China, man
They make a new development plan!
The time has come for number 13.
The shi san wu, that’s what it means!

There’s government ministers and think tank minds
And party leadership contributing finds.

First there’s research, views collected,
Then discussion and views projected.
Reports get written and passed around 

As the plan goes down from high to low,
The government’s experience continues to grow.
They have to work hard and deliberate
Because a billion lives are all at stake!

It must be smart: note the picture of Einstein along with Chinese leaders such as Mao Zedong (around 0:50).

Scapegoating ObamaCare

Here’s how Ezra Klein spins Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-MT) preditions of an ObamaCare “train wreck”:

The GOP can try and keep the implementation from being done effectively, in part by refusing to authorize the needed funds. Then they can capitalize on the problems they create to weaken the law, or at least weaken Democrats up for reelection in 2014.

In other words, step one: Create problems for Obamacare. Step two: Blame Obamacare for the problems. Step 3: Political profit!

It never ceases to amaze me how people who want government to plan our lives are horrified when government then interferes with their plans. Here’s one way to summarize Klein’s attempt to blame ObamaCare’s opponents for ObamaCare’s failures:

Step one: Pass a law the public opposes.

Step two: Act surprised when the public continues to oppose it.

Step three: Blame the public for the law’s failures. 

Or:

Step one: Enact an immense law requiring lots of implementation funding.

Step two: Don’t include any implementation funding.

Step three: Blame opponents for not funding the implementation. 

Ooh, this is fun:

Step one: Give government new powers.

Step two: Express frustration when those powers fall into the hands of your political opponents.

Step three: Put your political opponents in camps.

I wonder if Mike Pompeo will pen a letter to Klein, too.

CBO on Income and Tax Distribution

The Washington establishment loves talking about the “distribution” of income and taxes. The CBO has issued a new report on the topic that will no doubt keep the discussion rolling on.

That said, the CBO report has some interesting statistics to consider. Most important are calculations of average federal tax rates, which are total federal taxes paid as a share of income. The chart shows average tax rates by quintiles, which each contain one fifth of U.S. households grouped by income level. The households at the top are hit with the largest burdens by far. Elsewhere, I’ve discussed who some of these high-earning households are and the damage done by nailing them with such high taxes. (For example, see here and here).

Republican Freshmen Protect Big Government

The Community Development Block Grant program is a perfect example of the blurring of responsibility between the federal government and the states. The program’s roots go back to the Great Society and the wishful belief that the problems of urban Americans could be solved with handouts from Washington. Instead, the program “has degenerated into a federal slush fund for pet projects of local politicians and politically connected businesses.”

That quote comes from Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) who introduced an amendment this week to terminate CDBGs. As McClintock explained to his House colleagues, it is not the federal government’s responsibility to fund purely parochial activities:

Even in the best of circumstances, these are all projects that exclusively benefit local communities or private interests and ought to be paid for exclusively by those local communities or private interests. They are of such questionable merit that no city council is willing to face its constituents and say, this is how we’ve spent your local taxes.  But they are more than happy to spend somebody else’s federal taxes.

Unfortunately, McClintock’s words fell upon deaf ears as his amendment was voted down 80 to 342.  Not a single Democrat supported the amendment. But it was the 156 Republicans who voted against the amendment that doomed it. Among those Republicans voting “no” was House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). Worse, only 33 percent of the GOP “Tea Party Freshmen” voted to terminate a program that is completely at odds with the principles of limited government.

As I noted back in May, many of the GOP freshmen have switched from tea to Beltway Kool-Aid. Take, for example, tea party favorite Allen West of Florida. On West’s congressional website, he states that “As your Congressman, I will curb out of control Government spending.” He also says that “we need to challenge the status quo in Washington and stop the floodgates of government spending” and that he will “carry the torch of conservative, small government principles with me to Washington.” West, however, voted to save the CDBG program and he also voted back in May to save the Economic Development Administration, which is another parochial slush fund. In April, he accused Democrats of being communists. That’s pretty rich given that he proceeded to vote to protect programs that engage in central planning.

Democratic Tax Policy, Then and Now

My new piece at Daily Caller looks at how the Democratic Party’s approach to tax policy has changed over the decades.

The piece was prompted by a recent article from Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann claiming that needed bipartisan reforms are being blocked by the new “ideologically extreme” Republican Party.

Baloney. It’s the Democrats who have changed. The party’s leaders have moved far to the left on economic issues.

As evidence, I point to this Cato Journal article from 1985 by Democrat Richard Gephardt, who was a leader on tax reform. As a free-market guy, I agree with the great majority of what Gephardt said, yet I agree with virtually nothing that modern Democratic leaders say about tax policy.

Regarding ridding the tax code of special breaks, Gephardt says, “I confess that I am not qualified to act as a central planner and I do not know anybody on either committee who is.” Amen!

And Gephardt says, “We in Congress take pride in the free market system.” When was the last time you heard a Democratic leader say something like that?

Why Hayek Would Have Hated Software Patents

In his famous essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” Friedrich Hayek argued that the socialists of his day falsely assumed that knowledge about economy could be taken as “given” to central planners. In reality, information about the economy—about what products are needed and where the necessary resources can be found—is dispersed among a society’s population. Economic policies that implicitly depend on omniscient decision-makers are doomed to failure, because the decision-makers won’t have the information they need to make good decisions.

In a new paper to be published by the NYU Annual Survey of American Law, Christina Mulligan (who drafted a recent amicus brief for Cato) and I argue that the contemporary patent debate suffers from a similar blind spot. A patent is a demand that the world refrain from using a particular machine or process. To comply with this demand, third parties need an efficient way to discover which patents they are in danger of infringing. Yet we show that for some industries, including software, the costs of discovering which patents one is in danger of infringing are astronomical. As a consequence, most software firms don’t even try to avoid infringing peoples’ patents.

Patents are often described as “intellectual property,” and patent law provides for harsh property-like remedies against patent infringers. But a property system that is so convoluted that ordinary firms can’t figure out who owns what isn’t a property system at all. Genuine property rights enhance economic efficiency by bringing predictability to the allocation of scarce resources and thereby promoting decentralized decision-making. Software patents retard economic efficiency by subjecting software firms to a constant and unavoidable threat of litigation for accidentally infringing the patent rights of others. Hayek would not have approved.

Our paper is available from SSRN.