Topic: General

Working to Cut the Deficit

In an online fundraising letter, President Bush (or someone authorized to sign his name) writes, “Republicans are also working to cut the deficit. The best way to reduce the deficit is to keep pro-growth economic policies in place, and be wise about how we spend your money – which is exactly what Republicans are doing in Washington.”

Just how high would spending be if the Republicans weren’t being wise about how they spend our money?

‘Marriage’ Problems

There were 15,000 divorces in Massachusetts last year. Guess which one made the front page of the Washington Times, above the fold, today. Well, none of them, actually. But the separation of Julie and Hillary Goodridge, plaintiffs in the landmark same-sex marriage case Goodridge v. Massachusetts, did. With a classic Washington Times headline:

Gay ‘marriage’ first couple splits up in Massachusetts

It’s not a real marriage, you see, no matter what the Commonwealth of Massachusetts says, so “marriage” has to be in ironic quotes.

But what’s the point of such a prominent display of this story? Is the (apparent) failure of one marriage, even that of a landmark plaintiff couple, supposed to undermine the case for legal equality? If Linda Brown had flunked out of high school, would that have undermined the moral authority of Brown v. Board of Education? If John Peter Zenger’s newspaper failed, would that undermine the case for freedom of the press?

The Big Dig

With Boston’s Big Dig highway project in the news, a brief review is in order:

As the project was getting started in 1985, government officials claimed that it would cost $2.6 billion and be completed by 1998. The cost ultimately ballooned to $14.6 billion and new problems continue to arise as the project finally nears completion. (The federal share of the project’s cost was $8.5 billion.) In 2004, hundreds of leaks were found in the project, which added millions of dollars in taxpayer costs. And in recent weeks, parts of new road tunnel ceilings have collapsed. 

Raphael Lewis and Sean Murphy wrote an excellent Boston Globe series a couple of years ago revealing how the Big Dig had been grossly mismanaged. A key problem was that Massachusetts repeatedly bailed out bungling Big Dig contractors instead of demanding accountability. Contractors were essentially rewarded for delays and overruns with added cash and guaranteed profits.

When federal money is involved, state and local profligacy and corruption are usually the result. For background on the general problem of cost overruns on federally funded projects, see my compilation of evidence here.

Boldly Buying Votes

Yesterday, at a news conference featuring New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) unveiled “a bold new plan” for American higher education. The American Dream Initiative would “award states $150 billion over 10 years to reduce tuition and increase graduation rates”; consolidate several federal tax breaks into “a single, refundable $3,000 college tuition tax credit”; and bolster “accountability” by instituting federal price controls.

What terrific, bold ideas these are! First, plow even more government money into a system that has grown obese on taxpayer funds, then throw government “accountability” on top of it, creating a groundbreaking socialist blend of wealth redistribution and government control!

Of course, in reality there’s nothing bold or new about anything in the DLC’s proposal; politicians have been dumping huge loads of money into higher education for decades, and proposing price controls for years. No, far from being “bold,” the American Dream Initiative is just another disgusting attempt to buy American votes by politicians who believe that a big enough dollar sign, wrapped in just enough lofty rhetoric, is the key to political power.

No Consensus

The Wall Street Journal reports that “as gas prices again approach $3 a gallon, consumers are buying new vehicles that are faster and heavier than ever,” much to the annoyance of the EPA. Sometimes, no matter how much we hector and even tax and regulate them, the masses just persist in doing what they want to do in defiance of elite opinion. The story reminded me of several other stories that I wrote up recently at the Guardian blog:

A weekend article in the FT comes with this teaser: “A generation ago, Shin Dong-jin was trying to stop South Korean women from having babies. Now his planned parenthood foundation has the opposite problem–there aren’t enough babies being born. He must persuade the country to go forth and multiply.”

Apparently Shin Dong-jin is just the only person in South Korea who knows, at any given time, how many children people should have. But people make their own decisions.

The FT piece reminded me of some other recent articles about how stubborn people just won’t do what the planners want. A front-page headline in the Washington Post read: “Despite planners’ visions, outer suburbs lead in new hiring.” I was particularly struck by the lead:

As a consensus builds that the Washington region needs to concentrate job growth, there are signs that the exact opposite is happening.

Over the past five years, the number of new jobs in the region’s outer suburbs exceeded those created in the District and inner suburbs such as Fairfax and Montgomery counties … contradicting planners’ “smart growth” visions of communities where people live, work and play without having to drive long distances.

Maybe if tens - hundreds - of thousands of people aren’t abiding by the “consensus,” there is no consensus: there is just a bunch of government-funded planners attending conferences and deciding where people ought to live. It’s like, “Our community doesn’t want Wal-Mart.” Hey, if the community really doesn’t Wal-Mart, then a Wal-Mart store will fail. What that sentence means is: “Some organised interests in our community don’t want Wal-Mart here because we know our neighbours will shop there (and so will we).”

Similarly, another Post story reported that the Ford motor company has dropped a pledge to build 250,000 gas-electric hybrid cars per year by the end of the decade. Environmentalists accused the company of backpedalling: it seems not many people want to buy hybrid cars - even though the planners want them to.

Again and again, individuals insist on making their own decisions rather than conforming to planners’ visions and purported consensuses.

Ivory Tower Blueprint, Take Two

On Monday, the U.S. Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education released the second draft of what will ultimately become a final report, most likely sometime in September. Unfortunately, all the authors seemed to do between draft one and draft two is tone down some of their criticisms of colleges and universities—apparently, ivory tower denizens are a sensitive lot—while keeping in most of their bigger-government proposals, such as creating a “national strategy” for higher education and, of course, spending a lot more taxpayer cash.

Without question, there are going to have to be major changes between draft two and draft three to make the commission’s final report even the least bit palatable. Unfortunately, based on what we’ve seen so far, the best we can probably hope for is the same rat poison, with just a little bit more sugar sprinkled on top.