Topic: Government and Politics

Private Zips Past Public reports: “Private sector zips past government in Recovery Act tracking.”

If you want to find out where governments are spending the $800 billion in federal stimulus money, the story reports that you would do better to go to than The latter is the government website that stimulus-overseer, VP Joe Biden, could not remember the name of. The former is a project of the business research firm Onvia.

The private does have useful data and charts. But Onvia should have paired the chart ”Estimated Jobs Created by State” with another one titled “Estimated Jobs Destroyed by State” to illustrate the financing burden of all the new spending.

Is Rick Perry Really for Limited Government?

Conservative radio hosts are excited about a recent speech by Texas governor Rick Perry. Perry forcefully argued his theme of “unwavering support for efforts all across our country, but, most of all, here in Texas, to reaffirm the states’ rights affirmed through the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

That sounds great, but does he really mean it?

In a study, I noted that Perry and the Texas state government are aggressive scavengers of federal grant dollars. The rise in federal granting is one of the central causes of the destruction of the Tenth Amendment in recent decades.

I noted that Perry’s official webpage is chock full of press releases touting his distribution of federal subsidies. These press releases are from a short time period in 2006:

  • “Perry: Texas Farmers and Ranchers to Share $780 Million in Drought Assistance.”
  • “Perry: FEMA Agrees to Reimburse Texas at Same Rate as Louisiana for Hurricanes.”
  • “Gov. Perry Announces $1.6 Million in Grants to Juvenile Offender Accountability Programs.”
  • “Perry: Homeland Security Grants to Focus on Technology Needs.”
  • “Gov. Perry: Presidential Disaster Declaration Approved for El Paso.”
  • “Gov. Perry Announces $38,098 in Victims of Crime Act Funds to El Paso County.”
  • “Gov. Perry Announces $3.6 Million in Grants to Local Law Enforcement.”

Notice how Perry takes credit for all the new spending? Politicians love spending, especially when they can foist the cost on taxpayers living in other states.

Look at these two press releases up on Perry’s website right now:

  • Apr. 9: “Gov. Perry Backs Resolution Affirming Texas’ Sovereignty Under 10th Amendment.”
  • Apr. 10: “Gov. Perry Calls on FEMA to Assist the State in Fighting Wildfires.”

Governor Perry: Do you want to revive the Tenth Amendment or do you want the FEMA money? You’re giving us whiplash out here!

I don’t think Perry’s tax policies have been particularly conservative either, as they have centralized fiscal power at the state level and thus reduced beneficial competition between local governments.

Evo Morales’ Biometric Identity System

It was with interest and concern that I read about the new election law recently signed by Bolivian President Evo Morales. The AP reports that it “sets stricter standards for voter authentication, introducing a $30 million system of biometric identification, based on voters’ fingerprints.”

It is important to secure voting systems against fraud, but be careful how you do it. Identity systems are powerful administrative tools which historically haven’t mixed well with authoritarian governments.

A biometric voter identification system was apparently a demand of Morales’ right-wing opposition. Don’t be surprised if he uses it to consolidate power or do far worse than that to his political rivals.

Some advocates have dabbled in supporting a national ID in the United States for election administration, but that would be error. I wrote about the many risks of uniform identity systems in my book Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.

Demand for Subsidies

My op-ed on National Review Online today provided new information about the increasing number of federal subsidy programs. The federal welfare state is expanding rapidly.

One friendly reader emailed me:

Ever cross your mind that there’s a reason government programs increase over time? I’ll clue you in: Programs increase because of public demand.

It’s not rocket science, people want more services. Period. Somebody’s got to pay for them. Hences taxes. Or perhaps borrowing. Or a combination of both. In any event, there’s no evidence people are willing to get along with fewer services.

The situation seems simple to me; so why can’t you ideologues on the far right understand what’s going on. Instead, you simply go on bemoaning the existence of programs and taxes you don’t like.

There are numerous problems with this reader’s views, including constitutional problems. But one thing that strikes me is the underlying assumption of the “public interest theory of government,” or the idea that democracies and bureaucracies operate to efficiently provide “services.”

In reality, there are structural problems in government that bias policymakers toward fiscal irresponsibility, as our current $1.8 trillion federal deficit indicates. The issue is not ideology, it is scientific: Does the government actually work as the optimists, like this reader, believe? I think the empirical evidence is in on that question.

Oprah Escapes the Long Arm of the Law

oprahThe Washington Post reports on the latest ruling by the Federal Election Commission:

William Lee Stotts of Cordova, Tenn., filed a complaint in October alleging that Obama’s appearance on Winfrey’s popular talk show during the Democratic primaries amounted to an unlawful campaign contribution that gave him an ‘an unfair advantage over the other candidates, both Republican and Democrat, who were deprived such an opportunity.’

The FEC decided that Winfrey was a media entity and thus qualified for the “media exemption” from the campaign finance laws. Without that exemption, Obama’s appearance would have become an electioneering communication and thereby a violation of McCain-Feingold.

The FEC provides a timely reminder that we no longer have a unified First Amendment. Congress shall indeed “make no law” regarding the freedom of the media, including the freedom to publicize a presidential candidacy. That’s a good thing, by the way. The bad thing is the rest of us are expected to make do with Congress making all kinds of laws limiting freedom of speech. Some animals, I suppose, are more equal than other animals.

A Poll for Tax Day

The latest poll to ask the question “would you prefer a more active government with more services and higher taxes or a smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes?” found that 66 percent prefer smaller government and lower taxes, to only 25 percent who prefer a “more active government” with more services.

Note that the poll doesn’t even say “larger government”; Rasmussen has actually made the wording more favorable toward big government.

As I’ve noted before, the usual “smaller government” question, as asked by CBS and other pollsters, is incomplete. It offers respondents a benefit of larger government – “more services” – but it doesn’t mention that the cost of “larger government with more services” is higher taxes. The question ought to give both the cost and the benefit for each option.

That’s what the Rasmussen poll does. And it shows that people prefer lower taxes to more government services.

Tax Day

Fox News and MSNBC are having fun with the taxpayer tea party protests today. Fox News is playing up the protests, while MSNBC hosts are making jokes about “tea-bagging,” while pretending that the protests were all orchestrated by Sean Hannity. I’ll be attending the protests in D.C. today, and I’m hoping that the message isn’t just anti-Obama because the Republicans are every bit as guilty as the Democrats for the government’s fiscal mess.

MSNBC hosts who think that the colonists didn’t mind taxes, but were just upset about the “without representation” part, should read Alvin Rabushka’s massive tax history leading up to 1776, Taxation in Colonial America.

Doing my taxes last night, I asked my twins (age 5 1/2): “If Mommy and Daddy had $100, how much should we give to the government?” One twin said “5” and the other said “10,” so they are off to good start on understanding limited government. Mommy reminded the kids that the government provides useful services such as fire and police, but the kids were comfortable with their answers.

I would footnote that state/local fire, police, and corrections spending amounts to just 4 percent of total government spending in the United States.