Topic: Government and Politics

The Auto Bailout vs. Free Speech

I’ve been blogging at the Politico’s Arena site. Today’s comment is worth posting here as well:

Surprise! President Bush is willing to spend taxpayers money and inject the federal government into the economy – yet again. The financial bailout might have been justified on the grounds that finance is the lifeblood of the entire economy, and a frozen credit system brings every industry to a halt. But a bailout for a specific manufacturing industry has all the hallmarks of lemon socialism. It puts the federal government in the business of picking winners and losers, reduces the incentive of other industries to avoid excessive risk, creates a lobbying frenzy, and brings the inefficiency of the government sector to the normally more efficient private sector, which under free enterprise must stay in the black or go out of business. But I want to focus on a particularly scary part of this bailout bill.

The bill provides that if the government gives companies money, the government will make some of their decisions: limit executive compensation, ban dividends, review large contracts, get rid of their executive jets (certainly a reduction in corporate efficiency, where the time of their top executives is the most valuable resource), make “green” cars rather than the cars consumers want, and so on. But it adds a new twist: The bill currently bars the car companies from pursuing lawsuits against California and other states trying to implement tougher tailpipe emissions standards. Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic suggests taking that concept further and requiring General Motors to fire a vice chairman who has expressed skepticism about the catastrophic effects of global warming.

This ought to scare any genuine liberal. Congress is going to use our money to censor political dissent? Usually libertarians warn that if you take government money, you’ll eventually find yourself subject to government restrictions on your freedoms. In this case, there’s no phase-in, no “eventually.” Congress wants to tell private companies, private individuals, that once they take government money, they will shut up and toe the government’s line.

If economics isn’t a good enough reason to oppose this bailout, preserving independent thought ought to be.

Blagojevich

Don’t blame me, I gave him an “F.

From the Cato Report Card on the Governors:

Rod Blagojevich … has been relentless in his advocacy of large tax increases on businesses. In 2007, he pushed for a massive $7.1 billion annual tax increase in the form of a business gross receipts tax and increased payroll taxes, the largest proposed or enacted hike of any governor in this study. Blagojevich has proposed schemes to wallop businesses nearly every year, including plans to raise taxes on refineries, gaming businesses, software companies, and businesses in general through “loophole” closing initiatives. His approach ignores that Illinois is competing against other states and nations for investment in the global economy.

When doing the study, I wondered how a governor could be so reckless with the economy of his state. We know the answer now: There appears to be a total and complete lack of public interest sentiment in this character. It is all me, me, me.

Shocked, Shocked.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-AZ) on the judicial filibuster, circa 2005 [.pdf]:

Republicans seek to right a wrong that has undermined 214 years of tradition – wise, carefully thought-out tradition. The fact that the Senate rules theoretically allowed the filibuster of judicial nominations but were never used to that end is an important indicator of what is right, and why the precedent of allowing up-or-down votes is so well established. It is that precedent that has been attacked and which we seek to restore….

My friends argue that Republicans may want to filibuster a future Democratic President’s
nominees. To that I say, I don’t think so, and even if true, I’m willing to give up that tool. It was never a power we thought we had in the past, and it is not one likely to be used in the future. I know some insist that we will someday want to block Democrat judges by filibuster. But I know my colleagues. I have heard them speak passionately, publicly and privately, about the injustice done to filibustered nominees. I think it highly unlikely that they will shift their views simply because the political worm has turned.

Uh, never mind:

Jon Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, warned president-elect Barack Obama that he would filibuster U.S. Supreme Court appointments if those nominees were too liberal

For the case against the case against the judicial filibuster, check here and here. For good arguments against the JF, check here.

Blagojevich: Business as Usual

Reading over the complaint against Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D) - which is highly entertaining, by the way - I’m struck not by the brazenness of his attempt to “sell” the Senate seat, but by how typical it is of the horse-trading done in politics.

Fawned over by lobbyists and staff, politicians tend to collapse together the public interest and their personal interests. It is the norm - not some outrageous deviation - to exchange political favors for help with attaining higher office, including campaign contributions. It’s only a small step from there to private emoluments.

Blagojevich may have crossed a legal line, and his foul language certainly sounds in corruption. (Didjya think that politicians don’t swear when they talk to their buddies?) But it’s a line politicians touch their toes to all the time.

Only if you pretend that politicians are selfless do you find Blagojevich’s horse-trading unusual.

What Color Is the Sky on Kristol’s Planet?

Bill Kristol points out the difference between small-government conservatives and big-government conservatives like him.  Among other things:

  • If you’re a small-government conservative, you’ll tend to oppose the bailouts, period. If you more or less accept big government, you’ll be open to the government’s stepping in to save the financial system, or the auto industry.
  • Similarly, if you’re against big government, you’ll oppose a huge public works stimulus package. If you think some government action is inevitable, you might instead point out that the most unambiguous public good is national defense. You might then suggest spending a good chunk of the stimulus on national security.

Kristol goes on to claim that the Republican Revolution collapsed because the GOP tried to cut government (notably some minor Medicare cuts).  President Bush, on the other hand, “seemed to learn the lesson.”  Among his other successes, ”he proposed and signed into law popular (and, it turned out, successful) legislation, opposed by small-government conservatives, adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.”

Undoubtedly, in Kristol’s world, it is President Bush’s commitment to bigger, more expensive, and more intrusive government that has brought about his soaring approval ratings.  Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress were losing because they cut spending to the bone, abolished pork, turned down earmarks, and generally behaved like Barry Goldwater reincarnated. 

Those wondering what actually happened on planet earth, might check out my book, Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.

Hyperinflation?

Half a century ago, Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen is supposed to have summed up the Federal government’s profligate ways with the comment that “a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” These days it’s “a trillion here, trillion there.” Unfortunately, many don’t believe it’s real money any more. And they may be right, which might explain the eagerness in Congress to shovel some of it to failing enterprises such as the Big 3. How long before it’s “a quadrillion here, a quadrillion there?” At the rate we are going, it will be a lot sooner than another half century.

Convergence at Last?

Back in the days of the Cold War, pundits used to talk about how the conflict between capitalism and communism would end with the “convergence” of the two systems, “blending the personal freedom and profit motive of Western democracies with the Communist system’s government control of the economy.” Well, it didn’t happen, right? Instead, communism failed, and the communist countries moved rapidly toward capitalism.

And then came the Bush-Obama era, and today we read in the New York Times that “the Kremlin seems to be capitalizing on the economic crisis, exploiting the opportunity to establish more control over financially weakened industries that it has long coveted.” Ouch. That’s a little too close for comfort.